Being Good on the Mat Isn’t Enough

In these writings Dr. Kano often says, ‘Find these applications of Judo to your daily life, and don’t just practise Judo on the mat’.

When we fall in Judo, the first thing we learn is to fall with the whole body. If one tries, as the beginner does, to keep off the ground, then the whole shock comes on to one unfortunate wrist or elbow, which gets badly hurt. The right technique is not to try to keep off the ground but to take the fall with all of us.

In the same way, when we have a failure in life, try to use our Judo experience and take that failure. But people tend to say, ‘Oh, wasn’t I unlucky?’ or ‘It was their fault; they let me down’ or more often ‘Well, I wasn’t feeling very well then, you know’. Dr. Tartakower, who was a great chess master but had been in his youth a Hungarian cavalry officer and a famous duelist, once remarked, ‘I’ve never beaten a man, either at chess or in a duel, who was wholly well’.

We have to develop faith, faith in ourselves. Judo can give us faith. We are able to have faith, even when we are trying something where we seem to have no chance at all. In the Kodokan in the old days they used to be ranged in groups round the wall; all the 4th dans stood together, and all the 5th dans and so on. The grades tended to practise mostly in their own groups, and when you moved up a grade, you come into h new group. Perhaps you would go on first with some hard-bitten trap-scarred veteran of that group. (He would never move up any more, but in his group he would be very formidable. In a way these chaps were like rungs of a ladder; they had a fixed position, and you had to move up past them, if you could.)

Now the first time you go on with a man like that, it isn’t that you can’t throw him: you can’t shift him. And then you think, ‘Oh for goodness’ sake, you know I’ve been doing Judo for seven years, and I can’t shift him. He is like the Rock of Gibraltar’. But you have faith in yourself, so you practise with him every day. And then one afternoon, you find that he has got a weakness. Yes, he has got a weakness. And then you find you can exploit that weakness, and after three months, yes you can sometimes throw him. And after six months you can throw him a lot, and after nine months, it’s not worth practising with him. That gives you faith—faith in yourself.

When you have got a little bit of experience like that, then it has to be applied, as Dr. Kano said, to our own lives:

Oh, I’m no good at calculations, mathematics. Can’t add up or do anything. Now I am put into an office and I’ve got to add columns and columns of six-figure numbers. And now I’m liable to think that I just can’t do that, no I can’t’.

But I have to do it, so I do it slowly with many mistakes, and I have to check it and check it again and get somebody else to check it as well. I may go on and on like that, always frightened by it, always making a mess of it, always trying to get out of it’.

But a true Judo man doesn’t do that. He faces it, just as he faced that veteran whom he couldn’t throw. He goes out and buys a little book on rapid calculations, and he practises for 20 minutes every morning and evening. In three or four weeks he becomes a master of rapid calculation. The very thing he was so frightened of he masters completely. In these ways Judo can help our lives, not just be something which we are good at on the mat.



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