Carving a Boat for a Lost Sword (刻舟求劍)

Stories of Awareness
Carving a Boat for a Lost Sword (刻舟求劍)

While crossing a river, a man accidentally dropped a precious sword into the middle of the water.  To the boat rower’s dismay, the man said, “No need to stop, the water is too deep and too rapid here.”  Then the man proceeded to take out a knife, and carved a mark on the side of the boat where he was sitting.  Showing off to the rower about how smart he is, the man explained, “This mark is to note where I dropped the sword. I will find the sword on the other side of the river where the water is shallower and slower, and I will jump down from this part of the boat to retrieve my sword.”

The story is part of an encyclopedia collection that originally appeared in a book called “呂氏春秋” (Lu Shi Chun Qiu, Master Lu’s Spring and Autumn Annals) compiled around 239 BC.  The story itself was meant to be used as a warning to the country’s rulers that the government policies should change over time to adapt to the constantly changing needs of the nation.

There are many morals we can infer from this short story, but let us take a look at what we can apply using our Zhong Xin Dao’s philosophies and principles.

Obviously, the man will not be able to find the sword at the other side of the river, because he was using the wrong reference to try to locate his object, and the time has already passed.  If the water was moving quickly, the sword could have been sent further downstream, so the placement of the mark on the boat was completely irrelevant anyway.  While on the boat and thinking he can get his weapon back across the river, the man’s future reference is wrong.  When he finally reached the opposite shore, the reference to the immediate need is again wrong, for both the time and space were in the past. 

In “Martial Art of Awareness-System Guide, 3rd Edition,” GM Sam Chin includes a chapter titled “Why Zhong Xin Dao” (page 54) which describes the how, why, and what we are training, and that is to see the present moment, and how to “change with the changes”.  One should not apply a preset method if the condition does not fit, and the reference is incorrect.

What other morals of this story do you see?

By Jeffrey Wong