As with most men, Bokuden grew old, and felt he could no longer run his martial arts school (dojo), and decided he would pass the leadership of it to one of his three sons--but which one?
Each was a strong fighter, but each had different qualities. His friends all laughed politely at his quandry, and simply said that the eldest son always took over from the father.
Despite it being Japan and the need to follow protocol an important tradition, Bokuden wasn't so swayed. "Tradition is not always the way to solve a problem. A problem must be thought through."
Would the eldest son be the best teacher (sensei) merely because he was the oldest? How would it be fair to his many students to have a teacher teach them merely because he was the oldest? And how would his other two sons react--one of them might be a better fighter or a better teacher... would not resentment fester merely because he chose to appoint a successor based solely on age?
Now... all three of his sons were excellent martial artists in their own right. Bokuden realized that physical strength alone would not prove enough in teaching or in life. Bokuden was wise to know that a real leader encompassed many qualities.
Being one to talk the talk and walk the walk, Bokuden formulated a plan and called for his assistant Yamamoto to join him. Bokuden had been Yamamoto's first teacher of the martial arts, with the two of them having known each other for as long as anyone could recall.
Yamamoto, while younger than Bokuden, was not as healthy as his Master, having lost much of his strength and flexibility.
Now, while Yamamoto deeply respected the wishes of Bakuden, he wished he would reconsider his retirement. He knew that each of his three sons had his own set of followers, and should he not be named the dojo leader, and did not respect the new leader, a divide would occur causing one or the other to leave to form their own dojo, thereby weakening the name and reputation of Bakuden. He told Bakuden that he should resists retirement while he could still move.
But, as mentioned, Bakuden had a plan. I will test each son to see who will be the next sensei. "We shall see whose talents will serve him best."
Trusting Bakuden, Yamamoto was relieved. Each son was different.
The youngest possessed physical strength greater than the others with huge muscles we worked on every day. He could cut a tree down with the single swing of his katana sword.
The middle son, while not as strong, was extremely quick and could block a blow and counter attack in the blink of an eye. Bokuden had watched avoid an attack by leaping high into the air, sometimes landing behind his opponent with such speed that he was seen only as a blur.
The eldest son was not as strong as his youngest brother nor as quick as his middle brother, but he did possess a focus that made fighting him quite difficult. When an opponent thought to hit him, he had already moved to block--before the opponent had actually move.
To test them, Bokuden set about setting a pillow--a nice comfy pillow--atop the entrance of a room. "When anyone enters, the pillow shall fall on their head."
With the test set, Yamamoto was asked to fetch his youngest son, whom he found in his room admiring the way he flexed his biceps. "Your father wishes to see you. Please follow me."
Hurrying after Yamamoto, when he reached the dojo where his father was awaiting, he quickly through open the sliding door and entered.
The pillow landed upon his head.
Angered by the sudden attack, the youngest son drew his katana from its sheath and before it could even hit the ground turned it into a pile of feathers and fabric that floated in the air.
Bokuden and Yamamoto sneezed from the feathers tickling their noses.
Turning to the youngest son who waved the floating feathers furiously away from his face, Bokuden chided: "My son... must you always overpower everything... even a pillow?"
The son breathed a feather away from his face and responded, "I would have cut a real attacker into a thousand pieces."
Bokuden looking at the mess at his feet, shook his head, "If that pillow had been a real attacker, you would have been dead. Block first and then attack. If you allow an attacker to get in the first attack with a sword, your strength matters not.
"You need to work harder to anticipate an attack if you are to defend yourself."
Angry at his failure, the youngest son stormed out of the room. "He does not understand," said Bokuden.
After cleaning the room of feathers, and the test set again, Yamamoto went to fetch the middle son.
Slipping through the barely opened doorway, the middle son caused the pillow to fall--but being quick, he caught the pillow in his hands, smiled and asked his father how he was.
Bokuden smiled at his middle son's composure and speed. The family's honor seemed to be restored.
Now it was time to test the oldest son. But... when he approached the room, he spied the pillow atop the door and reached up and pulled it down, looked at it, and as he fully entered the room, turned back and fluffed the pillow and replaced it back atop the doorway.
"How did you see the pillow?" asked Bokuden.
"I saw it because it was there," answered the eldest son. "You taught me that a samurai must always be aware of his suroundings. You have ever taught us when training here in the dojo that a samurai must always be alert.
"And so I saw the pillow. I hope you don't mind that I took it down before I caused it to fall as I entered--I assume you had it up there for a purpose?"
Bokuden bowed long and deep to his eldest son. "My son, you are a true samurai and will be the best sensei for this dojo when I retire."
After Yamamoto handed Bokuden the ceremonial sword, the father passed the sword down to his eldest son and most excellent student.
"You, my son, shall lead the dojo not because your are my eldest child but because you truly understand what it means to be a samurai."
This is my adaption of a famous Japanese samurai tale. It reflects a samurai proverb:
"A person who has attained mastery of a martial art reveals it in his every action."
By the way... did you notice that the photo of the samurai pillow above has a samurai holding an electric guitar? I didn't.