Trevor Leggett answers questions about Japan in 1985

Q: May I ask, what was the Japanese opinion of the spread of Judo, and the popularity of Judo, in the West, and the standards of the West? A: They rather deplore the fact that it’s become a sort of sport in that way. Q: What was it before it was a sport? A: It was a system of spiritual and mental training. Q: How did it become a sport? A: Well, I can say that after the war it was one way of getting back on to the international stage. Q: American influence? A: Partly American, but they agreed with it, they wanted to have some sort of significance, and they did it through this. But it can be practised, and should be as the fighting situation is one where the very, anyway, the very deepest instincts are aroused, and to be able to practise meditation in that situation …

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Exercise of the memory is not a burden

It is thought to be axiomatic today that to require students to memorise many things will produce robots and “stifle creativity”. No evidence is usually produced for this assumption; it is somehow regarded as self-evident. Let us look at a definite case. In the English educational system we have to learn 26 letters of the alphabet, some of which have differing block capital forms. But in addition we have to learn the number digits 1-9, and how to read them. The digits are international, on the page but sound quite different when spoken in the various languages. For instance, 92 is read by us as ninety-two, but in French it is read quartre-vingt-douze. Then we have symbols such as ‘=’ equals, ‘≠’  is-not–equal-to and so on. There are 30 or 40 of these that have to be learnt. Furthermore some of the digits 1,2,3…, are read differently when they are …

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Our minds cannot be typed in some way

Occasionally in the past, a Japanese newsman who saw me practising Judo at the Kodokan, or playing Shogi at the Shogi Association, would have a few words with me. In his article later, he would say something about a blue­ eyed foreigner skilful at Judo, or Shogi. He saw of course that I did not have blue eyes, but blue eyes were supposed to be the marks of a foreigner. He knew his readers would expect the foreigner to be blue-eyed. There is no harm in this, because Japanese meet many foreigners now, and can see that in fact very few of us have blue eyes. (We do have hair on our bodies, though – a fact that Japanese newsmen are too polite to mention.) But there is some danger in thinking that our minds can be typed in some way. Not all Englishmen are gentlemanly but stiff and cold; …

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The Closed Fist of the Teacher

The closed fist of the teacher is an Indian expression, referring to the handing on of a succession in some tradition. It is illustrated by one of the little stories in the Persian classic Gulistan or Rose-garden, which was several times quoted by Dr. Shastri to illustrate some point (not necessarily the same one). Here is a summary: The Ninety-nine Tricks The story can be summarized: A teacher of wrestling had a promising pupil, to whom he taught ninety-nine of the hundred tricks of wrestling. One rare trick, however, he kept back. As the boy became stronger and more skilful, the time came when he began to boast in public: ” Of course in an actual bout I defer to my teacher and allow him to win. But in actual fighting ability I am superior. Wrestling was then (and still is) is a national sport in Persia. The Hundredth Trick …

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Kangeiko and Shochugeiko

In 1939, I was told about the Kangeiko and the Shochugeiko at the Kodokan for the judo. I was then a strong 3rd dan in Britain and I was not at all upset by the idea of practising during the heat or practising in the early morning in the extreme cold of the winter. There were one or two foreigners at the Kodokan at that time. They told me that the Kangeiko especially was terrifying. It was freezing cold in the Japanese winter, much colder than in Britain, and there was no heating in the Kodokan. But I thought, “Oh no, I know all about this”, and I waited for the winter without any anxiety at all. I had thought it would be like some of the Western austerities which sportsmen do. I did not know that the real idea of the Kangeiko is something quite different from the Western …

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The second kind of pupil

When I began to train at Judo under Yukio Tani, I was in my late teens. I was very ambitious, and at first thought only of getting more skilful and winning contests. The other teacher at the London Budokwai, Gunji Koizumi, was an artist and a man of great culture. From listening to him, I learnt that Judo should mean much more than showing off on the tatami. He said that the principles of Judo must be applied in every situation in life. This seemed almost meaningless to me at first. After graduating in Law I worked in an office in a big company; how could Judo be applied to my job there? Koizumi showed me that even sitting in a chair can be done properly. Most people sit in an unbalanced position. So they must keep re-adjusting themselves. I practised his method, and found that sitting in a balanced …

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Teacher Out-of-date, Up-to-date

