I love the stories about the amazing feats of the old masters. What are some of your favorites?
Updated: Mar 25
The stories of the old masters, aside from being very entertaining, are of great importance to modern martial artists. In these anecdotal histories, we get a glimpse of the incredible skill levels that were possessed by the great martial artists of the past. The remarkable thing is that despite the fantastic feats recorded in these stories, they are so new (compared to much of the ancient history we quickly accept) that they are almost certainly reliable information. This gives the modern martial artist a set of true goals for his/ her training—not stupidious and meaningless plastic trophies, not foolish contention between individuals who should be partners in training, not unsafe training practices that mar and scar the human body rather than strengthening and enlivening it—but rather a true end to training where the student improves for the entire tenure of the practice, always growing and always gaining, even in to old age.
Now, as this could get quite long, I will limit myself to the following two stories: Morihei Ueshiba’s Disappearance and Choki Motobu’s walk home from the fair.
The tales of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, are likely the most fantastic of the modern age. Again, his large number of students and the recentness of this tale make a compelling argument for its validity. As the story goes, some of Ueshiba’s students were sitting around following a training session telling stories of the shinobi of bygone days; the students were trading back and forth stories of these shadow warriors who could supposedly vanish into thin air. Before long, a few of the students were making light of the stories, mocking anyone who would accept such a silly account of such far-fetched abilities. Apparently, Ueshiba O’Sensei had overheard their brashness. Ueshiba approached the students and asked if any of them had ever practiced the art of disappearing. Needless to say, the somewhat perplexed students said nothing. Ueshiba went on to ask how they knew such an ability was impossible if they had never attempted to develop it. Again, the students were too confused to say anything. Ueshiba then asked the group of students to attack him. Now this part was not unusual. Many reliable account detail the ease with which the Founder could send groups of four, five or even more pupils sailing away from him during practice sessions. Thus, the students surrounded Ueshiba and attacked…but this time, it was different. In such a way they barely even perceived what had occurred, Ueshiba was gone. He had literally vanished out of the midst of his students. A voice from the top of the stairs called down to the students—it was Ueshiba. He informed his students that they should never pass judgment about things they had not experienced or studied. He then added that he was tired, and he went to bed, leaving his amazed pupils to study humility.
Next is the tale of Choki Motobu’s walk home from the fair. Choki was walking along with a friend of his, a friend that was not of royal descent as was Choki. This means his friend would have had little or no martial arts training. As Choki and his companion were walking, Motobu noticed a large number of thugs coming their way. Here there are some different versions of the story; some accounts report 10-14 attackers and some list as many as 20; whatever the number, it was far more than two normal men could possibly handle. As the attackers approached, Choki told his friend to run away as fast as he could on Choki’s signal. Doubtless, Choki’s friend certainly thought that at the signal, the two would flee to safety together. At his chosen moment, Motobu screamed, and his friend ran as fast as he could. The friend looked back over his shoulder, and to his amazement, Choki had turned and ran straight for the attackers! His friend, in a moment of cowardice, continued running. After some time had passed, the friend was struck with deep melancholy; he was certain he had left Choki to die. Guilt led the friend to return to the scene of the attack; surprisingly, when he arrived, no one was there. Fearing the worst, he assumed Choki had been cruelly beaten and murdered. Accordingly, he traveled to Choki’s home to break the news to the mother of the deceased. When he knocked, Choki’s voice called out, “Come in.” The friend was shocked and relieved. He asked Choki what had happened. Choki replied, “After I knocked out the first two, the rest ran off.”
This is the true power of martial arts practice; we, the practitioners of modernity, must release the petty goals of our contemporaries and learn the true greatnesses of the past