The boy looked at the stranger, startled.
“No one in this city has ever seen Tetsuya
holding a bow,” he replied. “Everyone here knows him as
“Maybe he gave up, maybe he lost his courage,”
insisted the stranger. “But he cannot be considered to
be the best archer in the country if he has abandoned
his art. That's why I've been traveling all these days,
in order to challenge him and put an end to a
reputation he no longer deserves.”
The boy saw there was no point in arguing; it
was best to take the man to the carpenter's shop so
that he could see with his own eyes that he was
mistaken. Tetsuya was in the workshop at the back of
his house. He turned to see who had come in, but his
smile froze when his eyes fell on the long bag that the
stranger was carrying.
“It's exactly what you think it is,” said the
new arrival. “I did not come here to humiliate or to
provoke the man who has become a legend. I would simply
like to prove that, after all my years of practice, I
have managed to reach perfection.”
Tetsuya made as if to resume his work: he was
just putting the legs on a table.
“A man who served as an example for a whole
generation cannot just disappear as you did,” the
stranger went on. “I followed your teachings, I tried
to respect the way of the bow, and I deserve to have
you watch me shoot.”
The stranger drew from his bag a long bow made
from varnished bamboo. He bowed to Tetsuya, went out
into the garden and bowed again towards a particular
place. Then he took out an arrow, stood with his legs
firmly planted on the ground, so as to have a solid
base for shooting, and with one hand brought the bow in
front of his face, while with the other he positioned
The boy watched with a mixture of glee and
amazement. Tetsuya had now stopped working and was
observing the stranger with some curiosity.
With the arrow fixed to the bow-string, the
stranger raised the bow so that it was level with the
middle of his chest. He lifted it above his head and,
as he slowly lowered his hands again, began to draw the
string back. By the time the arrow was level with his
face, the bow was fully drawn. For a moment that seemed
to last an eternity, archer and bow remained utterly
still. The boy was looking at the place where the arrow
was pointing, but could see nothing.
Suddenly, the hand on the string opened, the
hand was pushed backwards, the bow in the other hand
described a graceful arc.
“Go and fetch it,” said Tetsuya.
The boy returned with the arrow: it had pierced
a cherry, which he found on the ground, forty meters
Tetsuya bowed to the archer, went to a corner
of his workshop and picked up what looked like a
slender piece of wood, delicately curved, wrapped in a
long strip of leather. He slowly unwound the leather
and revealed a bow similar to the stranger's, except
that it appeared to have seen far more use.
“I have no arrows, so I'll need to use one of
The stranger nodded and offered him one of his
Then, without a word, Tetsuya set off towards
the mountains. The stranger and the boy went with him.
They walked for an hour, until they reached a large
crevice between two rocks through which flowed a
rushing river, which could only be crossed by means of
a fraying rope bridge almost on the point of collapse.
Quite calmly, Tetsuya walked to the middle of
the bridge; he bowed to something on the other side,
loaded the bow just as the stranger had done, lifted it
up, brought it back level with his chest and fired.
The boy and the stranger saw that a ripe peach,
about twenty meters away, had been pierced by the
“You pierced a cherry, I pierced a peach,” said
Tetsuya, returning to the safety of the bank. “The
cherry is smaller. You hit your target from a distance
of forty meters, mine was half that. You should,
therefore, be able to repeat what I have just done.”
Terrified, the stranger made his way to the
middle of the dilapidated bridge, transfixed by the
sheer drop below his feet. He performed the same ritual
gestures and shot at the peach tree, but the arrow
When he returned to the bank, he was deathly
“You have skill, dignity, and posture,” said
Tetsuya. “You have mastered the bow, but you have not
mastered your mind. You know how to shoot when all the
circumstances are favorable, but the archer cannot
always choose the battlefield, so start your training
again and be prepared for unfavorable situations.
Continue in the way of the bow, for it is a whole
life's journey, but remember that a good, accurate shot
is very different from one made with peace in your
The stranger made another deep bow, replaced
his bow and his arrows in the long bag he carried over
his shoulder, and left.