Shouri wa saya ni ari ( 勝利は鞘にあり。). Victory lies in the scabbard is one of the many precepts covered by Sun Tzu in his “The Art of War”. It is a phrase with some deep connotation. It speaks to the ability of ending a conflict before one can erupt. This isn’t limited to the conventional battlefield however. This principal has a powerful significance in the martial arts, and it’s a concept that isn’t at all difficult to wrap our minds around.
When Taisho first came to me for training he brought with him like many of us a history of dealing with difficult people and the persistent shots at his ego in attempt to draw him into a physical altercation. Be the attacks verbal or physical Taisho was prior to darkening the door to the dojo by no means a soft target. He merely wanted to explore another avenue by which he could learn to handle these situations in a different way. After a couple years of training things began to change for him. Recently we briefly discussed how things had changed concerning how Taisho had progressed regarding his conflict resolution skills. He said that he still doesn’t come across as an aggressor nor is he a pushover, but when a bully attempts to roust him he stands firm and shows the bully that he won’t be pushed around and is thus more capable than the bully is willing to handle. This makes the bully disengage and leave Taisho alone. The conflict is then averted without a punch having to be thrown.
When I myself was growing up I had a bully problem. I was really small for my age and abnormally skinny. In fact it could be said that I was small enough to stand next to the car and hide behind the antenna, and I was very shy. These made me an enticing target. It had taken a few years of training before I noticed that things were changing for me. I noticed that I was having fewer and fewer conflicts with the bullies that usually plagued my daily activities and interactions. I’d like to say it was because word was getting around school and the neighborhood of my prowess as a martial artist and that I was now a force to be reckoned with, but this was simply not the case. What had happened was I began to change spiritually. I began to develop confidence. Because of this I no longer carried about with my head down. I stood and walked erect. I spoke with confidence, poise, and conviction. So it wasn’t that I intimidated my bullies, not by any means. It was that I was no longer a soft target. This removed me from thoughts of targeting me at all. Because I no longer displayed an inviting demeanor of the frightened rabbit I was no longer a tantalizing target for those who seek harm to the weak for the bolstering of ones own ego.
Probably the best example of Shouri wa saya ni ari I can provide comes from a memory involving Tadeshi Sensei many years ago while I was in Japan. At the time I worked part time in a bar near the Hinodecho district of Yokohama in my off time while stationed at Yokosuka. Tadeshi Sensei was short in comparison to most American men measuring at about 5’6” ish and was very slim. He is what I would call an observer of the human element, which is another way of saying people watcher. Periodically he would come into the bar and just observe the way different cultures interacted. On one particular evening he was sitting at the bar across from me sipping a glass of orange juice. The bar wasn’t yet busy but the crowd was beginning to filter in. There was one customer that wasted no time making sure everyone knew he was in the building. He was very large, very fit and very obnoxious, but he was wearing a really nice cowboy hat. He also seemed to be well on his way to inebriation. As the night drew on the cowboy got more and more aggressive with the staff and patrons, and it wasn’t long before he placed Tadeshi Sensei in his sights, as he seemed the ideal target for his rousting. While he was making a poor attempt at dancing weather intentional or not he slammed into Tadeshi Sensei from behind, spilling his orange juice all over the bar. Tadeshi Sensei made eye contact with him and then turned away shaking his head and asked me to pour him another, to which the Cowboy interrupted. “Orange Juice? You mean a screw driver, right?” Tadeshi Sensei didn’t look at him but replied in his broken English. “No, I mean orange juice.” The cowboy scoffed back. “Orange juice? What are you some kind of karate expert of something?” Tadeshi Sensei didn’t reply. I could feel tension rising so I chimed in. “Actually in a manner of speaking, yes he is. He teaches me karate.” Informing the cowboy did the opposite of what I had intended. I had hoped that by satisfying Cowboys curiosity that he would be done with it and walk away. I was wrong. He instead closed the distance to Tadeshi Sensei to within just a few inches of his face and my first thought was oh no, Sensei is going to kill this poor idiot. Before I could interject Tadeshi Sensei had already stood up. The cowboy not seeming the type to leave well enough alone taunted at Tadeshi Sensei. “I’ll bet I hit you thirty times before you land a single hit on me.” Tadeshi Sensei maneuvered to an empty bar table and motioned for Cowboy to join him. All the while Cowboy continued to attempt to provoke this seemingly weak old man into a fight. Tadeshi Sensei waited with a very disconnected expression upon his brow until Cowboy finished his feeble attempt at intimidating him. Tadeshi Sensei stood in front of Cowboy with the bar table between them and never broke eye contact. Tadeshi Sensei then admitted to Cowboy. “You probably would hit me thirty times.” Then with what sounded like a thunderclap Tadeshi Sensei punched a hole through the table without averting eye contact with Cowboy. All conversation in the bar stopped immediately and all eyes were on Tadeshi Sensei and the now flabbergasted Cowboy. Tadeshi Sensei then pulled his fist back out of the jagged hole through the table and held up his index finger before the still shocked Cowboy and then said. “But if I hit you just one time.” Tadeshi Sensei then walked back to the bar and waited for me to pour him another glass of orange juice. Cowboy wasn’t a problem for Tadeshi Sensei or anyone else for that matter after that. In fact, Cowboy bought Tadeshi Sensei orange juice for the rest of the night.
More often than not violence breaks out because of ego. Like the example of Tadeshi Sensei and the Cowboy all too often there are those who will indiscriminately attack your ego in attempt to rouse a physical response. Some time after the orange juice incident I asked Tadeshi Sensei if he thought he could have defeated the Cowboy had he not backed down. Tadeshi Sensei replied by telling me that it didn’t matter and that he was happy the altercation defused without having to come to blows because in a fight someone always gets hurt. So long as there is another way to resolve the conflict without violence and we make the conscious decision to take that route then we show mastery of an aspect of our craft that few are even aware of. Before we give into our baser instincts and allow our egos to get our selves or someone else hurt remember that violence begets violence. There is almost always another way. Shouri wa saya ni ari.
Honshū & Hokkaidō
The two species of wolf native to Japan until their extinction in the early