Kangeiko and Shochugeiko

In 1939, I was told about the Kangeiko and the Shochugeiko at the Kodokan for the judo. I was then a strong 3rd dan in Britain and I was not at all upset by the idea of practising during the heat or practising in the early morning in the extreme cold of the winter. There were one or two foreigners at the Kodokan at that time. They told me that the Kangeiko especially was terrifying. It was freezing cold in the Japanese winter, much colder than in Britain, and there was no heating in the Kodokan. But I thought, “Oh no, I know all about this”, and I waited for the winter without any anxiety at all. I had thought it would be like some of the Western austerities which sportsmen do. I did not know that the real idea of the Kangeiko is something quite different from the Western idea of dogged endurance and fighting spirit.

Westerners are often surprised when they first hear about the Kangeiko in Japanese Budo. We have the idea of training oneself in endurance of heat and cold, but it is not the same thing. When I was a student, every fortnight I used to get up at about four o’clock on Sunday mornings and run through the night to a small lake at Hampstead Heath. There I met about a dozen others, mostly students like myself. We changed and plunged into the lake. In summer it was pleasant, but in winter it was very cold. There was an official sent by the London Country Council to be there in a little boat with a life belt in case one of the swimmers had a heart attack. He also broke the ice, if necessary. Most of us just dived in and came out quickly, but one day I tried to swim across the little lake. When I got to the middle where it was deep, I felt a terrible pain in the middle of my chest. I turned round and managed to get back. I never tried this again.

When I went to Japan in the late 1930s, I saw a man clad in a very thin robe of cotton standing in midwinter under the jet of water from the roof of one of the temples of Kiyomizudera. He was taking the water right on the top of his shaved head, and he was shouting certain syllables and making gestures with his hands. I realized this must be a religious practice of endurance, and I thought to myself why this is the sort of thing which we did in the lake at Hampstead, and I felt a fellow feeling with him. I knew what he was feeling. There was something like it, in fact, at the Kodokan in the 1930s. There was no hot water at all and in the showers: there was simply a jet of icy water from a pipe. After practice the students used to jump under it, rub their hands quickly over their bodies and then jump out again. However, I used to stand under it sometimes a bit longer.

One day a rather fanatical looking judo man came under the next shower to mine, and he too stood there. He looked at me challengingly. I realized he was going to stay there until I had come out, then he would come out. He wanted to show the superiority of the Japanese spirit. But this, I suppose, roused something of the English spirit in me, and I stayed there too. I was used to taking cold showers at home sometimes for a minute in winter as an endurance test for myself. I had found the best way is to take the jet on one side of the neck by bending the head, then after half a minute to bend the head to the other side and take the cold water on the other side of the neck and face. I used to alternate in this way and I did so now at the Kodokan. But he stood there like the man at the Kiyomizudera taking the stream tight on top of his head. Well, we stood there looking at each other out of the corner of the eye until my body at last felt quite numb. Finally, we looked at each other directly and then by a sort of unspoken agreement we stepped out together at the same moment. The contest was a draw. Next day I saw him at the dojo and I could see that his head was very painful. By taking the water right on top of the head, he had got neuralgic pains. A doctor later on told me this.

Now this sort of austerity did nothing except strengthen the will. It had nothing to do with judo or swimming or anything like that so it was quite different from the Kangeiko. The point of the Kangeiko is not simply to endure cold but to be able to do judo, even when the body is only thirty or forty percent efficient because of the cold. We do not have this idea in the West as a formal training procedure. Individuals know it sometimes, but it is not an understood tradition and as a result many of us feel that unless the circumstances are good we cannot do anything. For instance, there are sportsmen who are very good on a fine day, but if the day is a bad one because of rain, for instance, in golf, their game collapses. They say, “Oh, I cannot do anything”. We are more easily upset by some outside circumstance than those who have trained in the Kangeiko. Singers do not train to sing in extreme cold, but if they did the Kangeiko they would not be easily upset when they felt a little ill or when some other circumstance was difficult.

My father was a very good professional musician, one of the best violinists of his generation in Britain. He knew many top musicians. For instance, he knew the famous Russian bass Chaliapin. He told me that though Chaliapin had a wonderful voice there were at least six others in the world whose voices were just as good or better. I said, “Then who are they? Why have we never heard of them?” He said, “I will tell you why. I have seen Chaliapin come to the concert hall when he was ill. In his dressing room he looked so ill that I thought he cannot get on to the stage even. How can he sing? But when he got up on to the stage, he was in full voice giving these Russian songs with tremendous energy and spirit, beautifully sung. Then after the concert he went back to the dressing room and he simply fainted”.

My father said those other singers would not have been able to sing if they felt a little ill, or they would have sung badly. But Chaliapin had this inner hardness, and my father told me that all the top musicians had a tremendous inner hardness. It is not just a question of music. Now Chaliapin had got this training, I do not know how, but we do not have the idea of training like this to sing even when one feels ill, or to do judo when one is very very cold, so I think the Kangeiko system gives many advantages for life. Those who do it are not disturbed in their lives by difficulties. If the body is only thirty percent efficient, we must accept: yes, it is only thirty percent and then we produce that thirty percent. But many Westerners feel, “Oh I can’t do anything when I am so cold”. They do not even produce the thirty percent. They say,”Oh no, you can’t expect me to do anything”. A golf champion Jacklin told me he did not play golf, he did not practise on very cold days because he thought it would harm his bodily coordination and touch. He was a wonderful player, but the conditions had to be rather good.

