This is a second hand story, told me many years ago. At the time, the protagonist was named, so it’s of greater weight than an urban legend, but I’ve forgotten the name, so it’s still possible that it is apocryphal. Not that it matters.
The protagonist was an American, who had gone to Japan to study Aikido at Hombu Dojo, the school established by Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, known as O Sensei, which translates as “Grand Teacher.” Hombu Dojo is the home of the World Aikido Federation, and my membership card informs me that I am the 188,047th member of that organization.
One evening, the student was on the train, returning home, and a man in workman’s clothing entered the car. The workman was obviously drunk, and was elbowing people aside, making insulting remarks, “spoiling for a fight,” as it were. The student thought to himself, “I have been studying Aikido for a long time, but I’ve never had the chance to put it to practical use. Perhaps now is the time.” So he blew the workman a kiss.
This enraged the man, and he began to stalk forward. But an old man on one of the seats called out, “Hey! What have you been drinking?”
The workman was momentarily confused. “Sake!” he said after a moment. “I’ve been drinking sake! I love sake!”
“Ha!” the old man replied. “I knew it! I love sake too!” He patted the seat beside him and said to the workman. “Sit here. Tell me about where you drink. Is the sake cheap and good?”
So the workman sat himself heavily beside the old man and began to talk. Within a few minutes he was in tears, telling the old man about his troubles. He’d lost his job. His woman had left him. He was broke and unsure how he’d pay the month’s rent. And so on.
The student retreated to the next car and got off at his stop, feeling like a fool.
My first Sensei once talked about the movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales, in which there is a scene where Chief Dan George watches an impending gun fight between Wales and some outlaws, where Wales made sure to come at them with the sun behind him, to give himself an edge, the Chief observes. “We always look for the edge,” my Sensei said. “Technique is an edge. Physical conditioning is an edge. Ki is an edge. Knowing what you want is an edge.”
Being able to fight is an edge, but so is being willing to not fight. There are a lot more options when you’re not fixated on the idea of winning the fight, and having options is an edge, too.
Note added 11/29/07: My Sensei informed me that this was a fairly famous story involving Terry Dobson Sensei. In fact, a little tracking finds it here. He tells it better, of course, but I note with some significance that despite having heard the story over 20 years ago, I still remembered the important details.