John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors

Tea Combat


A master of the tea ceremony in old Japan once accidentally slighted a soldier. He quickly apologized, but the rather impetuous soldier demanded that the matter be settled in a sword duel.

The tea master, who had no experience with swords, asked the advice of a fellow Zen master who did possess such skill. As he was served by his friend, the Zen swordsman could not help but notice how the tea master performed his art with perfect concentration and tranquility.

"Tomorrow," the Zen swordsman said, "when you duel the soldier, hold your weapon above your head, as if ready to strike, and face him with the same concentration and tranquility with which you perform the tea ceremony."

The next day, at the appointed time and place for the duel, the tea master followed this advice. The soldier, readying himself to strike, stared for a long time into the fully attentive but calm face of the tea master. Finally, the soldier lowered his sword, apologized for his arrogance, and left without a blow being struck.


tea combatPeople's reactions to this story:

"Peace and tranquility are sometimes more powerful and intimidating than anything else."

"The tea master showed great courage. That's what stopped the soldier."

"The soldier bowed to the tea master because he had a higher level of confidence."

"If you are perceived as competent and able, you will be considered an equal."

"The story seems to suggest that it is the appearance of the tea master that deters the attack. He looks calm and confident, but it's an illusion. Simple illusions can defeat enemies."

"If you look like you know what you are doing, people will not think otherwise. Where I work all of the supervisors park inside the gate while everyone else parks outside. But if you act like you're SUPPOSED to be inside the gate and drive right through, the security guards won't stop you! It's a matter of confidence."

"All that we ask others to give us we already possess."

"Each of us possesses certain skills, but none of us possesses all skills."

"There is nothing to fear but fear itself."

"I like this story because it demonstrates how you can do things you never thought you could - like face death."

"I really thought the soldier would fight anyway! But I guess people in Japan think differently than we do. Maybe they are more able to see bravery in others, and even step back to swallow their pride."

"I don't like this story because it's not realistic. If you stand your ground and show others you are not afraid, they won't necessarily leave you alone. You might get shot! Hey, I live in the city! What can I tell you."

"Good overpowers evil."

"This reminds me of the movie Star Wars. Oby just stands there and lets Darth Vader strike him down. But as a result, Oby becomes even more powerful than before."

"Musashi Kensei once said something like: 'Underneath the upraised sword you tremble at the gate of hell. But advance fearlessly and there you find heaven.'"

"Seems like some kind of assertiveness training that failed."

"Maybe the tea master's quiet determination made the soldier see that a fight was not necessary. It moved him to see the master's intrinsic worth and to accept the apology that the master had offered."

"The actions that one performs daily may actually be special skills that only others truly see in you. These skills are an extension of who you are. Maybe that's what the soldier suddenly realized about the master."

"It's not easy showing kindness in the face of hostility. But kindness does win over anger. The other person comes away with a changed heart."

"You can't control other people's actions, only your own actions and your own state of mind. This is what stopped the soldier. He couldn't control his own mind, but he saw that the tea master could."

"I like that the tea master didn't try to control what would happen. He just accepted the situation and whatever outcome might result. That's true wisdom. That's what the soldier noticed."

|| Concentration || Present Moment || Without Fear ||

~ Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbor ~