The following is an excerpt by late Aikido master Terry DobsonÂ in the anthology “The Peaceful Warrior,” edited by Rick Fields (Tarcher/Putnam, 1994) as retold by Ram Dass inÂ An Experiment in Awareness â Mile High Church, Colorado, June 24, 1994.
The train clanked and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy Spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty, a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows. At one station the doors opened and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car, he wore laborerâs clothing and was big, drunk and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple, and it was a miracle that the baby was unharmed.
Â Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled towards the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman, but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk the he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of itâs stanchion, I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding, and the train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up. I was young then, some twenty years ago and in pretty good shape. I had been putting in a solid eight hours of Aikido training every day for the past three years. I liked to throw and grapple, I thought I was tough. The trouble was that my martial skill was untested in actual combat, as students of Aikido we were not allowed to fight.
âAikido,â my teacher had said again and again âis the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind of fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people youâre already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.â
I listened to his words, I tried so hard, I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the kids, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. My forbearance exalted me. I was both tough and holy (laughter). In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.
âThis is it!â I said to myself as I stood up. âPeople are in danger, if I donât do something fast somebody will probably get hurt.â
Seeing me stand up the drunk recognized the chance to focus his rage, âAh hah!â he roared âa foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!â
I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.
âAlrightâ he hollered, âyouâre gonna get a lesson!â He gathered himself for a rush at me, a fraction of a second before he could move someone shouted âhey!â It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous lilting quality of it. As though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something and he had suddenly stumbled upon it âhey!â I wheeled to my left and the drunk spun to his right, we both stared down at a little old Japanese man. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as if he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.
âCome hereâ the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk, âcome here and talk with me.â He waved his hand lightly, the big man followed as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman and roared above the clacking wheels âwhy the hell should I talk to you?â The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter Iâd drop him in his socks.
The old man continued to beam at the laborer, âwhatcha been drinking?â His eyes sparkling with interest. âI been drinking Sake,â the laborer bellowed back, âand itâs none of your business!â Flecks of spittle spattered the old man. âOh, thatâs wonderful!â the old man said, âabsolutely wonderful!Â You see I love Sake too. Every night me and my wife, sheâs seventy-six you know, we warm up a little bottle of Sake and we take it out into the garden and we sit on our old wooden bench and we watch the sun go down and we look to see how our Persimmon tree is doing, my great grandfather planted that tree and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. Itâs gratifying to watch when we take our Sake and go out to enjoy the evening, even when it rains.â He looked up at the laborer, his eyes twinkling.
As he struggled to follow the old manâs conversation, the drunkâs face began to soften, his fists slowly unclenched. âYeahâ he said âI love Persimmons tooâ¦â His voice trailed off. âYes,â said the old man smiling âand Iâm sure you have a wonderful wife.â
âNah,â replied the laborer, âmy wife died.â Very gently swaying with the motion of the train the big man began to sob âI donât got no wife, I donât got no home, I donât got no job, Iâm so ashamed of myself.â Tears rolled down his cheeks, a spasm of despair rippled through his body.
There I was, standing in my well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my âmake this world safe for Democracyâ righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was. The train arrived at my stop and as the doors opened I heard the old man cluck sympathetically âmy, myâ he said, âthat is a difficult predicament. Sit down here and tell me about it.â I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old manâs lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair. As the train pulled away I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen Aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it is love.