I believe we can say that in the West, the traditional relationship of teacher and pupil has been very much weakened by the ideas of science. In science, the teacher of more than fifty is regarded as probably out of date and wrong on many things. Most of the big discoveries in science are made by very young men. When they grow older, they become unable to change with the still newer ideas which are coming forward from the young men. For instance Einstein, so marvellous in his early discoveries when he was young and unknown, in his later life spent some twenty years fighting a losing battle against the consequences of the quantum theory which he had done much to found. So the conclusion in science is, that the older men can still teach basics which do not change, but they do not like new ideas, and so cannot …

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Some Shakespeare plays have helped me in life

It is pleasant to be praised. But when one is praised, or one’s country is praised, for some qual­ity which one does not like. .. what is one’s feeling then? I have seen young Indians listening to enthusiastic Western women talking to them about Gandhi, and saying how wonderful he was. The young people were moving their feet uneasily: they were not enthusiastic about Gandhi. I re­member an Indian doctor in such a case, after trying in vain to stem her tide of words, suddenly bursting out, ‘ Gandhi was a sincere man, but his ideals of rustic simplicity are quite impracticable for this age, and his influence has been disastrous. The sooner we forget him, the better for India.’ Few Japanese people would be as rude as that, but I have noticed a weariness and uneasiness in them when Westerners talk about Kabuki or the genius of Murasaki Shikibu, …

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Too much Man, Too little Man

The principle of Maximum Efficiency — Saidai Noritus Genii,was stated in these words by Dr.Jigoro Kano. When I was sixteen, I heard him explain it, in his beautiful English, at the Judo hall in London. He said that it applies in every action in life: do not use too much force, and do not use too little. Use exactly the amount of force that is necessary. To do this, he said, is Right Use, Zen-Yo. He slso told us that this is the true meaning of the word Ju in Ju-do; to use too much force is Wrong Use, what he called  Hardness or Go-do. (The next day, he brushed some huge Chinese characters on a long roll of paper; it was framed and hung high on the wall of thd judo dojo in London. The words were read and then translated for us: Ju Sai Sai Go o sei-su: …

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Victor Hugo awakened the sense of compassion in France, as Dickens did in Britain

Victor Hugo,  was a supreme novelist. He depicted the miseries of the poor, and awakened the sense of compassion in France, as Dickens did in Britain. But Dickens could not create the beauties that the poet Hugo could express, even in translation. When I was a boy, I found Hugo’ s Les Miserables on my father’ s bookshelves. At the age of eight, I read it again and again; I find that I know some of the details better than most French people, who have, I suppose, read it only once. (It is a classic, and most of us read our national classics only once at most.) Whether it made me more compassionate I do not know, hut it gave me an insight behind the scenes of our vaunted civilization. It also showed me that happiness does not depend on being with many people. It can be solitary. The scenes …

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Do Social Service social service, on an entirely voluntary and unpaid basis

About 5,000,000 people in Britain do some form of social service, on an entirely voluntary and unpaid basis. That is about 9 per cent of the total population. In terms of man-hours, these volunteers make a contribution greater than that of all the paid staff in the social services departments of the local authorities. It has been found that the Welfare State cannot do all that is required. In many places, voluntary organizations are the only providers of, for example, youth clubs, advice centres, or preschool playgrounds. It is an interesting and important fact that more  than half these volunteers are young people under 24. Many of them spend one or two evenings a week in some form of service. Some go out in groups to do repairs and cleaning for old people living in dilapidated houses. Of course, often the work is not done with professional skill, but as …

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One of them was a jewel

When the Shinkansen, the so-called Japanese ‘bullet train’ first came in, it was a great triumph of technology, and a national triumph also. All the kids heard about it. And they arranged to have parties of the children from the country villages so that they could ride on this train. A teacher told me about one such party, where for some reason, some oversight, it was not explained to the children that they were going to ride on the Shinkansen, of which they’d seen so many pictures and photographs. So they got on this train without seeing the engine and they were shooting along, when they saw another one on another track. The children all crowded to the side of the train, ‘Look, the Shinkansen! Look,the Shinkansen!’ And the teacher said, ‘Boys and girls, you’re in the Shinkansen. This is it! You’re in it. You don’t need to look at …

