21 Nov

I have recently spent some time thinking about the manner in which perception affects our reality. Each day our life is interpreted and transformed by how we perceive reality as it unfolds. Further, present reality can be affected by contemporaneous reflections of a past event. As an “intelligent” species, we are prone to the foibles of emotion, reaction, interpretation and ignorance of events that unfold in the course of our lives.

Perception’s effect upon reality was often explored in Shihan DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate Do Dojo. One of Shihan’s percepts is, “You will defend yourself differently on a bad day, when it seems everything goes against you than you will on a good day, when all is right.” The concept being that on a bad day, you will be more prone to recognizing and neutralizing a threat; whereas on a good day, you are more prone to letting your guard down. The percept is a recognition of the idea that how you perceive your world affects your daily interactions. Even though the percept is expressed in terms of Goshin-Do Karate-Do, one can readily understand its application to non-martial events. Would you prefer to receive a triggering event, such as bad news, or be given a difficult task to perform, or have an interruption in your busy schedule on a so-called “bad” day or a “good” day? To be sure, the triggering event doesn’t change its tenor. The sole condition that changes is your perception of the event. Your perception proximately affects your interpretation of and reaction to the triggering event. In addition, a contemporaneous reflection of a past event can alter the manner in which you perceive a current event.

There is a Zen tale which is part of Goshin-Do Karate-Do oral tradition that my illustrate these two points. It is called the Daimyo and the Samurai.

In feudal Japan there was a powerful daimyo, a warlord. Amongst his many retainers, the daimyo had an extremely loyal Samurai whom he favored. The samurai had accompanied the Daimyo to the Shogun’s Court in far off Edo, many days journey from their home. One day the samurai received an urgent message advising that his father, also a very distinguished samurai loyal to the daimyo’s family, had fallen gravely ill. Being in a hurry to attend to his dying father, the samurai desired to mount his horse and rush home. The samurai found that his horse had become lame and could not make the long journey home. Worried about seeing his ill father, the samurai made use of the daimyo’s favorite horse. This was a serious crime punishable by beheading.

When the daimyo heard of the samurai’s use of his horse, he declared, “The samurai and his father are loyal retainers of my family, what a devout samurai to be so concerned with the welfare of his father that he risked his own life so as to attend to his ill father.”

Business at the Shogun’s Court had concluded and the daimyo returned home to his castle. The samurai went to see his master and they walked in the daimyo’s gardens. The samurai saw the most lovely cherry blossom. He picked it and offered it to his master as a token of his appreciation, saying, “Amongst flowers, the cherry blossom; amongst men, you, my Lord and master.” The other samurai that were in attendance were shocked that he dared to pick a cherry blossom from the daimyo’s favorite tree. The daimyo took the proffered cherry blossom and praised the samurai for his generosity.

As happens in all human relationships, the daimyo and the samurai eventually had a falling out. The daimyo angrily and publicly chastised the samurai, “You impudent servant, you disgraced me by making use of my horse.” “You insulted me by picking my own cherry blossom and giving it to me as a present.” In the presence of the daimyo’s court, the samurai was ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). (See Endnote #1).

Samurai Seppuku

The tale of the daimyo and the samurai is a clear illustration of how the world is shaped by our perceptions and attitudes at any given time. It also illustrates how perception is not fixed. Rather, it is transitory and subject to our whims at any particular moment in time. In closing I remain, open to my perception of my world.



Sensei John Szmitkowski


1. I had heard this fable several times in the Dojo. I was able to locate a similar tale, which you may also enjoy reading. It is called “The Thief Of The Peach” and may be found in: Furuya, Kensho, Kodo: Ancient Ways (Lessons In The Spiritual Life Of The Warrior/Martial Artist (O’Hara Publications, Inc., 1996)   p. 48.

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