Budo and Yin and Yang

In some texts of traditional schools of Budo like the Itto-ryu, there is a distinction between the Budo of yin and the Budo of yang. I first heard about this from a Judo teacher, long before I could read the Budo texts. It confirmed an impression that had been growing in me that there are two kinds of Budo. This is the sort of thing that some of the traditions taught:

Before a combat, the swordsman of yin is perfectly calm. His expression does not change; he does not defy the enemy. He does not stare at the opponent wide-eyed or try to intimidate him with feints. He does not come forward with little steps, as if crossing a single-plank bridge, but he walks as if on a wide road, with a perfectly normal posture. This is a master who can hardly be defeated.

The swordsman of yang, on the other hand, has an expression which would seem to crush rocks, has an aggressive posture, stares wide-eyed and tries to intimidate the opponent by feints and glaring at him. He advances and retreats awkwardly; his heart is agitated and he is weak.

One of the texts added, I remember, that the yin fighter can, if necessary, imitate the fury of the yang. But inwardly he remains calm.

From my first introduction to the ideas of Budo, I have been mentally dividing the practice, pictures, texts and traditions into two kinds of Budo. I used to think of them as Narrow Budo and Wide Budo.

Calm Prevails Over Fury

In making a Judo throw in contest, the Narrow school used to give this advice:

‘Have only one idea—to cast yourself completely into the throw. Have no doubts about whether it will succeed or not. Simply give a loud shout and throw your whole body into it. If you allow yourself to have even the smallest doubt about the throw, or even a thought about anything else, your movement will become hesitant. You have to be one-pointed, completely one-pointed. The throw must be the whole world, and you feel you are throwing the whole world’.

I saw this demonstrated by Judo men of 4th and 5th dan, and I practised with some of them. The first months of this sort of practice at the Kodokan and other dojo training halls in 1939 gave me experience of how effective the Narrow Budo can be. I mentally associate it with the picture of scowling

samurai giving a loud yell as he rushes forward. I saw it—and still see it today—in innumerable chambara (sword fights) films and strip cartoons.

The same sort of thing appeared in fields outside Budo. I saw and heard orators who just shouted the same thing again and again with total conviction. It was something which they believed with their whole heart. They would not permit any analysis or discussion of it. In an argument, they repeated their point of view with increasing noise each time. Their attitude would become threatening and could often overcome opposition by shouting.

But I was interested in the comment in the Budo texts about the yang fighter: ‘his heart is agitated and he is weak’. At first, this seemed untrue. So often the furious fighter does overawe the opponent and wins. But I noticed cases where the opponent is not overawed by the ferocious expression and furious attack of a yang fighter. In those cases, the calm man could often win decisively.

I learnt from my elder brother that there is something like this in boxing, though of course they do not have words like yin and yang. He was an expert amateur boxer. He was so good when he was young that he even had an offer from a boxing promoter, who promised him a good career in boxing. In fact, he became a successful aircraft engineer. In his youth the job took him to some rough areas of London, and occasionally he got into fights.

A few times, he told me, it had been quite dangerous; a local bully did not like the young chap from London. Once my brother did get quite badly injured. He remarked to me that a boxer does not have much real advantage outside the ring, among tables and chairs, without boxing gloves. He said:

‘Your Judo would be much better, I suppose. In a real fight, I can’t do much if he manages to get into a clinch. I have to knock the spirit out of him with one punch at the very beginning. But if I hit him on the jaw, that may damage my hand too. And it’s not easy to knock him out with a solar plexus punch, unless he’s got his hands up. An experienced fighter does not come forward with hands high. And perhaps he recognizes a boxer; something about my stance probably. So he does not try to hit at all; he tries to get close and smother my arms by holding. That’s his strategy.

‘But I’ve got my own strategy, which always works. As he comes forward cautiously, I spit in his face. Then he goes mad and runs at me with his fists up to smash my face—it’s a basic instinct. And he runs right on to my fist’.

When I heard this, I thought of the yin and yang. My brother’s method—not very refined, I admit—turned a cool calculating opponent into a furious demon. The opponent’s surface yin was turned into yang, with a disastrous result for him.

British people have our yang fighters—the football hooligans, for instance—but in general it is the yin fighter who is admired.

Admiral Drake and Tadamasa

We have a famous story about Admiral Drake, the British naval hero who lived at the end of the 16th century. The Spanish king equipped and sent a great fleet, called the Armada, to attack Britain. He had good reasons to expect the attack but did not know when the Spanish fleet would come. It must have been like Hojo Tokimune waiting for the Mongol fleet. Drake was playing a game of bowls when a messenger rushed in with the news: ‘A great fleet had been sighted!’

‘We have time to finish the game’, Drake said calmly. And they finished the game. He then joined the British fleet, which then defeated the Spanish. (We were helped, just as the Japanese had been, by the weather.)

This story is probably not true. I admit that when I heard it as a small boy, I thought Drake was a bit of a fool. He ought to have gone straight to take command of the British fleet. But the purpose of the story was to give an example of absolute self-control and confidence.

A better example, which I sometimes use when lecturing on Japan, is the way the tea ceremony was performed even just before a battle. British people are always very surprised to hear about it; they find it almost unbelievable. The tea ceremony requires very delicate precision of movement. For instance, unless it is set down with absolute precision, the delicate little tea ladle will fall over. The slightest shaking of the hand or other signs of nervousness will be clearly seen. ‘So they do it as a demonstration of perfect calm—inner and outer’. When I say these words, some of the Western audience give a little gasp of surprise and admiration.

Japanese who intend to go abroad should learn a few things like this about the Budo of yin. They should find a translation and memorize a few sentences so that they can explain it without difficulty in the foreign language. It will be very interesting to the foreigners whom they meet.

There is an account of an early tea ceremony not well known even to historians of Budo. Shonan katto-roku of the Muromachi era—which I translated into English and published in Britain in 1985—gives a brief description of a warrior of yin and a Zen follower, who imitated a warrior of yang:

Tadamasa, a senior retainer of Hojo Takatoki, the regent, had the Buddhist name Anzan (quiet mountain). He was a keen Zen follower and for 23 years came and went to the meditation hall for laymen at the Kenchoji temple. When the fighting broke out everywhere in 1331, he was wounded in one engagement, but in spite of the pain galloped to Kenchoji to see Suzan, the 27th teacher there. A tea ceremony was going on at the temple, and the teacher seeing the man in armour come in quickly put a teacup in front of him and asked, ‘How is this?’

The warrior at once crushed it under his foot and said, ‘Heaven and earth are broken up altogether’.

‘When heaven and earth are broken up, how is it with you?’ asked the teacher. Anzan stood with his hands crossed over his breast. The teacher hit him, and he involuntarily cried out from the pain of his wounds.

‘Heaven and earth not quite broken up yet’, the teacher said.

The drum sounded from the camp across the mountain, and Tadamasa galloped quickly back. The next evening he came again, covered with blood, to see the teacher. He came out and asked again, ‘When heaven and earth are broken up, how is it with you?’

Supporting himself on his blood-stained sword, Anzan gave a great katsu (loud yell) and died standing in front of the teacher.

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