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Tips and icebergs talk

As you know, the iceberg is supposed to be ten per cent, or one per cent some people say, on the surface and the rest is hidden. My method of presentation here (it’s not the only one) is to present just a small proportion and people can find out the rest of the iceberg. In this method of teaching, a number of illustrations or stories are given, but they’re meant as, so to speak, seeds to work on. And unless they change our lives, then they’re just entertaining stories. I’m telling these stories because some of them have been helpful to me and so I have confidence in them. But it’s necessary that, like a seed, it should go into the ground. You know the parable of the sower in our Christian Bible. There’s a famous paint­ing of ‘the sower went forth to sow’ which has been adopted as the …

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The Principle of Fairness

Nowadays a bully is despised very much. There has been a big change in British opinion on this question since the last century. Even as late as Kipling, at the very end of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, you can find the idea that a new recruit in the army must be bullied, persecuted and frightened till he is nearly ready to commit suicide. Only then will he be “hardened” and be a good soldier. But now the climate of opinion is quite different. We feel that a man should indeed be hardened, but hardened in combat against opponents of his own level, so that he sometimes wins and sometimes not; or else hardened in struggle with natural obstacles such as heat and cold, lack of sleep and so on. But he should not be subjected to the casual cruelty of those who are senior …

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Sparks from the flint of the heart

In the last article, the case was given where something (say a garden) has been created with work and sacrifice. Then someone comes at night and deliberately destroys it. If he later admits doing it, and is asked why, he says: ‘Oh, I don’t need a reason. I just wanted a bit of fun.’ Now how is a man of Budo to react to that situation? I wrote last time how a Zen teacher said: ‘It’s no good trying desperately to forgive him a little. You have to drink that poison down, to the last drop.’ A Budo teacher said about a similar case: ‘Your personality is like a little cage; the bars are your feelings of Me and Mine. The bars are not fixed to anything; the only reason they are there is because you are hugging them to yourself. What has happened is like a crow, and it …

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Onshi: Revered Teacher

Onshi: there is no single word in English. Revered teacher, beloved teacher: these are not natural English phrases. The single word ’teacher’ can refer to anyone from Verrocchio who taught Leonardo da Vinci, to an irritable old lady forcing spelling into unwilling children. Master can mean the head of an Oxford College (Master of Balliol College) to a barber with one apprentice boy. Some Continental languages distinguish: they use maestro for instance to mean a master pianist or artist, who also teaches, and a quite different word for an employer. In English we borrow the Italian word Maestro with that meaning. I suppose this shows that though we have respect for art and learning and science, we do not revere them or their teachers. Recently a new word has been introduced to fill the gap, but again it is a foreign word: guru. Originally this is a Sanskrit word meaning …

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Principle of Highest Efficiency

Dr. Kano put forward the Principle of Highest Efficiency as one of the central pillars of his system. He used to give illustrations in the physical field, which are familiar to all students of Judo; for instance, unnecessary force should not be used in making a throw, but just enough to make it succeed. This was contrary to some of the older Ju-jutsu teachings that the whole of the body-force should be put into the throw. Dr. Kano gave some illustrations from the field of ordinary behaviour. I remember when I heard him speak about argument and debate. I was then about seventeen years old, and very energetic. I sometimes used to get excited in an argument, and begin to shout. As I was big and even then fairly strong, sometimes the opponent would become nervous, and would stop arguing against me. So I found this quite a good method …

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The Japanese Romaji is beautifully clear

There are specimens of handwriting by writers of various nationalities, all of them writing a personal letter in which they have no need to be formal or precise. They are written by an Eng­lish publisher of academic books, a French edi­tor, a Polish scientist, an Indian philosopher, an English sportsman, an Iranian secretary, and two Japanese, one of them a former Sportsman of the Year, and the other a Culture Medalist. Which are the two Japanese? It is easy to find them — they are the two which are easy to read, with all the letters well formed. If an English schoolmaster were marking these, he would at once give almost full marks to the two Japanese writers, and the others would get anything from 30 per cent to 80. The next thing we notice is that the other handwritings are different from each other and from the Japanese. The …

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Buddha-nature, where is it?

