Emptiness and Fullness
When I taught advanced Judo classes at the London Budokwai, I sometimes used a special training method, based on this Budo principle. About halfway I divided the class, usually of about 60, into two groups—A and B. Then I set them in pairs of roughly equal ability. I told the men in Group A: ‘Practise as you would normally. Attack or be cautious, just as you like’. Then I said to the men in Group B: ‘You must not make any attack or counter, till I call “Now!” You may defend yourself, but you must not attack or counter’.
‘But when I call “Now!” you must attack continuously, without any break at all. You must go on, whether there’s an opportunity or not, till I call “Stop!” If you’re thrown, grab his foot from the ground and give it a pull, jump up and go at him without waiting to take a proper hold. Go mad in attack, till you hear “Stop!”’
Then I would call ‘Begin!’ Group A practised normally, making occasional attacks, while Group B just defended. They were hot and excited by the previous hour’s practice. But now they must not attack. After about 30 seconds I could see some of them becoming impatient. They stole a quick glance at me to see if I had fallen asleep. But sometimes I kept silent for three minutes or more. Then I’d shout ‘Now!’ and they would jump furiously at the other man. In spite of their impatience, some of them found it difficult at first to keep up volleys of attacks for even half a minute. But finally most of them mastered it.
One might think that while this is fine training for Group B, it is not good for Group A, which knows after all that the opponent is not allowed to attack. But in fact, it is very good training for Group A too. It is true that the opponent is not now attacking or countering, but at any instant there may be the shout ‘Now!’ And then that same opponent will explode. It is like practising with a time bomb: it is quiet now, but it may go off at any moment.
Later on in the afternoon I would do the same practice, with Group A and Group B exchanging their places.
At the end of the two-hour practice, we used to sit in mokuso meditation for a few minutes, dripping with sweat. Afterwards I used to give a five-minute talk about the principle of the practice: ‘Don’t think that you are by nature an attacker, or by nature a defender. There is something in you which can be either. There’s an old Budo saying “I have no strategy. I make kyojitsu (emptiness and fullness) my strategy”. Emptiness means “not acting”, and fullness “going into action”. You must have both equally’.
Judo is meant to teach us this for life. Don’t think ‘My line is wait-and-see’ or ‘My line is to make things happen’. There is something in you which can do either, and Judo will help us to develop it.
Many years later, former members of that class told me that the practice was a great help to them. For instance, one man became a scholar and finally the head of a very important British library of rare documents. (The city records in London go back unbroken for 1,000 years and is unique in the world.) This man got to 1st dan and attended my black belt classes. Years later he told me how the Judo training helped him:
I am a scholar, and I suppose that I am a quiet type of man. I don’t like furious arguments. But occasionally we used to get visitors to the library who were aggressive and insisted on special treatment. They would not wait their turn, but demanded to go to the head of the queue.
If one became too noisy, the head of the library had to go down to see him. That was myself. On one occasion, a staff member came to me and said, T think this man is half mad: he looks as if he might attack us’.
So I went to see him. He did indeed look unbalanced. His face was red with fury, and he was dribbling at the mouth. He looked really dangerous, as if he were going to explode. I did not like the look of him, but as I went towards him, an extraordinary thing happened. ‘I know this’, I said to myself. ‘I’ve been here before. I’ve been a Group A man, facing a Group B man who might explode any moment. Well, go on and explode! I don’t care a damn for you or what you may do’.
And in fact he very quickly calmed down. He accepted that he must wait, even though he was a famous scholar from a famous foreign university. The story got around, and it gave me a good reputation with my staff and with regular visitors to the library. I owe it to the experiences in the Judo training classes.