A Zen Story
The following is based on an old zen story I came across recently and found quite interesting. I rewrote it from the ground up to add an entertainment layer and a modern flyby twist to it. Hope you enjoy! 🌅😊
The glare grew stronger as he stood there frozen like a deer caught in the headlights. Smack. Another takedown. O-nami lay flat on the ground, not knowing what just hit him. One more tournament where he would fail to deliver.
In early Japan, there was a powerful sumo wrestler called O-nami, "Great Waves." Ravaging opponents with the force of lightning, his ability was unmatched— in the practice ring.
When it came time to get on stage in public, O-nami was a flop. The lights would blind his composure, the piercing sounds would carve through him mercilessly, and he would fall back down in search of his own shadow.
He knew this all too well and would avoid all tournaments like the plague. He spent most of his time in the dojo, teaching others and sparring with opponents. His skill was unmatched, and he had mastered the art of wrestling, but he knew he wasn't living up to his full potential. Others would come to him for guidance, but he knew he couldn't keep his head high for too long without actually living what he taught. There was always the occasional student who would ask the awkward question. And so would his own teacher ...
"What happened, O-nami? You've been doing exceptionally well in practice; I thought you would overcome this time," asked his teacher after the defeat.
"I'm not sure, Kaiji-san. I froze again," whimpered the great O-nami.
This went on for a few more rounds, O-nami lost match after match, and his confidence was slowly getting wiped out.
His mentor Kaiji grew concerned. He knew this would impact O-nami outside of the ring, and he would need to overcome his fear soon before it was too late. Kaiji decided to take matters into his own hands. He spoke to the organizers to try and re-arrange the fixtures for O-nami's benefit.
"O-nami, I've got some great news. I learned you will be wrestling with Banjo in next week's match. He is your student and an easy opponent. Do you think you'll be able to handle it?"
"Yes, Kaiji-san. I have taught him everything he knows and beaten him many, many times in practice. It will be no contest," said O-nami fiercely.
A few days went by. Both O-nami and Banjo trained fiercely. They sparred together on several occasions. O-nami would always win and then explain to Banjo how he could improve with some playful instructions. Banjo knew he was no match for the great O-nami and couldn't help but envy the gifted giant.
Kaiji had started to gain hope again. An easy win against Banjo would give O-nami the confidence needed to rise. He would perhaps even be able to win a tournament in a few years.
The match day arrived swiftly.
O-nami stepped into the ring the same way he had done many times before. He was confident this time. Banjo was like his personal punching bag in practice.
DING DING DING
The bells rang, and the lights switched on with a whooshing sound. Suddenly, O-nami turned around to witness the sea of faces surrounding him. Some he would recognize, some strangers. The glare grew stronger, and the ringing in his ears grew louder. The crowd bellowed in anticipation. Everything was moving in slow motion. He looked forward, but before he could piece himself together, he saw Banjo rushing towards him like a charged rhinoceros. O-nami's face dropped, his hands froze, and he suddenly forgot how to block or counter. The lights grew dim as he heard his mentor yell from the side of the ring, "MOVE O-NAMI! MOVE!" It was too late. He found himself 6 feet in the air before he realized what was happening.
One swift takedown and O-nami was on the ground.
DING DING DING DING DING.
The crowd started roaring.
Banjo walked around the ring with his hands held firmly in the air. He looked towards O-nami and let out a smug roar which wiped out all the humiliation he felt he had faced in the dojo. He circled O-nami like a shark taunting its prey. O-nami was nearly twice his size, but none of it made any difference. Banjo had beaten his fierce teacher.
O-nami dragged himself up, bewildered by the unexpected turn of events. His mentor Kaiji-san walked over with a look of utter disbelief.
"What happened, O-nami? Banjo is no match for your prowess. You have beaten him many times in practice!"
O-nami didn't reply. A wave of confusion and disappointment washed over him as he struggled to understand how he had lost yet again.
Seeing the frustration in this gifted wrestler, Kaiji-san grew frustrated himself. His interference had only seemed to make things worse.
"Perhaps you should take some time off and reconsider this approach, O-nami. Not everyone needs to fight in tournaments. You are a gifted trainer; let others do the fighting! This isn't good for anyone's morale. I can assign you some extra shifts at the dojo. What do you say?"
O-nami's shoulders slumped as he walked away in silence, the weight of disappointment heavy on his bowed head.
He started heading towards the endless sea. He knew he couldn't return to the dojo after what happened with Banjo. The students wouldn't respect him anymore. He considered throwing in the towel and working the rice fields instead. "Maybe I'm just not cut out for this whole wrestling thing," he thought hopelessly.
He walked for a few hours until he glimpsed a temple perched atop a nearby hill. It shimmered like a beacon, drawing him in with its magnetic pull. He remembered that a wandering Zen master named Hakuju was visiting there. Perhaps he could help with the situation.
With nothing to lose, he turned around and went through the forest instead. The path was cold, long, and full of the unknown. He could hear the snakes hissing in the background, taunting him like the cacophony of the crowd still playing on repeat in his head. He made a run for it as the mysteries hidden behind the trees ruffled his spirit.
Emerging from the shadowy forest, he caught sight of the hidden temple, its silhouette framed against the fiery hues of the setting sun. He was breathless but still climbed the 400 steep steps savagely pieced together at near-right angles as if only to test incoming prospects. He trudged on for a few hours, his body aching with every step. This was no ordinary feat for a mountain climber, let alone a sumo wrestler of his grandeur.
He stood outside, desperately attempting to catch his breath.
Suddenly, the door opened, and he was greeted by a small man with a faint smile on his face.
