The Closed Fist of the Teacher

The closed fist of the teacher is an Indian expression, referring to the handing on of a succession in some tradition. It is illustrated by one of the little stories in the Persian classic Gulistan or Rose-garden, which was several times quoted by Dr. Shastri to illustrate some point (not necessarily the same one).

Here is a summary:

The Ninety-nine Tricks

The story can be summarized: A teacher of wrestling had a promising pupil, to whom he taught ninety-nine of the hundred tricks of wrestling. One rare trick, however, he kept back. As the boy became stronger and more skilful, the time came when he began to boast in public: ” Of course in an actual bout I defer to my teacher and allow him to win. But in actual fighting ability I am superior. Wrestling was then (and still is) is a national sport in Persia.

The Hundredth Trick

The King came to hear of this boast and had a match arranged in his presence between the master and pupil. The young wrestler rushed forward like a furious bull, and then the master made use of that one rare trick which the other had never seen. The master lifted him high and dashed him to the ground.

“How could you dare to boast that you could defeat your teacher?” demanded the King angrily. The reply was unexpected: “He has not been a true teacher to me. At everything he taught me, I can beat him. But he kept back this trick which he has just used to beat me.”

The King grew thoughtful, and asked the teacher: “Yes, why did you keep this back from him?” The master said: “I kept it back for just this occasion.”  One of the points of the story is, that if the pupil had not been so arrogant, in the course of time the master would have retired, and made over the training hall to him. Then, and only then, he would have passed on to him the secret hundredth trick, hidden in his closed fist.

These things are popularly called the “tricks of the trade”. As long as cities have existed there have been colonies of experts in a profession or trade – the Street of the Goldsmiths, of the Weavers, and so on. They maintain their secrets against the outsiders; though they are competing with each other for customers, there is a stronger bond which keeps them together. If they separated, their expert knowledge would soon become dispersed and their advantage would be gone.

© Trevor Leggett

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