A Different Tack
The story goes like
this: While offering tea to the monk Takuan Soho, Iemitsu (1604–51,
the third Tokugawa shogun) had his servants out in the garden fire a gun.
It was a loud bang, but Takuan did not flinch at all. He remained quite
calm and drank his tea. Iemitsu’s mischief had had no effect on
him at all.
Iemitsu wanted somehow to knock Takuan down a peg or two, but he had remained
composed even when a gun went off nearby. What could he do? One day Iemitsu
was presented with a tiger from Korea. He smiled. If he could get Takuan
into the cage with the tiger, even the monk was sure to break down and
plead to be let out.
Of course, all would be revealed if Iemitsu called only Takuan and sent
him into the cage, so the shogun gathered a number of feudal lords to
see the tiger as well. The lords gasped in amazement at the sight of the
grand tiger, which measured over two meters in length.
“Now,” asked Iemitsu, “is there anyone who would like
to go inside the cage?” Iemitsu looked at the lords, who all looked
downward so as to avoid his gaze.
“Tajima, how about you?” Iemitsu challenged the swordsman
Yagyu Munenori, who was also known as Tajima no Kami. “Yes, certainly,”
replied Yagyu. He approached the cage, held his sword in the Shinkage-ryu
style, and stared at the tiger. The tiger bared its teeth and stared back
at Yagyu. “Okay, open up!”
Yagyu entered the cage and, without pausing for a moment, confronted the
tiger, approaching it step by step. Moving backward, the tiger kept staring
at Yagyu, but it did not attack.
“Enough!” shouted Iemitsu. Yagyu nodded and cautiously moved
backward, keeping his eyes on the tiger. When he reached the entrance
of the cage, he called “Open up!” and stepped outside. Yagyu
then breathed a sigh of relief, bowed to Iemitsu, and returned to his
seat. His face was covered in sweat. The lords were full of admiration.
Turning a mischievous face to Takuan, Iemitsu then said, “And how
about you, Takuan?” “Certainly,” the monk answered.
He stepped forward to the cage and called “Open up!” The lords
sympathized with Takuan, who was only wearing a robe. Iemitsu also was
about to tell him to quit, but before he could do so, Takuan was already
in the cage. Rather than pouncing on him, however, the tiger began to
nestle up to him and eventually went to sleep, snoring away peacefully.
Realizing that he had lost, Iemitsu called out “Enough!” As
if parting with an old friend, Takuan stroked the tiger’s head,
said he would come again, and came out of the cage.
It is a true story. Yagyu confronted the tiger without giving it an inch.
Takuan gave it miles. The tiger confronted the person who challenged it
and snuggled up to the person who did not. What Takuan did was to change
tack from confronting the tiger to not confronting it. If the other party
feels at ease with someone, they will speak to and trust that person.
If they feel challenged, they will adopt a defiant attitude without giving
When the situation is unfavorable, you only make it more so by thinking
and acting within the adverse conditions. You must move away from such
an environment and alter your approach?in other words, take a different
tack. As a result, unexpectedly favorable conditions will emerge.
Our current prime minister seems to have returned to his role as a civic
movement activist. His pursuit of self-interest is giving rise to more
and more difficulties and bringing distress to the nation. Obviously he
has not thought about the meaning of this story.