‘Boys, be ambitious!’ I came across these words recently. A British teacher working in Japan told me about these words, which he said has had a profound effect on Japanese youth. It made me wonder: ‘Have there been words spoken by Japanese which have had a deep effect on my own life?’ There have been such words indeed, but I realize that they have not been general maxims like ‘Boys, be ambitious!’ They were individual remarks which were said to me directly or which I overheard.
A few such words were spoken by Yukio Tani, my Judo teacher. I heard them when I was about 17, and they made a lasting impression, because I was very keen on Judo. Tani had a wonderful reputation. When I was taught by him, he was already over 50, but was still very skilful. Over 20 years before, my father had seen this small man defeating big boxers and wrestlers, apparently by magic. He was a sort of god to us, and his words made a great impression.
Up to the age of 15, I was interested only in music. I never took any exercise, so I was constantly getting ill. The doctor told me that I must build up a better constitution, and I began running every day. Then I came across Judo. Soon I was very keen and began training. Tani noticed this and gave me a few lessons. Encouraged, I used to begin practice at 6 p.m. and stay till the end at 9 p.m.