Dissecting the Bull

Chuang Tzu & Peak Performance


zhuangzi and bull cutter

Chuang Tzu in his fable ‘Dissecting the Bull’ presents a lesson on Tao of leaning and peak performance.

Peak performers are exponents of Tao. They typically do three things, so as to be in their top forms.

1. Letting go
2. Staying detached
3. Staying simple

Once upon a time, there was a cook who could cut up an ox in seconds.

The sequence was a captivating dance. In the rhythm of Mulberry Woods, he waived the knife with strokes so graceful; they dissembled the ox neatly into pieces, which fell to the ground like mud; not even know that it was dead.

Equally spectacular was the knife. It was so new, as if fresh from the whetstone, despite having butchered thousands of oxen after nineteen years!

Astounded, the Prince in the audience asked, “How did you do it so well?”

"What I follow is Tao, which is beyond skills,” said the cook.

“When I started butchering, I saw nothing but a whole ox. Three years later, I no longer saw a whole animal. And now I work with my soul, rather than my eyes.”

“I am directed by my soul, without controlling the senses,” said the butcher. “Falling back on the laws of nature, I glide through joints and cavities, based on the natural constitution of the animal.”

“By going through the joints and cavities in the body, even the convolutions of muscle and tendon gave me no resistance, not to mention the large bones.”

About the secret of keeping the knife so new, “knife of a good cook lasts a year because he cuts. Knife of an average cook lasts a month, because he hacks,” said the cook.

“For me, at joints I always locate fine gaps of interstice. Since the blade is as thin as if there is no thickness, I have plenty of room to move about in the interstice. That's why after nineteen years, the blade is as though fresh from the whetstone.

The story is fascinating!

1. Letting Go

The cook in the fable of Chuang Tzu glided through the ox, not cut, not hack. The process is more than a performance. It is a revelation of soul! He let himself go completely and was totally at ease! This is Wuwei!

2. Stay detached

When the cook began butchering, he saw the whole ox. Three years later, he saw no whole ox. To him, the ox became the anatomical structure in an ox’s body.

3. Simplicity

The anatomical complexity did not perplex the cook in the fable of Chuang Tzu. He found out in them the interstice that he could glide his knife blade through. This leads to his spectacular feat of dissembling an ox in second, and keeping the knife new after nineteen years.

To read more about peak performance and daily Tao

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