Do not meet hard with hard, or soft with soft

In one of the traditional scrolls of budo martial arts, there is a poem:

Do not meet hard with hard, or soft with soft,
There is no result and it is meaningless,
Catch the flung stone with a cloth,
Pin the wind-fluttered cloth with a stone.

These general principles, and the poetic metaphors which illustrate them, can be a help in life. But they have to be understood.

There are people who live always by hardness: they are fighters, pushers, shouters. If you meet them with fighting, pushing and shouting, there is no real result. You may defeat them for a time, but they are not convinced and will seek revenge. They will constantly oppose all you try to do, and can hold it up and limit it.

Then there are people who live entirely by softness. At the first little difficulty or opposition in anything, they change course, or give up entirely. If you meet their feebleness by making no demands on them, again nothing gets done and there is no result.

We have to learn how to neutralise and contain the forceful without directly opposing them with force, and we have to learn how to rouse the indecisive and hold them to a decision. It has to be done internally, not only externally. We have to learn how to contain the anger and will to dominate, but not by forcible restraint; and how to energise our inertia or timidity without any concessions to ‘human weakness’.

The poem shows that we must be able to use both hard and soft, and that we skilfully use hard against soft, and soft against hard. It is a sort of inspirational skill, and inspiration does not come into a disturbed mind. It arises in a mind that has been calmed by meditation. The skill may not be obvious: sometimes the soft is concealed in the hard, or vice versa. How does it work in practice? There has to be a concrete example, and from a judo man it is natural that the example should be from that training.

So here it is. There are technical exercises which judo students of some years perform together. One of them is to lie face-down on the mats, and then pull oneself forward by the forearms, pressing them on the mats and then pulling in. The body slides along; the feet trail behind. It is easy at first, but soon gets tiring. They are made to do it three times round a large hall, which takes many to near the limit of exhaustion. The teacher watches carefully. If one of them is going ‘Ooh!’ or ‘Aaagh!’ he knows that man is not really tired: if he has energy to say ‘Ooh!’ or ‘Aaagh!’ he has got something to spare. But if in the third round the teacher sees one man, very quiet, suddenly going pale, he knows that man ought to stop.

There is however a difficulty. The united effort of will must not be broken. What keeps many people going during these periods of exhaustion is the knowledge that others are doing the same thing, enduring the same hardship, mastering the body by will. If one man is taken out and allowed to rest, that unity is liable to collapse. ‘I’m just as tired as he is, why shouldn’t I…’ The teacher must prevent that.

He gives a shout of simulated anger, jumps forward, picks up the man by collar and belt, and slings him down in the middle.

‘Why don’t you do it properly?’ he shouts. ‘I’ve told you again and again. Look at the angle of my arms here…’ he demonstrates. ‘Now look and see how I’m making the pull. You’re doing it unevenly… always think you know better… don’t listen…’ It can be quite a tongue-lashing. The others keep on steadily, glad it is not them. ‘Now get back, and do it properly.’

The man begins again. He has been reprimanded, scolded, humiliated, but he has had a little rest. And in the next day or two, the teacher invites him to have a coffee with him.

This is an example of the soft concealed in the hard.

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