A seventeen-year-old judo student who was very promising lost his right arm in an accident. When he recovered he began to go to the judo training hall again, and practised with the loose sleeve tucked into his belt. He could not throw anyone except a few friends who let him do so; when he told them to try hard his defences were completely broken and he could not get near to a throw himself.

His parents consulted with the judo teacher, and they made attempts to interest him in something else. ‘You have a fine judo spirit,’ the teacher told him, ‘and now you can use that spirit to excel in something where you don’t need two arms. You might try table tennis – show them what the judo spirit can do in that.’ But his interest could not be diverted from judo. This sometimes happens – for a time a particular thing becomes the whole world, and it was so in this case.

When the boy realised that he would not be able to make up for his lost arm no matter how much he practised, he fell into a deep depression. He became unable to study, and hardly spoke. The parents again consulted the judo teacher who told them, ‘I have no idea what to do. But we can take him to see my old master who is a spiritually advanced man. He lives in retirement and is a good way from here, but if I write to him I’m sure he will see us.’

So the four of them went to the old master, who had been contest champion in his time. He listened carefully, and asked the parent a question. ‘Is it your intention that he should go to university?’

‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘but he’s not studying now.’

The master was silent for a little. He turned to the judo teacher: ‘What is the standard of the students’ championship in your county – what grade are the finalists?’

‘Well, as you know we are a small county, but the judo isn’t too bad. The champion is generally not more than second Dan, but not under that either.’

The old master said to the boy, T can see that you will have to fulfil your ambition at judo before you can go on to anything else. Now to become student champion in your county in three years time – would that satisfy you?’

The young judoka could only gulp in bewildered acquiescence.

‘Then you must undertake to study again, because if you don’t study you won’t be able to become student champion, will you? And I will make arrangements for your training, which you will have to follow without any question or doubts. It will be a rather hard time.’

When the parents had finished making their thanks, they departed with their son, leaving the younger judo teacher behind them. ‘I suppose you think that I have been promising him something impossible in the hope that before the three years are over he will have become interested in something else?’ said the old master. ‘It could happen with some of them, but not that one. He will have to do it or die.’

‘But master, how can he do it with the odds against him like that?’

‘His disadvantage must be turned into an advantage. You remember how you used to have a bad habit of occasionally taking a wide step with your right foot? We reduced it by paying attention, but still occasionally you did it when there was a flurry. When I realised it would always be with you and would come out from time to time, I made you practise hiza-guruma (knee wheel) every day as a part of your routine. Perhaps you thought I was being eccentric, or giving you something unsuitable as a test of your will power? After all, you must have thought to yourself that hiza-guruma wasn’t suitable to your build.

‘But it has been quite useful to you in contest, hasn’t it ? When you accidentally made that wide step, your opponent often automatically made a kouchi (inner reap) attack, and then your hiza-guruma was already sharpened for the counter. So your disadvantage, your tendency to make a wide step, became your advantage; they used to walk into an unexpected counter.

‘You have the principle from your own experience, but it’s not enough to know about it. You must find some way of applying it to the present case. It will be good for you to train this boy, because the experience will turn you into a real teacher of the Way and not just technique. Now think how you are going to turn his disadvantage into an advantage. Come back next week.’

When the teacher appeared again he blurted out, ‘I’ve thought and thought about it. All I can see is that this boy has only one arm, and however hard he trains there will always be others with both arms who train just as hard. You know some of them are just as keen as he is. I can’t see how he can ever do more than put up a gallant losing struggle.’

The old master said, ‘In your ordinary classes train him in defence only. Even with one arm only he can get fairly expert at that – anyway, good enough to survive any rush attack at the beginning of a contest. Tell the other boys that it is a good opportunity to try their attacks against someone specialising in defence. He’ll take some hammerings but that doesn’t matter.

‘Then have him in private at your dojo every morning for half an hour. Teach him a few jujitsu wrist turns which a man can do with one hand, and let everyone know that, so that they don’t get inquisitive. They’ll think that you’re feeling sorry for him, and giving him some special training in something he can do with one arm. And that will be true. But the main part of the time teach him some variations on hane-makikomi and a special form of osoto-makikomi, which we can look at now.’

There are several forms of throw which are extremely effective if the thrower can get in properly, but which are easy to stop. The defender just has to press down with his hand on the attacker’s arm, a small movement which can be made very quickly. To succeed, an attacker must make the complete movement with his whole body, covering the distance of perhaps two foot or more before the defender can make this small movement with the hand.

Judo men of any experience have a built-in reflex action of the hand against this whole case of throws, and it is not worthwhile spending several years mastering one of them when it can be so easily stopped. Hane-makikomi is one of the rare forms of this class of throw, and it is hardly ever seen.

The one-armed judo student kept up this training on these lines for three years. He had a sad time of pure defence in regular classes, and had to work very hard in the mornings with the teacher alone, practising the movements until they were as natural to him as breathing. He was told never to attempt them in public. As he got more expert, he often longed to score a few surprise successes against his regular opponents, but he managed to hold himself in. He put up with their pity and sometimes ridicule.

After three years he was entered for the students’ championship, to the puzzlement of his fellow judoka. In the event he went straight through to become champion, winning in each contest in the first few seconds with hane-makikomi or osoto-makikomi. His opponents in the later rounds saw the technique, of course, but found they were unable to check it in time.

What happened was that when he came in, very fast, the reflex defensive hand action automatically functioned. But in this case there was no arm to press. This was a judoka with no right arm. The whole system of defence reflexes became confused at the unfamiliar feeling, and the throw came off. Theoretically a defender could make some other defence, but at these high speeds no ordinary judoka is able to modify his reflexes at short notice.

This is a striking example of the principle of turning a disadvantage into an advantage.

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