Zen Fable: The Marvelous Techniques of the Old Cat (Neko no Myojutsu)

ASHESANDSNOW_03Neko no Myojutsu first appered in Inaka Soshi (The Country Taoist), which is a collection of essays written in 1727 by Issai Chozan in 1727. It has been and continues to be a very popular text among martial artists.


There once was a fine swordsman named Shoken. His home was plagued by a huge rat who roamed around freely, even during the day. Shoken’s house cat was no match for the rat and fled in terror after being severely bitten. Shoken acquired several tough local polecats to combat the rat in a group. They were released in the house, and went for the rat, who crouched in a corner of a room waiting for them to come. The rat lashed out ferociously at one cat after the other and drove them all off. Angered by the abject failure of all the cats, the master decided to dispatch the rat with his sword. Despite his skill as a swordsman, he could not strike the rat- the animal leaped great distances


through the air, moved like lightning, and boldly lept right over the top of the swordsman’s head.

Shoken gave up in exasperation and decided to seek the aid of the Amazing Old Cat from a nearby village. When the owner brought the Old Cat over to Shoken’s house, Shoken was surprised at how ordinary and aged the cat appeared. However, he said, “Let’s give it a try”, and released the cat into the room where the rat was ensconced. As soon as it saw the cat approach, the rat froze. The cat nonchalantly walked over, seized the rat by the neck, carried it out of the room, and turned it over to Shoken.

That night, the other cats gathered and gave the Old Cat the seat of honor. They said to him, “We are all well known for our skill in rat catching, able to handle even weasels and otters, and our nails are razor sharp. However, there was nothing we could do against that rat. How is it that you were able to overcome that giant rat? Please impart to us the secrets of your art.”

The Old Cat laughed and said, “Well, you are all still young and although you have experience in fighting with rats you still have a lot to learn. Before I begin, though, tell me about your training.”

A black cat came forward and said, “I was raised in a family that specialized in training cats. I was taught how to leap over a seven foot screen, how to squeeze into tiny holes, and all kinds of acrobatic tricks. I was an expert at feigning sleep and then striking out as soon as a rat came near. Rats could not escape me. I could catch them even as they fled across ceiling beams. I was never defeated until I met that old rat.” The Old Cat said, “Your training has centered exclusively on technique. All you think about is catching the rat. The old masters taught patterns and movements to enable us to develop good technique. And even the simplest technique contains profound principles. You focus on external technique too much. This causes you to doubt the traditions of the masters and to devise new tricks. However, if you rely on technique too much, sooner or later you will come to an impasse because physical technique has a limit. Ponder this well.”

Next the tiger cat stepped forward and said: “I think that the development of ki(life force) is most important. I have polished my ki for many years, and my spirit is very strong, filling heaven and earth. I could face down my opponents with overwhelming ki and defeat them from the start. I could immediately respond to any stimulus, any movement. I did not need to think; techniques naturally arose. I could freeze a rat running across a beam and make it drop to the floor. That old rat, though, came without a form. and left not a trace. I was stymied.”

The Old Cat replied, “The ki power you use is still a function of your own mind, and thus too self-centered. It is based entirely on your own level of self-confidence. As long as you remain conscious of your ki power and use it mentally to suppress an opponent, you will create resistance. And you will be sure to meet an opponent whose ki power is even stronger than yours. You may think that your ki power fills the universe in the same manner as the kozen no ki (universal energy) employed by the Chinese sage Mencius, but it does not. In the case of Mencius, ki is bright and vigorous. His use of ki power is like a great river; your use of ki power is like a flash flood. We all know the proverb ‘A biting cat gets bitten by the rat.’ When a rat is cornered it forgets life, forgets desires, forgets winning and losing, forgets body and mind. That force is as strong as steel, and cannot be vanquished merely by ki power.”


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One thought on “Zen Fable: The Marvelous Techniques of the Old Cat (Neko no Myojutsu)

  1. Pingback: Mushin: The Mind without Mind | aikido-no-sekai

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