Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Takuan, Munenori and the Tiger

In November, in the 13th year of Kanyei (1636), a Korean ambassador came to pay tribute to the Third Shogun Tokugawa Iyemitsu. He presented to him various Korean products, among them a live tiger.
One day, the Shogun went to see the tiger with his retainers. Zen Master Takuan and Kenjutsu Master Yagyu Munenori were among them.

The tiger was about 5 feet in height. The Shogun was interested in its fur. "How fine its fur!" he said to his attendants, "Can any of you go and touch it?"

No one answered.

"Does it look so fierce to you?" said the Shogun. "What do you think Yagyu" he inquired."You are a master swordsman and expert at military arts. Surely your kenjutsu ability can overcome the tiger. When you succeed it will do credit to the virtues of Japanese Military expertise and will be an honor to Japan abroad."

Munenori bowed to the Shogun and rose quietly. With an iron fan in hand, he approached the tiger. Munenori stood before the pen, and ordered the gardener to open its door. "Is it safe to open?" inquired the gardener. "It is safe,' replied Munenori. At this, the gardener opened the pen. The tiger held itself in readiness to leap, but Munenori entered the pen fearlessly, holding out the iron fan in front. All looked on with breathless interest, and the Korean envoys stared in amazement.

The animal became very nervous. But Munenori remained calm. He edged along, holding out the iron fan in front pointing it at the animal's eye. It gave a roar. Munenori kept his eye upon its breathing, aimed his fan at the tiger and gave a loud kiai. The tiger reluctantly drew back. The people were astonished. When Munenori shouted once more, the tiger bent its forelegs and stooped with its jaw on the ground. Munenori smiled and walked slowly out of the pen.

The Korean envoys were impressed...

Munenori bowed before his lord.

"You have done well, Lord Yagyu," said Master Takuan. "This display of your ability surely will convince every ruler of foreign lands of the glory of Japanese Military Arts, I have been your friend for many years but had never seen you display your ability to that extent before.

As Takuan had spoken, the Shogun asked him. "The tiger was crushed by Yagyu's swordsmanship. If you could tame it by virtue of Buddhism, it would be the greatest national glory in foreign countries. I wish you to try at once, Takuan."

Takuan laughed and said, "It may not be so interesting or glorious. But as you wish my Lord, let me tame the animal."

He bowed to the Shogun and went down to the yard, walked straight to the tiger and opened the pen himself. When the gardener tried to stop him, he had already entered the pen.

The tiger became roared in anger. Fearless and smiling the Priest entered the pen and closed it himself. He stood before the tiger, turning up his sleeves.

The people opened their eyes in amazement at his boldness, being unable to guess what he intended to do. The tiger at first appeared ready to spring at the intruder, but far from taking the offensive, it stepped back with its back raised and rounded like a rock, overwhelmed by the Priest's friendly manners.

Takuan walked toward the tiger, bent a little forward and thrust out his left hand before the nose of the animal who licked it.

Yagyu Munenori sighed and lowered his head, struck with admiration.

Takuan stroked the tiger on the head, he laid down like a puppy and played with him.

The Master laughed merrily and sat astride the tiger.


In future posts :  
  • The meeting of Master Takuan, Miyamoto Musashi - an other famous sword master - and a venomous snake... 
  • The fight between Master Kaicho Yamamoto - founder of Yoshukai Karate - and an other Tiger.

1 comment:

Frederic Lecut said...

this story can be read in "Second Zen Reader" under the title "The Tiger's Cave - translated by Trevor Leggett.