"Greetings, O-nami. I have been expecting you."
He coughed a few times, still breathless.
"How do you know my name?" he asked.
"And how did you know I would be arriving?"
"I know many things, O-nami, but more importantly, do you know— why are you here?"
O-nami paused, thinking long about how to respond.
"I know everything about wrestling, master Hakuju, yet I keep losing in tournaments. I was hoping you would be able to help."
Master Hakuju smiled, "Is that so O-nami?"
"If you know everything about wrestling, then why do you think you are losing?"
"I... I'm not sure!" squeaked O-nami, realizing he might have neglected a few areas of his development.
The Zen master lowered his gaze.
"Great Waves is your name. Is that correct?"
"Yes, master Hakuju. I am O-nami, Great Waves!"
"Well then, Great Waves, you must now embrace those billows. You are no longer a wrestler who is afraid. Imagine you are those huge waves sweeping everything before them, swallowing all in their path. Do this, and you will become the greatest wrestler in the land."
The master left, leaving O-nami to tackle his inner demons.
He tried to do as instructed but found it difficult to focus. His mind was a whirlwind of fear, doubt, and frustration, making it hard to concentrate on the calming image of the great waves. All he could see were the flashbacks from the past. Banjo standing above him with a petty smirk on his face. The insults and awkward questions from the students. He tried to tune it out, but the hissing from the forest had other ideas. The match bells started ringing like a broken xylophone stuck on repeat. His mind was racing at 200mph.
But.. he kept at it. If there was one thing he was good at, it was practice. Any type of practice. O-nami was a master of his craft; he just needed to get out of his own way. Now, he had a new craft to master. He stayed at it for a few hours.
The salty water emerging from the fading thoughts started flowing down his cheeks as he turned towards the feeling of the waves.
He could suddenly feel the ripples. The foam sparkled like diamonds as he stood there, caught like a deer in the headlights once more.
Time stood still as O-nami was no more, leaving only what remained.. the great waves rushing towards him in slow motion.
Like someone hitting play on a record player, the storm surged forward with the intensity of the seven seas.
The waves blew forward, sweeping everything in their way.
The temple was swallowed along with everything inside of it.
There was silence.
Not even the usual ringing in his ears.
Only the ebb and flow of the endless oceans.
A few hours later, master Hakuju walked in to find O-nami sitting on the ground, meditating with a faint smile resembling his own.
He patted O-nami on the back.
"Now, nothing can disturb you. You are one with the Great Waves. You will sweep everything that comes your way."
O-nami got up and headed straight to the dojo. He asked Banjo for a rematch first thing in the morning. Banjo agreed eagerly and started belittling O-nami for wanting to humiliate himself in public again.
O-nami's teacher Kaiji caught the word. "O-nami, are you sure about this? You won't be able to recover from another defeat. Why not just return to the practice ring and welcome your gifts?"
O-nami said nothing. He stood tall with a faint smile still on his face.
His mentor sensed something beyond his comprehension at play. "Very well, O-nami, I shall be there to support you."
Word spread throughout town, drawing an eager crowd to witness the rematch. Most were keen to see the giant O-nami go down once more in a humiliating defeat.
Banjo entered the ring and immediately started taunting O-nami with a chicken dance. The crowd joined in with laughter and started throwing rubbish toward him.
But... Great Waves was unphased. He stood still and felt at one with the billows.
With a deep, steadying breath, he closed his eyes and reached out to the unseen currents, feeling their raw power swirling within him, waiting to bend to his will.
The announcements took place, and the arena lights blazed to life. The crowd grew louder in anticipation.
DING DING DING
Banjo darted forward with incredible speed, like a leopard chasing a slow-moving target.
With his eyes still closed, O-nami tensed his muscles to form a cinder block right as Banjo pounced in like a feral beast.
Banjo crashed into him like a frying pan hitting a hard rock. The crowd gasped as the strong vibrations sent him spinning. He swayed around like a drunkard, not knowing what had just hit him.
He tried walking toward the great wall in his dizzying gait, attempting to land some karate slaps.
He leaned forward and threw his hand with full force.
O-nami stood still, eyes still closed. In one swift motion, he got in between the strike and used his opponent's energy to counter. One with the ocean, he summoned the currents as the colossal waves rose up, throwing Banjo 10 feet into the skies and then bringing him crashing back down with the swift force of the tides.
DING DING DING DING DING
The crowd erupted in cheers, clapping and stomping their feet as excitement rippled through the arena.
Kaiji cheered with an uncontrollable wide grin showing the few teeth he had left. He didn't know how, but he knew full well that the most fierce wrestler in all of Japan had just been born again. In the glow of O-nami's transformation, he too began to reevaluate the untapped depths of his own potential, as if a hidden door had been unlocked within him. Perhaps it was time for him to reach the next level himself. "Master Kai..." he thought, "has a nice ring to it."
O-nami stood tall with a faint smile still firm on his expression. He opened his eyes and gave Banjo a playful gesture indicating once more how he could improve. He was his teacher, after all. Still dizzy from the slam, Banjo bowed in apology for letting the prior win get to his head. O-nami walked away without saying a word.
Something within him had shifted. He was no longer afraid. Harnessing the power of the currents, he could now control his emotions at will, embodying the tranquility of the still ocean or the ferocity of towering great waves as required.
The same day, he entered the tournaments and won effortlessly.
From that moment on, no vessel, big or small, could ever rock the deep serenity and relentless force of the Great Waves …
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I really liked reading your story, Sohail! The May Sumo tournament starts on the 14th. : )