A Different Approach

While offering tea to the monk Takuan Soho, Iemitsu (1604–51, the third Tokugawa shogun) had his servants fire a gun out in the garden. It was a loud bang, but Takuan did not bat an eyelid. He remained quite serene and continued drinking his tea. Iemitsu’s mischief had had no effect at all.

The gun trick had not worked, but Iemitsu still wanted somehow to bring Takuan down a peg or two. One day Iemitsu was presented with a tiger from Korea. He grinned cunningly. 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, if he invited only Takuan and sent him into the cage, Iemitsu’s true motive would be revealed, so the shogun gathered together a number of feudal lords as well to admire the tiger. The lords gasped in amazement at the sight of the grand tiger, which measured over two meters in length.

“Well,” asked Iemitsu, “is there anyone brave enough to go inside the cage?” Iemitsu stared 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. “Er, yes, certainly sir,” replied Yagyu. He approached the cage, held his sword in the Shinkage-ryu style, and looked straight at the tiger. The tiger bared its fangs 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 pounce.

“Enough!” shouted Iemitsu. Yagyu nodded and cautiously moved backward, keeping his eyes on the tiger all the time. When he reached the entrance to 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 other lords were full of admiration for the great swordsman.

Turning his mischievous gaze to Takuan, Iemitsu then said, “And how about you, Takuan?” “Certainly sir,” the monk answered. He stepped forward to the cage and called “Open up!” The lords pitied Takuan, who was wearing only 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 cuddle up to Takuan and eventually dozed off, snoring peacefully in its sleep. Realizing that he had been beaten, Iemitsu called out “Enough!” As if parting with an old buddy, Takuan stroked the tiger’s head, said he would come again, and came out of the cage.

This 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 his approach from one of confrontation to nonconfrontation. 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 quarrelsome attitude and not budge an inch.

Actually this tale is quoted by Tempu Nakamura (1876–1968) in the section on a change of approach in his book Kokoro niseiko no hono o moyase (Burning the flames of success in the heart). If a situation is unfavorable, you only make matters worse by thinking and acting within the framework of adversity. You must step away from such an environment and take a different tack?in other words, change your approach. As a result of such a change of approach, unexpectedly favorable conditions will arise.

I want that to be my guiding principle for next year. In the meantime, though, let’s switch our attention to the year-end sales battle and make it successful.