The tiger knows only the earth.
The crane knows the earth, the sky, and the sea.
The tiger roars with anger and defiance.
The crane merely flies away.
Poem by Ronald Lindsey. Artwork by Shifu Hwang.
(Used by permission. Copyright Ronald Lindsey)
Martial arts expert and author, Ronald Lindsey, graciously allowed me to reproduce the above poem and artwork from his excellent book, Okinawa No Bushi No Te. Sensei Lindsey studied directly with our Grandmaster, Fusei Kise.
While Sensei Lindsey’s poem is quite deep with multiple meanings, today’s sharing relates to a remarkably quick disheveled individual approaching with zombie-like gait while squawking like a giant parrot who doesn’t want a cracker. Huh? Seriously?
Yep. You see, Isaac, my son, loves to explore almost as much as he enjoys climbing things. Late last summer, Isaac and his mom, Sue (my wife), ventured down a lightly travelled path running along the Penobscot River. They happened across the underside of a bridge adorned with some extraordinarily artistic graffiti. The remarkable sight, when paired with the necessity of scaling a steep embankment to reach it, proved too much for Isaac to pass up. Sue decided to admire the scene from where she stood. Isaac reached the wedge where the embankment met the bridge only to discover some bedding, clothing, and other personal items. Isaac, of course, had no interest in another person’s stuff. He did pause for a moment to enjoy the fruits of his labor by examining the artwork up close.
THEN … down in the bushes, there arose such a clatter, Isaac whipped around his head to see what was the matter. When what to his wondering eyes did appear, but a incoherent adult screeching with anger and fear. I wish I could remember the exact words Isaac used to describe the scene. He painted a disturbing picture that I could clearly envision in my mind’s eye. Now, there is nothing remotely funny about homelessness and the folks who struggle for survival while living on the streets. Equally unfunny, however, is that two human beings lawfully exploring a public area could be chased away or attacked when they had no interest in disturbing anything or anyone at the scene.
Isaac and his mom, of course, could have chosen door number one by calmly waiting for the individual to reach them and then explaining in a non-threatening way that they had no interest in bothering the man or his things. Given the frantic flailing and non- verbal screams coming from the individual, they correctly assessed that such was probably not the best course of action.
With the man approaching Sue at the bottom of the embankment, Sue’s maternal instincts kicked into high gear as she turned and yelled to Isaac, still at the top, to run. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Isaac bounded down the slope to protect his mother while suggesting she run. Yeah, good luck on that one as well. And they both think I am the stubborn one.
At any rate, I stopped Isaac at this point in his story telling to ask if he had to actually use any of the vast karate skills he had been taught.
His reply was priceless. “Yeah,” he said, “we both ran when I got to mom.” Isaac explained that he knew his mother was in shape from jogging, and the potential attacker had not yet reached striking distance. Now, he’s currently 15, but quite rugged. We spar so I can honestly say I am aware of how hard he can hit and/or kick. He is also, almost disturbingly, passionate about bladed and improvised weapons and is more than capable in bringing them to bear on an aggressor should the need arise.
Isaac pointed out that, once he reached his mom, the course of action was obvious. The approaching individual was limping and could likely be outrun. Isaac noted that he had no way to know if the man had a knife or any other weapon, or if the man was hyped up on some kind of drug. Isaac had seen what he wanted and knew he had not disturbed any of the belongings about which the man was probably concerned. Away they ran to safety. They continued to enjoy the beautiful day.
… The next time you find yourself eye to eye with an angry tiger – physically, emotionally, or intellectually – consider your goals and if direct confrontation is truly the only option to meet them. Gichin Funakoshi once observed “when two tigers fight, one is certain to be maimed, and the other die.” While I certainly have not internalized this important lesson yet, I have come to learn that pride is often the only factor driving the need to confront a tense circumstance head on in order to bring immediate resolution.
In karate-do, of course, we speak of being humble as a means to achieve peace and harmony. The next time you feel anger at another, consider disengaging as a method of healthy resolution rather than some childish, schoolyard notion of being tough. Unfortunately, for some, the environment dictates a tiger’s approach if one is to survive. Outside of a war zone, prison, or gang infested territory, I imagine such is seldom truly the case. I am willing to wager that in most instances, the courage to spread one’s wings and fly away will provide a better perspective on whatever the issue may be and a much wider and wiser range of options for addressing it.