09 May 2012
May 9, 2012

A Kind Word Turneth Away Wrath



The following is an excerpt by late Aikido master Terry Dobson in the anthology “The Peaceful Warrior,” edited by Rick Fields (Tarcher/Putnam, 1994) as retold by Ram Dass in An Experiment in Awareness – Mile High Church, Colorado, June 24, 1994.

The train clanked and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy Spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty, a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows. At one station the doors opened and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car, he wore laborer’s clothing and was big, drunk and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple, and it was a miracle that the baby was unharmed.

Subway Car Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled towards the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman, but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk the he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of it’s stanchion, I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding, and the train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up. I was young then, some twenty years ago and in pretty good shape. I had been putting in a solid eight hours of Aikido training every day for the past three years. I liked to throw and grapple, I thought I was tough. The trouble was that my martial skill was untested in actual combat, as students of Aikido we were not allowed to fight.

“Aikido,” my teacher had said again and again “is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind of fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people you’re already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.”

I listened to his words, I tried so hard, I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the kids, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. My forbearance exalted me. I was both tough and holy (laughter). In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.

“This is it!” I said to myself as I stood up. “People are in danger, if I don’t do something fast somebody will probably get hurt.”

Seeing me stand up the drunk recognized the chance to focus his rage, “Ah hah!” he roared “a foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!”

I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.

“Alright” he hollered, “you’re gonna get a lesson!” He gathered himself for a rush at me, a fraction of a second before he could move someone shouted “hey!” It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous lilting quality of it. As though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something and he had suddenly stumbled upon it “hey!” I wheeled to my left and the drunk spun to his right, we both stared down at a little old Japanese man. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as if he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.Ram Dass in his bus

“Come here” the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk, “come here and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly, the big man followed as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman and roared above the clacking wheels “why the hell should I talk to you?” The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter I’d drop him in his socks.

The old man continued to beam at the laborer, “whatcha been drinking?” His eyes sparkling with interest. “I been drinking Sake,” the laborer bellowed back, “and it’s none of your business!” Flecks of spittle spattered the old man. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” the old man said, “absolutely wonderful! You see I love Sake too. Every night me and my wife, she’s seventy-six you know, we warm up a little bottle of Sake and we take it out into the garden and we sit on our old wooden bench and we watch the sun go down and we look to see how our Persimmon tree is doing, my great grandfather planted that tree and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It’s gratifying to watch when we take our Sake and go out to enjoy the evening, even when it rains.” He looked up at the laborer, his eyes twinkling.

As he struggled to follow the old man’s conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften, his fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah” he said “I love Persimmons too…” His voice trailed off. “Yes,” said the old man smiling “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”

“Nah,” replied the laborer, “my wife died.” Very gently swaying with the motion of the train the big man began to sob “I don’t got no wife, I don’t got no home, I don’t got no job, I’m so ashamed of myself.” Tears rolled down his cheeks, a spasm of despair rippled through his body.

Persimmon Tree

There I was, standing in my well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my ‘make this world safe for Democracy’ righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was. The train arrived at my stop and as the doors opened I heard the old man cluck sympathetically “my, my” he said, “that is a difficult predicament. Sit down here and tell me about it.” I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair. As the train pulled away I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen Aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it is love.


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  • http://omshome.com OM

    The Essence of Everything is Love
    the essence of Love is everywhere.

  • Michele Gustafson

    I see that you did not credit the original author of this story, Terry Dobson. I am sure that when Ram Dass told the story he identified its author…

    • http://www.ramdass.org Rachael

      Michele – thank you for the comment and you are correct – the post is now corrected to reflect the correct author, Terry Dobson. Apologies for the confusion.

  • http://www.aveguevara.com Ave Guevara

    I love this story so much, I read it twice & emailed it to my friend. Dearest RD: I met you down in Brazil – we sat together at Haines’ & Catalina’s house behind the casa and I chanted for you…..I think of you often & hope you are well.

  • La Rue

    Loved this, now that’s what I’m talkin about,total love in action!

  • Paul G.

    This is like all the best moments of every Ozu movie I’ve ever seen put together.

  • Bob

    This was written by Terry Dobson and recounts his personal experience.

    • http://www.ramdass.org Rachael

      Many apologies, you are correct – the post now gives credit to the correct author.

    • Chris

      I’m intrigued. Danaan Parry told a similar story with considerably different details in chapter 13 of ‘Warriors of the Heart’ (1st published 1991). He attributes the story to ‘A friend of mine, one of the best Aikidoists I know’ but gives no name. It is interesting to read the two accounts side-by-side.

  • rick millward

    I cried with the drunk.

  • RamKaur

    I am 69 years old and learning more about love every day. When I was working and riding public transportation, many many times I would see folks like this gentleman. One evening during Advent (season preceding Christmas) our pastor gave a talk about awareness. He said next time you are in a public place, notice your surroundings and the people surrounding you, really notice. He mentioned people on the bus to take notice and pay attention to them-they are struggling just like you but in many different ways. Can you love the ones you reject as well as people we like/love? The very next morning on the way to work, a man was obviously very drunk & had been up all night. He was very dirty and rather loud. Normally, he would have disgusted me. On this day, I smiled at him and sent him love right from my heart and immediately realized he was suffering, just like I was/am, and there was a very warm hearted, beautiful person under all the outer trappings. He smiled back and in that moment, I really “knew” unconditional love – what it means. Additionally, right before reading this post, I read the post from the 66 year old woman who has been married for 22 years. My husband and I have been married for 48 years this July. The post of Ram Dass on how we just keep bumping into the same walls really resonated. We have, after all these years, been able to finally come to honesty and open heartedness. It takes time, lots of time. Maybe I would have found a real “soul mate” but I think not. I believe I have found him and it has just taken lots of work, like anything worth doing does and we finally know that we are the soul mates we have been looking for. Ram Dass just “gets it” and never do I come here without learning something new about myself and how to proceed. Sat Nam.

  • Karen A. Trujillo

    I remember this story, Ram Dass, and it is in alignment w/ another of Baba’s devotees & follower of your’s, as I regard it, today…a memoir of her own. Namaste’ !, as I highly recommend BOTH (to be continued)…

  • Karen A. Trujillo

    I have made a firm decision. Kind words don’t work for everyone in this world at all times ( nor does it, when I’m the receiver & I know it’s not truth, somehow). I’ve decided that for me, it’s truth all the way at any given moment, when it comes to what I’m feeling in my heart & thinking in my mind. It’s about our spirits, individually…it’s about our souls!

  • Scott He

    A good lesson I need to be reminded of.

  • Richard Ty Trevino

    Wonderful story – the “Power of Compassion” – practicing such ‘random acts of kindness’ should be taught in public schools worldwide.

  • evoc

    “No one rule applies in all situations.” I believe the little older man knew, was inspired in that moment with the with the necessary energy the drunk man needed. The feelings he expressed likely welled up within him and slid out like silk. He was a true Master.
    The response has to come from a place of truth, has to be something one is genuinely feeling.
    A cold effort, a fake approach would have seen a different result.

  • Lainer


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