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Originally posted by Hard Red
There is an old Japanese Samurai story that goes something like this...I may not have it exactly right, but the point is still there...
There are two Samurai...an old man and a young man. The young man told the old man..."How long did your smith take to create your sword?" The old man said "I made it myself and it took me three years to perfect." The young man says "Ha, a swordsmith took 5 years to make mine. It is honed to perfection and is surely better than yours!" The old man, not caring for a demonstration of the abilities of the young mans sword decided to take a nap. This infuriated the young man..."I'll show you my sword is better!" So the young man hacked tree limb after tree limb to prove his case...but still the old man did not seem impressed. "What will it take to get you to admit my sword is better?", said the young man...The old man said "Put your sword in that stream over there and let your silk scarf flow down the stream. Tell me what happens when the scarf meets your blade." So the young man did this...and the scarf was sliced in half upon meeting the young ones blade. "You see, old man, my sword will slice even a silk scarf that floating in its path. Now show me what your blade can do!" So the old man put the blade of his sword in the stream and placed his silk scarf in the path of the sword as well. The scarf, upon coming within an inch of the blade, stopped abruptly and went around the sword. "Young man, when your sword is so well made that no one or no thing will want to face it, then I will be truly impressed."
I don't know how much truth to that story there is but I have heard different japanese people mention that old story. There are actually two morals of this story from what I can gather...
1) The time it takes to make anything of truly exceptional quality isn't as important as the skills of he/she who is making it. Mike could build a Widget and Bill could build a Widget, but if Bill knows of a process that will get his Widget done quicker and with superior quality to Mikes Widget, then Bill will certainly have the better Widget.
2) Theres always someone better.
Legends of Masamune and Muramasa A legend tells of a test where Muramasa challenged his master, Masamune, to see who could make a finer sword. They both worked tirelessly and eventually, when both swords were finished, they decided to test the results. The contest was for each to suspend the blades in a small creek with the cutting edge facing the current. Muramasa's sword, the Juuchi Yosamu (10,000 Cold Nights / 十千夜寒) cut everything that passed its way; fish, leaves floating down the river, the very air which blew on it. Highly impressed with his pupil's work, Masamune lowered his sword, the Yawarakai-Te (Tender Hands / 柔らかい手), into the current and waited patiently. Not a leaf was cut, the fish swam right up to it, and the air hissed as it gently blew by the blade. After a while, Muramasa began to scoff at his master for his apparent lack of skill in the making of his sword. Smiling to himself, Masamune pulled up his sword, dried it, and sheathed it. All the while, Muramasa was heckling him for his sword's inability to cut anything. A monk, who had been watching the whole ordeal, walked over and bowed low to the two sword masters. He then began to explain what he had seen. "The first of the swords was by all accounts a fine sword, however it is a blood thirsty, evil blade, as it does not discriminate as to who or what it will cut. It may just as well be cutting down butterflies as severing heads. The second was by far the finer of the two, as it does not needlessly cut that which is innocent and undeserving." In another account of the story, both blades cut the leaves that went down on the river's current equally well, but the leaves would stick to the blade of Muramasa whereas they would slip on past Masamune's after being sliced. Or alternatively both leaves were cut, but those cut by Masamune's blade would reform as it traveled down the stream. Yet another version has leaves being sliced by Muramasa's blade while the leaves were repelled by Masamune's, and another again has leaves being sliced by Muramasa's blade and healed by Masamune's. In yet another story Muramasa and Masamune were summoned to make swords for the Shogun or Emperor and the finished swords were held in a waterfall. The result is the same as the other stories, and Masamune's swords are deemed holy swords. In one version of the story Muramasa is killed for creating evil swords. While all known legends of the two ever having met are historically impossible, both smiths are widely regarded as symbols for their respective eras.