The Karate Man and the Tiger
Gogen Yamaguchi, the founder of goju-kai style of karate, had many adventures as a young man and one of the most famous occurred during World War II. The Japanese government had sent Yamaguchi to Manchuria on secret business, and whilst conducting certain negotiations he was captured by forces of the Kuomintang (The Chinese National Peoples Party) government. They shipped him off to a labor camp where he was treated very badly and suffered great hardship and deprivation.
Although a model prisoner who did everything he was told, Yamaguchi's captors were wary of him. There was something in his demeanor, the way he walked proudly and the way other prisoners held him in such high regard which caused the guards to be almost afraid of him. The normal day's routine for prisoners was to eat whatever was available, which was never enough, and then lounge about either sleeping or gossiping. But Yamaguchi did not behave as the other prisoners. When he was allowed out of his cell, he would run around the exercise area and practice all manner of kicks and punches hour after hour. In his cell he would sit and meditate for long periods. Yamaguchi refused to bow down and be broken by the conditions of his imprisonment.
The guards began to see this proud Japanese as something of a superhuman being. He always looked fit and healthy unlike the other prisoners, and yet he ate the same starvation diet. They began to think of him as a demon and their fear grew. News soon reached the camps commandant's office of this strange prisoner. On further investigation it was discovered who he was and orders were issued that at all costs he must be broken, so that he would lose face before the other prisoners. Yamaguchi was placed in solitary confinement and his rations would have barely kept a child alive. For twenty hours a day he sat in his cell in total darkness. The cell was so small that when he sat cross legged his knees touched the wall. Daily beatings by the guards still failed to affect him or break his spirit. Each day he would practice his special breathing exercises and then put himself into a trance like state so that he felt neither pain nor hunger. The prison officials could not believe that one man could withstand such harsh treatment and still remain fit and unbroken. By now rumor was rife around the camp about the demon man who's very name seemed to frighten the guard's when it was whispered by the prisoners.
The commandant finally ordered an ultimate test that would rid them of this man once and for all. They dragged Yamaguchi out of his cell and walked him across the compound to where there was a cage containing a half-starved tiger. Laughing, the guards pushed him into the cage and ordered the whole camp to watch the Japanese karate man being eaten alive. "Let's see your karate help you now" goaded one of the guards. The minute Yamaguchi was pushed into the cage a strange look came into his eyes. He adopted a karate stance and with an ear piercing yell he attacked the tiger. The animal was stunned by the shout, so allowing time enough for Yamaguchi to jump on its back and apply a strangulation technique from behind. In the process he let out another screeching yell right into the tigers ear and then pulled back on his arms, using every bit of strength in his body. Moments later the tiger slumped to the cage floor, dead. The guards looked terrified and ran off, leaving Yamaguchi in the cage overnight with the dead tiger.
The next morning he was let out of the cell and allowed to rejoin the other prisoners. Less than two weeks later he was exchanged with another political prisoner, thus facilitating his release. The guards at the camp breathed a sigh of relief when this demon karate man left the camp. Years later, when near to death, Yamaguchi was asked what karate is all about. He replied, "Karate is not about fighting; it is about truth."
This story was taken from the book Myths and Legends of the Martial Arts.