(This version of a traditional legend has a couple of updates since the last version published here in my dojo blog.)
Hundreds of years ago in the Ryukyu Kingdom, there was a samurai warrior who was known for his short temper. People tried not to make him mad because he had a reputation for getting angry easily and acting on it.
This samurai warrior had loaned money to a common Okinawan fisherman in Itoman City. The fisherman agreed to pay the loan back in exactly one year.
On collection day, the samurai made the days’ long journey to the fisherman’s village to collect his money.
When the samurai arrived at the small fishing village and asked for the fisherman in and around the marketplace, the villagers said they had not seen him recently. The samurai walked to the fisherman’s small hut, but nobody was home. He started to get angry.
The samurai went to the public bathhouse, and all other gathering places, but everyone said they had not seen the fisherman for a couple of days. The samurai stormed through the village, from one house to the next, voice booming, in search of his debtor. He checked the fishing boats near the shore, and when that failed, he walked down the shore, searching the face of every person he passed.
As the sun got low in the sky, the samurai’s anger rose. Stomping and mumbling down the nearly deserted beach, he came upon a young boy playing with some stones. When the samurai asked the boy if he’d seen the fisherman, the boy froze, glanced over his shoulder at the edge of a large rock formation, said, “No!” then ran inland. The samurai thought he had his answer from the boy’s body language.
The wind had started at dusk, and now it whipped the samurai’s clothing as he stormed toward the craggy cliffs. His heart pounded in his ears as waves crashed behind him. A figure crouched down below the overhang of a cliff.
The fisherman rose slowly as the samurai towered in front of him.
The samurai approached, sword drawn, anger making him seem bigger. “I take it you do not have the money to repay me?” he boomed.
Eyes on the ground, the fisherman weakly shook his head, “So sorry.”
With his sword drawn, ready to strike, the samurai stated, “Give me one reason not to kill you right now.”
The fisherman replied, “If you please sir. I have just started studying karate, and one of the things I have learned is this, ‘When your hand goes out, withdraw your anger; when your anger goes out, withdraw your hand.’”
This was a saying the samurai had heard in his own martial arts study. He was so surprised to hear these words coming from a common villager, that shock replaced his anger. He paused. “I will give you one more year, at the end of which you had better be ready to pay me,” the samurai said gruffly. He turned and left through the village.
The samurai traveled many hours back to his house from the fisherman’s village. When he stepped into his house in the middle of the night, he was about to call out to his wife to let her know he was home, when he looked toward their bedroom and saw the door ajar. In the faint light of a lamp that was still lit, the samurai could see two figures lying on the bed.
He quietly stepped closer, and saw that his wife was sleeping next to a person dressed in samurai clothing. Blood rushed to his head, pulsing in his ears and making his face hot. The samurai raised his sword and started to step into the room in a murderous rage.
Then he thought of the words the fisherman held so reverently, “When your hand goes out, withdraw your anger, when your anger goes out, withdraw your hand.”
Mustering his self-control, the samurai stepped back to the door and called out, “I have returned.”
His wife quickly got up to greet him, along with his mother.
The older woman explained, “I dressed in some of your clothes in case any intruders came to the house in your absence.”
“I can never sleep well when you’re gone,” added his wife.
The samurai greeted them both with relief.
A year later, on collection day, the samurai made the journey back to the fisherman’s village.
This time the fisherman waited for him right outside the marketplace. He happily announced, “I have your money, as well as interest. It was a profitable year.”
The samurai put his hand on the fisherman’s shoulder, “You do not owe me, friend. I owe you.”
—end of Hakugin-do traditional legend—
If you’d like more reading material, here’s another short story of mine.