Excerpt from famous Zen story “The Taste of Banzo’s Sword”:
Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him. So Matajuro went to Mount Fuhra and there found the famous swordsman Banzo.
But Banzo confirmed the father’s judgment. ‘You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?’ asked Banzo. ‘You cannot fulfill the requirements.’
‘But if I work hard, how many years will it take me to be come a master?’ persisted the youth.
‘The rest of your life,’ replied Banzo.
‘I cannot wait that long,’ explained Matajuro. ‘I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?’
‘Oh, maybe ten years,’ Banzo relented.
‘My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,’ continued Matajuro. ‘If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me!’
‘Oh, maybe thirty years.’ said Banzo.
‘Why is that?’ asked Matajuro. ‘First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!’
‘Well,’ said Banzo, ‘in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.’
I’ve found myself relating this story to a student more than once, not (as in the story itself) as a rebuke for impatience, but to illustrate that pushing to learn a deep, subtle art usually only results in getting in your own way. I also frequently find myself saying “all moves will come to you eventually” – the other side of the same coin.
Oriental dance is so rich and varied that you could study it for several lifetimes and still not run out of things to learn. Mastery of the different aspects grows slowly and organically, a fact which sometimes frustrates beginners, but I see as one of the dance’s gifts, and a lovely antidote to our culture of instant gratification.
Additionally, much of the ability to dance blooms slowly in the subconscious – my students are often surprised at first to find that working hard with the conscious mind doesn’t gain them all that much, but after taking a break from practicing a move for a while, the skill seems to have developed all on it’s own. This too is a gift – learning to trust that, once your intent is set, things move forward without continually having to bring the force of your intellect to bear on them. The pursuit ceases to be exhausting, and the slow but inevitable unfolding of your dance abilities becomes profound and beautiful.