Buddha-nature, where is it? It doesn’t seem to be anywhere. The teacher says, ‘But it’s here . . .’ It’s something which we know we haven’t got, and yet we have. One method of teaching this is through history. It’s no use citing examples from Chinese or Japanese history which take long expla­nations, so I’ll give one or two examples from our history. All of you can read silently. You can pick up a letter and you can read it. But in the Middle Ages and in classical times, they couldn’t do that. They had to verbalize; they had to speak it aloud before they could understand — that was the only way they could read. This was true of Japan too. A Russian captain in the eighteenth century, who was wrecked on the coast, was held in prison for a time till the authorities could investigate him. He complained …

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The special point of Budo is that the inspiration has to manifest at high speed

Some people think that Budo has no future as such, because its typical representatives have now become mere games. Like many games, they have dropped away from the ideal of training into the aim of winning, often as professionals entertaining a crowd. To win or lose a Kendo contest, they say, is the same thing as winning or losing a game of tennis. Now it is true that the Kendo man no longer has any expectation of using a sword to defend himself. His special techniques with a sword find no application in life today. Even Judo, with its ridiculously narrowed and artificial rules of contest, has lost most of its usefulness in self-defence; few Judo men today would know how to meet an angry boxer. But it is, in fact, very easy. You run in on all fours and pull him over by grabbing his ankles. The boxer has …

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The British respect sincerity , but unless it brings something good we feel it is often wasted.

An Indian scholar whom I knew very well once told me a story about a typical Japanese born in Meiji. This Indian lived in Japan in the early part of this century and lectured on Indian philosophy at a few universities in Tokyo. He was a great friend of Prof. Junjiro Takakusu. When the late Emperor Hirohito was crown prince, it was arranged that he would have an hour’s lecture on each of the world’s great religions from some outstanding authority. Prof. Takakusu was asked to select the lecturer for Hinduism, and he chose this Indian professor. (He told me that the young Crown Prince had listened for an hour without moving, and that at the end he asked intelligent questions.) This Indian scholar believed that India should not seek independence from Britain too soon. He said that Britain could do much to organize India, and that India would give …

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The Japanese have so much theoretical knowledge that sometimes they cannot easily make a decision

In fact, the Japanese have so much theoretical knowledge that sometimes they cannot easily make a decision. Of course, if a road branches into two, it is easy to make a decision: you go either right or left. But if it branches into five roads, it is far more difficult to choose. If it branches into 17, it may take a very long time to decide. Some Japanese feel that the safest thing to do is to choose a road which already has several people on it. But that is not really a decision: it is a sort of panic. How can the Budo spirit help to make us decisive? Let us first look at the causes of the indecisiveness. I believe that the main causes of the difficulty are lack of judgement, lack of confidence and lack of faith. Judgement cannot be developed by reading. Reading gives us only …

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Buddhist monks are in general far more educated than most samurai.

In a small book of introduction to Budo entitled Budo shoshin-shu, there is a section called ‘Shukke-shi,’ in which Daidoji Yuzan, the author, says that samurai should travel round and learn while they are young, as do the Zen monks. This book points out that Buddhist monks are in general far more educated than most samurai. It is because the monks ‘leave their homes: they leave their monasteries and make tours to visit other monasteries, where they study various other doctrines and also get to know other regions’. The author also says that many samurai just stay at home and draw their salary, without learning anything new except the place where they live. He recommends that samurai, like monks, should travel in order to learn and travel alone as the monks do. Really he is recommending something like a musha-shugyo errantry, not to study swordsmanship but to see new things …

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I could laugh at my failures. I knew they would not be for ever.

A Motto is a maxim, a sort of slogan, which is often on the crest of a coat-of-arms of a family or a city or a university and so on. It is supposed to show the ideal of the holder. I saw above the desk of a Japanese executive the two characters: Tesshi – Iron Will. My feeling was that probably he was trying to strengthen his will, not that he had one. Similarly, if I saw on the wall in a politician’s office the English motto: Honesty Is The Best Policy, I should feel a bit suspicious. Sometimes a motto is very misleading. By the side of the tomb of King Edward I of England, in Westminster Abbey, there is an inscription: Pactum Est Factum, Promised is Done. This 13th century king borrowed great sums of money from the Jewish bankers , but when he could not pay it …

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In life, most people judge what to do by looking at outside standards often they simply do what other people are doing.

