Sparks from the flint of the heart

In the last article, the case was given where something (say a garden) has been created with work and sacrifice. Then someone comes at night and deliberately destroys it. If he later admits doing it, and is asked why, he says: ‘Oh, I don’t need a reason. I just wanted a bit of fun.’

Now how is a man of Budo to react to that situation? I wrote last time how a Zen teacher said: ‘It’s no good trying desperately to forgive him a little. You have to drink that poison down, to the last drop.’

A Budo teacher said about a similar case: ‘Your personality is like a little cage; the bars are your feelings of Me and Mine. The bars are not fixed to anything; the only reason they are there is because you are hugging them to yourself. What has happened is like a crow, and it takes up a lot of space in the cage because the cage is so small. Now stop holding up those bars: throw them away. You’ll find that the crow flaps away till it’s only a speck in the blue sky. Then get on with your Judo under that blue sky.’

Though the presentation is different, we can see that the teaching is the same. The cruel experience is the tinder, and the teaching, whether of Zen or of Budo, is the spark. If that spark strikes and is carefully preserved by repeated ‘blowing’ to make it continuous, then the tinder will catch fire. The fire will burn up the sorrow and anger, and leave us free.

But there is something more in the Zen story. I may say: ‘What am I supposed to do afterwards? You say that love must be brave enough to drink down the last drop of poison. Suppose I manage that. Do I just leave him to do it again?’

A Zen teacher says that he was asked this by a student who was actually in this situation. He replied: ‘No. The words of love are not necessarily kindly words.’

To understand this, I had to think back over my own experience as a Judo man (which I have been for a good many years) and also as a Judo teacher (also for quite some years.) Since my retirement some twenty-five years ago, I have hardly been to the Judo halls. Younger people, some of them my former pupils, or pupils of my pupils, are the teachers now. Occasionally, on an anniversary, I do go, and I remember one incident when I visited a dojo. The teacher there had been English champion, and he was also a skilled trainer. He said to me : ‘I have a boy here who is desperately keen. He began with a poor physique, but he is trying like mad. Would you have a word with him? It would mean so much to him.’

I said: ‘No, I don’t want to. He is your pupil, so you teach him.’ I remembered how when I was young, these old men used to totter round the dojo, saying that the Judo had got much worse since the old days. I had resolved then never to do that.

But he kept on saying: ‘Please see him. You must, you’ve got to…’ and in the end, I did.

Well, when we get old, some of us get gentle and kindly. You look at the Judo, and it’s all seems so terrible that there doesn’t seem to be any distinction between good and bad. I watched this kid demonstrating his Judo in a practice in front of me. He was skinny, and he looked like a very energetic shrimp. I thought to myself: What am I going to say? It’s nothing, there’s nothing there at all.

Well, the teacher finally stopped him, and they all looked at me. The kid was obviously very awed.

So I said with a friendly smile: ‘You’re trying very hard, and I can see you’ve make good progress. Bravo, and keep it up.’

The boy bowed and went off.

Half an hour later, the teacher came up and said to me:

‘You know, he was terribly disappointed with what you said. ‘Oh?’ ‘He expected you to say something, not just to pat him on the head like that. He wants to get on. Please see him again.’

So I saw him again, this time putting on a grim face. ‘With that build, you’ve got to transform yourself. Only one in a hundred does it. But you’ll never master that Hane-goshi you are trying. Your teacher here never told you to try that, I’m sure. (I was growling now.) Why do you waste his time, and your time, and my time, trying Hanegoshi which you will never be able to do? He will tell you what to go for. Listen to him this time. (I stopped frowning.) And … yes, develop a secret weapon. Ask him to show you Sukui-nage, and set up a pole in your garden. Practise walking towards it casually, then suddenly jump and make the Sukui-nage move. In six years you might have a really good one – you’ve got that one chance in a hundred.’

He had asked for it, and he got it. He looked like a man screwing up his courage to jump off a cliff. He gulped, bowed, and went out staring ahead. In fact, some years later I had a message to say that he had won some championship somewhere. This little experience taught me what the Zen master meant, when he said that the words of love are not necessarily kindly words. And kindly words are not always beneficial.

One Judo teacher used to say that the experiences we have in the dojo are a sort of vaccination. When you are vaccinated, you are infected with a little dose of the illness, under controlled conditions. Your body learns how to defend itself against this illness. Later on in life, when you perhaps visit a country where that disease is everywhere, you are exposed to massive infections. But your body knows about it now, and can easily mobilize the defence, and throw it off.

In the same way (he said), some of the experiences during Judo training give us an idea of what can happen. They are on a small scale, just within the small dojo. They change our attitude to life, and we are ready to meet them when they come on a big scale later.

I remember a Judo contest, where we were both trying a throw at the same time, and we fell in a heap. We jumped up, and I was ready to continue. But my opponent was holding his ribs with an expression of pain. The referee stopped the contest, and felt the ribs. He said: There’s no break. Do you want to go on?’

My opponent said bravely: ‘Yes, I’ll go on’, and the referee signalled to us to begin again. I admired the other man’s attitude, and came forward slowly. Somehow I did not want to attack an injured man too fiercely. But then he suddenly jumped at me and launched a volley of attacks. I was so surprised that I had difficulty in meeting them, but I did manage to survive. But he had not been hurt at all – it was a deception.

Much later in life, when I was a Head of the Japanese Service at the British Broadcasting Corporation, that Judo experience was of use to me. Every six months we used to meet the press, who would ask questions about the broadcasts. Sometimes they produced criticisms. We prepared carefully for these meetings, and usually we had no difficulty – the BBC  broadcasts were even then famous all over the world. We could anticipate most of the questions, and prepare material to answer them. There was one man, who visited Japan as a correspondent regularly, who was rather hostile. I used to bring a pile of papers with me to the meeting; as he asked his questions, I could just pull out a paper and read it to him: ‘A member of the Japanese Upper House wrote to us that he had heard this programme….’ and so on. I needed the paper to support what I said, as this man was very critical.

On this occasion, the day before the meeting, the BBC had a telephone message from him to say that he was ill and probably would not be able to attend the meeting. One of my colleagues said: ‘Well, Trevor, you won’t have to bring any papers to the meeting now. He is the only hostile one’.

But suddenly, I remembered that Judo contest. I took all the papers, just as if he would be there. And he was. He had wanted to give me a surprise. But, thanks to my Judo training, he was the one who had the surprise.

© Trevor Leggett


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