Imagination and Open Judo : Weaknesses, Stances and Training

Judo is not football.

When we are young, we play football, and we are told, ‘Try and win, try and win’. But the main purpose is to develop our physique. It’s not for most schoolboys to become professional footballers.
In the same way, judo is to give you something for life, and for most of us it is not to become contest leaders.
Dr Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, regarded judo as a training for life. He thought it was much better for this than ball games which are not natural activities.
But fighting is a natural activity and if the natural activity can be spiritualised and made rational, so that instead of making enemies, you are making friends, then it will give you something for life.

Imagination and Open Judo

But it is much more than that. In order to safeguard the health of competitors, contest judo has become narrower and narrower. The rules have been narrowed down and every time they are narrowed, the opportunities for the small man are limited. And that means there’s a poverty of imagination.
I suggest you should go back and introduce in your rcmdori -which, after all, means free practice – open judo, in which everything is allowed except striking. Allow people to hold the belt; allow people to hold the sleeve.
Don’t rely on winning as the sole objective but developing skill. This will help us in life.
I am a big man and I was fairly strong, but I must admit against a short chap when he caught the end of the belt my heart used to sink – because he could whirl in and put the belt over his shoulder and over I would go. Here, he was using his imagination.
Let your randori partners hold the end of the belt or the trouser leg
– anything to get the man over. Then, imagination will develop and it will be an advantage for life.
So I would suggest that you bring in open judo and keep the contest rules narrow.
The idea was to develop energy for life and courage for life. I have compared notes with people who have been through similar experiences and most of us have said that a judo contest is just as bad a strain on the nerves as real danger of life and death. It is a very good training for that.
Judo must train the imagination. Work out your own methods and have open judo practise. Not concentrating on ‘you are not going to beat me’. In that way, both sides will benefit. This was one of Dr Kano’s main principles, that both sides will benefit in this antagonistic activity.


Through judo training, we learn our bodies have limitations. We are weak in certain respects. These have to be corrected to some extent.
The Japanese say that every man has seven big faults of character. In judo we learn how to minimise our faults and how to develop beyond them. We must not try and avoid the faults, but cultivate a proper method of dealing with them.

For instance, if I am right-handed and I am left to my own devices, I will simply use the right hand more and more. But a good teacher will make me use the left side, and then the co-ordination of the whole body will be improved about the centre line.
So it is to bring to life the left side which is relatively neglected. Judo should help us to do that, not only on the mat but in life.


‘Oh no, I’ve never been any good with figures.’
‘I can’t understand these legal things.’
‘I don’t get on with people.’
‘I get on with people all right, but where I am no good is when I am on my own.’
All these are weaknesses, and judo should help us to confront those weaknesses with courage and go for them.
A Japanese chess champion I knew could sit in front of the board for 10 minutes, a quarter of an hour, half an hour without moving a muscle and without making a move.
His opponent was fidgeting, going to the lavatory, having a drink, lighting cigarettes.
The old boy just sat there.
After he had won, I talked to him and he wasn’t at all this calm figure, but a wisecracking Tokyo cockney. I asked, ‘How is it that your chess personality is so different to your ordinary personality?’
He said, ‘Well, when I was young I was like that young chap, impatient, fidgety, and I realised that I would always lose to an old boy who can just sit there. So I practised sitting in front of an empty board for an hour every day for a week, then two hours every day for a week without moving.’
‘Now I can outsit the best of them.’
This is the sort of thing which judo should help us to do – to confront our weak points.


We have training. Judo teaches us training. You have to train, but you have to be spontaneous.

If you start being spontaneous without training, your bad habits will get worse and worse.
If you are one-sided, you won’t naturally develop into two-sided. You will become more one-sided.
When you see somebody who can’t type, they start with two fingers. If they go on typing like that, they won’t gradually use ten fingers.

They will get better and better at using this terrible method. The hands move very fast like a couple of mad hens. But they never develop a good technique and the result is that typing is always a strain and an effort.
Now the purpose of judo technique is to show you this and enable you to master what has been learnt in the past – and then to become spontaneous and free.
You have to train and then you have to jump beyond the training.


© Trevor Leggett

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