People who live in towns (in other words, most people) keep themselves upright by looking at the walls when they are indoors, and looking at the corners of the buildings when they are outside. They use these things to tell them what is vertical. This is proved by putting people in special rooms where the walls are slightly tilted to one side. When they are asked to walk across such a room, they walk unsteadily. They must continually adjust their balance. However much they try, they unconsciously align themselves with the walls, which means that they tend to lean a little to one side. If they are told to shut their eyes, they can walk fairly steadily. But with shut eyes, an ordinary person cannot balance himself very well, because his inner balance is weak. A footballer or skater put in the room does much better: he is trained to feel his balance …

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Everything changes; everything ends in Goodbye to all that

Like Japanese, French people do not like to say, “Goodbye”. Instead of “Adieu” (goodbye) they would rather say “Au revoir”, meaning roughly, “till we meet again”. The French have the famous saying: “To say ‘Goodbye’ is to die a little.” This became a song, popularized by Ella Fitzgerald, among others. That French expression is attractively poetic; it says much in very few words. English people admire the French for their ability to invent such sayings. We are not so clever at making them. The proof is, that we British have to use a French phrase to describe them: “mot juste”. That means: “exactly the right word for it”. What an awkward English phrase for the neat French “mot juste”! In such things we feel a cultural inferiority to our French neighbours across the Channel. To save our pride, we say to ourselves: “After all, these are only small things: the …

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The man who relies on certain tricks in life, may have success for a time, but it cannot last long.

One of the elements in more advanced stages of the Ways is, to develop ingenuity. Some of this can be done by the student himself. For instance, in judo he can try practising with one arm tucked inside his belt, so that he has only die other arm to fight with. This will sometimes give him an insight into the true mechanics of a throw, especially if he tends to rely on the strength of his arms to make up for lack of technique. When he has only one arm to use, he can no longer do this, and he has to discover how to use the rest of his body properly. Some physically strong judo men tend to use one or two techniques which they can force through by their strength. But if they come up against a good technician, who can anticipate and forestall their favourite technique, they …

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The outer calm, which so impresses visitors to Japan, is part of an external gloss.

When I am asked how to tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese, I sometimes answer: ‘In general, Japanese are more self-controlled. They talk less excitedly, speak in lower tone, move their bodies less and do not use many gestures. They usually do not interrupt each other. They seem a rather placid people’. ‘But remember’, I add, ‘this applies to the exterior’. ‘Within, the Japanese may be irritable, nervous, quarrelsome and deeply emotional. It is only that at ordinary times they do not like to show it. Only at exceptional times, when they are really roused, they do show it’. I sometimes explain that the ordinary word for ‘Excuse me’ in Japanese is shitsurei. Rei means something like a ceremony, orderly and harmonious; shitsu means losing it or breaking it. So the word shitsurei means: ‘I am doing something out of order, breaking the smooth surface conduct which is so …

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Let us shoot at each other. If you are the better archer, you will win’. The challenge was declined.

For over 10 years from 1952 at the 100-tatami London Budokwai, I ran a weekend class for black belts, who came from all over Britain every week to attend. There were about 60 of them, and they became the Judo teachers of the next generation. We held a kangeiko every year. An athletics coach once asked me, ‘What benefit do they get from this?’ ‘It is a training in being able to face difficult circumstances’, I told him, ‘with inner calm and resolution’. ‘Well, what is the good of that?’ he asked. ‘The Judo competitions will be held, like all athletic competitions, in reasonable circumstances—not in the very early morning in midwinter with the windows open’. ‘Yes, but in your athletic competitions, have you ever noticed how very nervous many of the competitors are?’ I asked. ‘The smallest thing seems to upset them and put them off’. And I gave …

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A common bad habit in life is to take in ghost lodgers.

A common bad habit in life is to take in ghost lodgers. What are ghost lodgers? They are ideas, notions, beliefs, which we have once invited into our minds for a few minutes, but which then come to live with us. Often we do not want to have these lodgers, but somehow they are there, with us all the time. Why cannot we get rid of them? They are just ideas, so they are nothing; it should be easy to throw them out. But it is not so. There is a saying that it is easier to get rid of a burglar than a ghost; that may seem surprising, but it is true. If we think there is a burglar in the house, we can call the neighbours, and the police. Then together we search the whole house, every inch of it. We do not find any burglar, and we …

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