The Taste of Banzo's Sword

Matajuro Yogyu was the son of a famous swordsman. But his father disowned him because he failed to learn. So Matajuro went to Mount Futara where he found the famous swordsman Banzo. The master said to him, "So you wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance. But you cannot fulfill the requirements." "But if I work hard, how many years will it take me to become a master?" the youth persisted. "The rest of your life," replied Banzo. "I cannot wait that long," argued Matajuro. "I am willing to undergo any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your servant, how long might it be?" "Oh, maybe ten years," Banzo relented. "If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?" "Oh, maybe thirty years," said Banzo. "Why is that?" asked Matajuro. "First you said ten, and now you say thirty years. I will undergo anything to master this art in the shortest time!" "Well," said Banzo, "in that case you will have to stay with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly." "Very well," declared the youth, who finally understood the teacher, "I agree."

Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word about swordsmanship. Three years passed. Still Matajuro worked on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art of swordsmanship.

But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword. The following day, as Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly. After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself against unexpected thrusts. Not a moment of any day passed during which he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo's sword. He began to learn so rapidly that he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.

This koan demonstrates the Zen way of learning, which includes determination, discipline, awareness, mastery, and the confident, faithful, respectful relationship between teacher and student. Young Matajuro typified the modern temperament: seek the result first and attain it quickly. In Zen the means are the end.


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