The terrible secret of little bonzo
Around 1650, a Chinese bonzo called Chen Yuan Pin went to live in the Yedo region (today’s Tokyo). He had crossed the Western sea to teach calligraphy and poetry. Isolated in a room of the Kokushoji temple, he lived alone and could only be seen whenever he was teaching. Discreet as a cat, calm as a lake’s surface, the old monk seemed as frail as a jade lantern.
His poems flourished on his lips like lotus flowers and his brush danced on his agile fingers creating harmony. Soon, Chen Yuan Pin came to the attention of the Shogun, who decided to take him onto his service. Chen agreed to teach his art to the young noblemen and the court, but refused vehemently to settle in the palace, preferring the quiet of his refuge to the palace. Whenever he entered the palace’s grounds, he frequently met the rough samurais who looked at him disdainfully. With quiet words they accused the Shogun’s protege of softening the spirit of the young noblemen destined to the trade of arms. One can not win a battle with a brush in his hand, uttering poems and with one’s mind full of philosophy! Quiet as a cat, calm as the surface of a lake, frail as a jade lantern, Chen Yuan Pin carried on his path, with his face lit up by an imperturbable smile.
One night, after being kept late in the palace, busy with his work, the old monk returned to the Kokushoji temple, that was far from the city, escorted by three guards, which he reluctantly accepted due to the insisting requests of the Shogun himself. Just outside the city’s gates, the path crept into a dark forest and it didn’t take long for Chen Yuan Pin and his escort to find themselves surrounded by a band of cutthroats. The band attacked mercilessly. The three guards fought valiantly, creating a bloody circle around the old monk, but the number of bandits outmatched the samurais’ bravery, who, unarmed, awaited death in a final empty-handed confrontation. That’s when, swiftly and unexpectedly, Chen Yuan Pin started his attack. Quick as lightning, flexible as a bamboo stalk, immaterial as the wind, his hands, his feet, his elbows, turned into terrifying weapons. Four bandits fell to the ground, out cold, and the others, scared to death with the ghastly change of the peaceful monk, turned and ran for their lives. And they kept on running as if they had met a kami, a supernatural being.
Surprised with admiration, the three samurai returned to the path in order to lead the bonzo to the temple. On the way, unable to resist, they asked Chen Yuan Pin to reveal to them the terrible secret of his strength. But the old monk maintained his silence and walked to the temple – quiet as a cat, calm as the surface of a lake and frail as a jade lantern. As soon as they arrived, he bid the guards farewell and retired into the temple for the night. But the guards, determined to find out his secret, spent the night at the temple’s gates, without sleeping.
On the next day, they renewed their request to the old monk, begging him to take them as disciples or as mere servants.
– My art is for souls of hard temper. The paths of knowledge are hard and difficult – said the monk.
– We are ready to face any challenge – answered the three guards.
The old bonzo took them as his students and, for many years, taught them the art of Wu Shu, the perfect art, which he had learned in the Middle Kingdom. Besides the common teachings, each specialized in one of the branches of the art. One perfected himself in the art of projections, another the grabbing and strangling and the third in the art of atemi, the strikes to vital body parts.
After many years of intense training, already knowledgeable of Chen Yuan Pin’s secret, came the moment of leaving the old master. They should teach what they had been taught, each in his specialty. On the day of the parting, Chen Pin gave them some final advices and told them to teach only those who were able to follow the path of the heart. The master gave them his blessing and went into the temple, quiet as a cat, calm as the surface of a lake, looking, with the weight of the years even more frail than a jade lantern, but with the same imperturbable smile lighting up his face.
Contributed by our friend José Almeida from Portugal