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 randori – 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 righthanded 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. Spontaneity

When the time comes, we have to jump.

We should learn the right technique, but there is something else that judo can give us if we really train.

We have our tokui waza – this is how I am going to win. We rely on it. But the psychological training is to go in and forget all your favourite things and just throw yourself in totally. It is very difficult to do. But if you succeed in doing it, something new will come. The body seems to move by itself. And quite often it is something that you are not very expert at.

This is one of the things which the old masters stressed. That the Way comes to an end. You train and train and now you have got to forget that training and open yourself. This applies to life.

We have got our pet techniques in life.

I always look at things scientifically.’

‘Well you have got to be a bit practical, you know.’

‘Well, what about the feelings of other people?’

We keep on repeating our favourite lines.

‘I’m the one who is always thinking of other people. I am the conscience of other people.’

‘I am the one who has got cool objective scientific viewpoints.’

‘I am the one who says get on with life.’

We have got these favourite tricks which we use in life and we have got to be able to jump beyond them.

The blind spot

And if you can, what happens?

This is called the blind spot. It is something that is well known but is rarely thought about or analysed.

The chemist, Linus Pauling, who was continuously creative over a

number of years, said, ‘When I am confronted with a problem that defeats me, I concentrate on it for three weeks. Then I deliberately rely on my subconscious and throw away all thought of it. And then weeks, or months, and sometimes years later, the answer suddenly pops into my mind.’

Now, we have no explanation for these things. None. The great French mathematician Poincare tried to analyse it. He said, ‘ It means that there is something in my unconscious mind that is more intelligent than I am! It can solve problems which I can’t solve. I would hate to think that!’

We are given the chance in judo – there is a tradition – to practise emptying the mind. After the judo practise, when you are pouring with sweat and blood you practise sitting still.

We used to do this at the black belt classes which we held at The Budokwai. It is said to give energy, an inspiration and a freedom. It can even give freedom from the fear of death.

To be able to empty the mind, like a clear space. Not falling asleep. Like a clear space, empty of hopes, ambitions, fears, and worries.

This is the advantage of learning an art like judo. In a small field, you can practise this emptying the mind and you will receive inspiration. Something will happen which you don’t direct. The body will move of itself. It will come to life.

Bushi of the Yin, Bushi of the Yang

One of the old texts say there are two kinds of bushi (the Japanese warriors) – the bushi of the yin (the quiet) and the bushi of the yang (the positive).

The bushi of the yang, the positive, walks as if his feet would crush the earth. His glare looks as if it would powder rocks. He walks on with small steps uttering shouts which terrify the opponents.

The bushi of the yin is calm. He walks steadily. He is silent. But the response is instant because he is not making the response – the response is coming from the beyond.

These are some of the traditions within judo. And in judo we can try them. This is one of the things judo can give us for life: energy,

courage – but also the ability in difficulties, or in triumph and success, to be free from it all.

O-me-dame de shinde koi.

With wide open eyes come and die.

This dying means give up the thoughts on which we rely. Give up the things we hold on to and walk forward with wide open eyes.

These are some of the things that judo is meant to give us – and can give us if we practise in that way.

It is not wrong to practise in other ways. But we ought to think, occasionally, if it can give us more than just fighting on the mat.

© Trevor Leggett

Similar Posts