The Debt of a Fisherman A Motivational Story About Self-Control and Good Deeds

One day, a samurai went to visit a fisherman who had borrowed money from him a while ago.

“The time has come, my friend,” said the samurai, “to repay your debts.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” the fisherman replied, “but I do not have the money. I’m an honest man, but it’s been a very bad year.”

The samurai would have none of it. He quickly drew his sword and would have struck his head without thinking twice about it, if the fisherman’s words hadn’t stood up between his anger and the fatal blow:

“No! Don’t do that!”, he shouted in despair. “You will break your vow! Remember: you must never kill a person in anger!”

The samurai lowered his sword. He looked at the fisherman for a second, and then repentantly muttered:

“You’re right. My master always said that learning to control anger was one of the most important things you can learn as a warrior. You’re as wise as I was unreasonable. As a reward, I’m willing to give you another year to repay your debt. But, be warned, next time I’m allowed to show no mercy.”

Paying Back the Debt

It was already night when the samurai returned to his house. Not wishing to wake his wife, he crept softly to the bedroom. He couldn’t believe his eyes: his wife was sleeping in the arms of an unknown stranger dressed in samurai clothes!

He raised his sword to slay the uninvited guest and his wife, but suddenly, he heard the fisherman’s voice in his ears: “Remember: you must never kill a person in anger…

“What is happening here?!”, he screamed instead.

His wife and the stranger woke up and he was surprised to see that the latter was no stranger at all: it was his mother dressed in his samurai clothes.

“You didn’t come back on time…,” his wife managed to find some words, “…and we were scared of robbers. So, I dressed your mother in your clothes to try and scare any intruder…”

Even before the year had passed, the fisherman came to the samurai.

“It was a good year,” he said handing him over the money, “so here – I’m paying you back with an interest.”

“No need, my friend,” the samurai answered back. “You don’t know it yet, but you repaid your debt long ago.”

The lesson:

  • In a famous story by Aesop, the lion is saved from the hunters by a tiny mouse only because he had decided not to spare his life a while ago. He learns in the end that one good turn deserves another and that you should never underestimate anyone.
  • So, first of all, never take decisions when angry – they are almost certainly wrong.
  • Secondly, there are things that are more important than money in life, and one of them are the advices from the more experienced, be they wise teachers or poor fishermen.
  • Finally, never forget that, very often, a small good deed may yield an inestimable reward.


  • William Ury, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, pp. 28-9.
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