I had an injury to my right hand which meant that I could not write for about a month with the right hand. I had to write with the left hand. In those days the houses did not have typewriters so I realized my writing would have to be very slow and difficult. I wrote with a pencil and it took me an hour to write a page. But by writing slowly and patiently I could do it. I accepted my writing will be very slow, but I can write with the left hand. A bit later a friend of mine also injured his right hand and had to write with the left. I watched him once. He was always in a temper when he wrote with the left hand. He would try to write quickly. Then it would be very bad, because he could not control his hand well. Then he would get angry and write very, very slowly. That was better but he soon became impatient and tried to write quickly again, and often the letter became unreadable and he had to write it again. He could not accept the poor writing from his left hand. He was always wanting his untrained left hand to do as well as the right hand. But it could not. He had never done Judo and it gave me an idea of how valuable the Kangeiko exercise is.

In the Kangeiko we know the body is clumsy – we do not try delicate waza like Kouchi or De ashi harai. We know the body will not be able to do the timing. We use Koshi waza and Osotogari where the precision and timing are not so necessary, and we can use the same principle when we have some disadvantage in an activity in life.

Even experienced professionals among us are upset by some very small thing. I remember how, when I was a boy, a famous violinist used to come to London every year to give concerts. I heard this story about him. He used to play with his eyes half shut, but sometimes he would open them and look at the audience for a moment. Now generally the listeners in such a concert have their eyes half shut or completely shut to enjoy the music better. This violinist glanced at the audience and he saw that they were all wide eyed. They seemed to be looking at him with great intensity. He was surprised but went on playing. Then he looked at the audience again. They were still staring at the stage, but he now saw that they were not looking at him. Still playing, he turned a little and surveyed the stage and he saw that there was a big cat walking slowly across it. He realised that the audience were watching the cat with fascination. He gave a shout of fury and left the platform and said, “I will never again play to these British people who are more interested in a cat than in music”.

I do not know whether there is an example like this from  Japan. But anyway, if the violinist had been a Kangeiko man, I think he would just have gone on playing beautifully without thinking about anything else.

I think there are some Japanese who practise the Kangeiko simply as a test of endurance and fighting spirit. This is the Western way of looking at such things but, in fact, the Kangeiko has a much deeper meaning. We have in the West a phrase: “It is in working within limitations that the master reveals himself”. This means that when conditions are perfect and everything necessary is available many people can make a success of things. But it is when some things are not available that the master shows his mastery because he can find a way even without those apparently necessary things. Now I think Kangeiko is meant as a test of mastery under limitations. As I said, in Kangeiko we recognize that the body is not efficient, but the master will change his judo or whatever it is that he is practising in Kangeiko.

In judo he will recognize by his feeling that the opponent too has slow reactions so he can do many things which in an ordinary randori he would not be able to do. For instance, I saw at the Kangeiko in one year a very small man – and this was in the time when there were no weight categories – throwing large men very successfully by a sort of variation of Seoinage. He would suddenly catch the bottom end of the Eri of their judogi on their left side, come in quickly for Seoi and bring his right hand holding the judogi across his right shoulder. When he straightened his knees, the other man was lifted from the floor as if by a hydraulic jack. His arms were free but he was taken over. Now normally the opponent’s reactions would be able to anticipate this attack and prevent it, but in the Kangeiko the reactions were slow and this small man was very successful with his unexpected right hand hoisting Seoinage. So I believe that one of the purposes of Kangeiko which Dr. Kano approved of is to train one in working under limitations and to be creative under those limitations. We can say, “Well, what use will this be in life?” Dr. Kano stressed that the training of judo was not only for the tatami but for life.

Well, I saw an example of this in broadcasting which is my own field. I was a broadcaster for nearly twenty-five years in the BBC. In the World Service of the BBC we used to have a news bulletin of ten minutes in what is called Basic English. This means using a vocabulary of only 850 words. The editors in the newsroom used to do this bulletin for one or two months each as part of their duties. Now the purpose of the programme was to give the news in very simple English to foreign listeners who knew only a little English. The news editors did not try to write good BBC stylish English. They thought it is impossible with only 850 words, so the news bulletin was like a telegram. It gave the facts very clearly but there was no charm or style in it and it was, well, very basic. However, one of the editors whom I knew and who had done some judo took this as a challenge.

He determined to write English which would be natural and attractive even with this tiny vocabulary. The bulletin in Basic English which he wrote came on the air normally it was, I think, at ten minutes to twelve noon, and when he was at a meeting at that time he said to the meeting, “Let’s just hear the news for a few minutes”, and most of them agreed to hear the latest news. Then he switched on this programme. Now many of them listened and they did not realise that they were listening to Basic English. It was done so skillfully and naturally with only 850 words that it sounded like normal English. I can remember one example. The official news bulletin said something like this, “The French spokesman M. Bicat asserted that the scheme could not be implemented and, even if it were, it would not achieve its objective.” Now my friend’s basic English bulletin had this same sentence in Basic English. It was like this, “For France, M. Bicat said that the plan could not be put through and, in any case, it could not work”. Now that read so naturally that we did not realize the restrictions of the basic English vocabulary.

This is an example of working within limitations creatively. But this was the enthusiasm of one man and his creative skill. We do not have any training method for this, and I believe that the Kangeiko is a training method for working creatively within limitations, not only of the materials but also of one’s own body.

Some Japanese think that the Kangeiko and the Shochugeiko are simply a question of doing one’s normal judo or kendo bravely and defiantly, disregarding the cold or the heat or the fatigue. But there is much more to be learned from these practices and perhaps they will be a contribution to the idea of training for life through Budo.

© Trevor Leggett