But soon afterwards I had a big surprise. Besides the main Judo display, there used to be short demonstrations of other bujutsu arts. There were some Japanese Kendo men in London. Also at the first display I saw, there was a demonstration of the weight-and-sickle against a swordsman. Later in the programme, a Kendo man came up again, but this time faced an opponent armed with what looked like two round wooden plates with a handle at the back. They looked like very thick saucepan lids. With these he was able to parry the attacks by the sword and finally win by smothering the swordsman’s arms and by hitting him on the face with one of the plates. There was no commentary, and the audience watched in bewildered silence—another Japanese mystery.
Afterwards I asked one of the senior members, who said that the plates were indeed supposed to represent saucepan lids. A famous fencing master, he said, had told his pupils that a true master was not dependent on having a sword. He told his pupils that they could attack him at any time, as a test. So one of them came at him with a sword, while the master was cooking in his kitchen. The master snatched up two saucepan lids, with which he parried the attack and finally subdued the pupil. Then the pupils began to study methods of using saucepan lids, and it became a school of technique.
Only my reverence for things Japanese prevented me from bursting out laughing. The whole point of the incident was to show that a true master could use anything. He must not be dependent on any particular thing. In this case, it happened to be saucepan lids. Tomorrow it would be something else; he would not have saucepan lids.
It seemed to me that the pupils had completely misunderstood. The point was to be able to pick up anything and use it effectively. But they froze at saucepan lids.
If we look at Budo classics, we can see that the masters were aware of this danger. Again and again they say: ‘Technical training is the means to arrive at the state of freedom. When he has mastered the training, the training ceases to exist for him. This is the supreme aim of all the Ways’. We can find this in the Heiho-kadensho of about 1630, which says: ‘Forgetting the training, throwing away all minding about it so that I myself have no idea about it—to reach that state is the peak of the Way. This state is to pass through training till it ceases to exist’.
My impression is that while the Japanese tradition is very strong in assiduous training, it is rather reluctant to ‘give up training’ at the very end. I will give an example from another field.
A Japanese who came to work in London for three years had a daughter remarkably talented in the piano. He asked me to help him find a good teacher. I knew that one of the best teachers, who had been internationally famous, was still alive. We managed to arrange for the girl to play to him. He was impressed and arranged for her to have lessons from one of his pupils. This was good luck, and the father was grateful.
A year later he told me that she was making good progress. But one day he came to me in some distress. ‘I shall have to find another teacher for her’, he told me.
‘Why, what has happened?’ I asked.
‘He told my daughter at the last lesson to forget about playing the notes correctly and try to play purely as an expression of feeling’.
‘They sometimes do this’, I said. ‘It is important to practise jumping beyond concentration on the notes alone’.
‘It can’t be right’, he said, ‘to tell her not to be careful about correct notes’.
‘He is not saying that’, I assured him. ‘But one must be able to master them and then forget them’. He looked doubtful.