Teacher Out-of-date, Up-to-date

I believe we can say that in the West, the traditional relationship of teacher and pupil has been very much weakened by the ideas of science. In science, the teacher of more than fifty is regarded as probably out of date and wrong on many things. Most of the big discoveries in science are made by very young men. When they grow older, they become unable to change with the still newer ideas which are coming forward from the young men. For instance Einstein, so marvellous in his early discoveries when he was young and unknown, in his later life spent some twenty years fighting a losing battle against the consequences of the quantum theory which he had done much to found. So the conclusion in science is, that the older men can still teach basics which do not change, but they do not like new ideas, and so cannot – or will not – teach them.

If we compare this view with the traditions of art or music for instance that the great masterpieces are produced in maturity, or even in old age, as with Beethoven and Hokusai. The later work does not cancel out the earlier, as it does in science. We listen to Beethoven’s First Symphony with as much enjoyment as his Eighth.

In science, the developments are not from the same man; the new ideas are from other, younger men. Today musicians still listen with reverence to the music of 18th century J.S.Bach; But only a historian reads the scientific works of his contemporary Newton. In science, the older men gradually drop down the page till they become just footnotes. Newton’s laws of motion are the basis of physics today, but no one studies his original work.

In poetry however, we still enjoy and study the work of the former masters; so too in art and music, and also I believe, in Budo. In Budo especially, the teacher is not one who knows and teaches only technique, and who may therefore become out of date if new techniques develop. There are of course developments in technique in these fields, but they are not central. There are some brilliant technicians in music, whose playing is unattractive; it is mechanical, like a wonderful mechanical toy, as Stravinsky said. They have developed technique, but they have not developed themselves. They are not creative. There is external brilliance, but nothing within. My old music teacher used to say to me, a boy of fourteen: ’You can play very well the notes Beethoven has written. But you cannot play Beethoven, because you have never lived through a tragedy.’ He knew that there had to be an inner development as well as external technique. But music alone does not normally give that inner development.

In Budo, the point is understood much more clearly. My teacher of Judo sometimes would say to a keen student: ’Now for a week, practise holding with one hand only; tuck the other one in your belt.’ Some of us did not take this seriously, but a few of us tried hard. It gave a new insight into the principles of balance and waza. This teacher warned us not to try to learn throws automatically. He would say: ’Each throw is something new. You boys think you will get some strong throw which will throw the opponent no matter what he does. But there is no such throw. To try to force a throw like that is against the principle of Judo. Train your body to adapt to the opponent’s moves.’ Once or twice, in the middle of a practice with a keen student, he suddenly slapped the opponent’s face. When this first happened to me, I was bewildered. But he said: ’I did that to show you that you must not trust me. You think in your Judo kit, on the tatami, you are safe. But that is a wrong attitude. You must be alive; anything may happen.’

The ideal of science is to be able to repeat an operation exactly, time after time, like a machine. When it is a question of machines, science is very often successful. But when it is a question of human beings, conscious and with purposes, science has little to say. For instance there are Budo phrases such as: ’The contest is won and lost before the opponents come on to ‘the mat.’ This does not refer to the technical side, but to the inner development.

The great Shogi master Oyama, whom I knew well, sometimes sat for ten minutes at the beginning of a match, before making his first move. I asked him once why he did that. Western chess masters make the first moves immediately. Sometimes the first five moves are over in about ten seconds; they have decided them in advance. Oyama told me that while he sat there, he would begin to sense how his opponent was feeling. He said that there is a current – he called it a ’nagare’ – which he could feel. Then in the following game he would know the other man’s inner state. He told me that it is sometimes a great advantage to know whether the other side is feeling confident, or nervous, or tired. Science has nothing to say about such things. The traditional teachers in Budo, and in traditional things like Shogi too, were iterested in technique and did teach it, but they also know that the inner training is even more important.

In 1939 I was given permission to attend the advanced theory class at the Kodokan. I was then only a strongish 4th Dan, but I think one or two of the seniors in the class wanted to practise their English. Anyway, I was made welcome. I remember one discussion there, between Mifune and Samura, both Ninth Dan grade, and another senior, who was Eighth. They were analysing the pull with the left hand when making De-ashi-harai on opponent’s advancing right foot. The foot is swept away, and the sleeve pulled to make the throw. The question was: in what direction is the pull to be made? The Eioghth Dan said that the pull should follow the foot that is being swept away. That will twist opponent’s body still further, and make a clean fall. But Samura Sensei objected: he said such a pull will move the opponent’s centre of gravity back towards his rear foot. He might get time to double up and sit down instead of being thrown. His solution was: the pull should be straight down. But even then, it was argued, the opponent’s weight may be still a bit on the rear foot. He could get a little support from that foot. So the final conclusion, suggested by Mifune, was this: in making his step, the opponent is throwing his weight forward, to a spot on the floor where he will support it with his right foot. But that foot is now swept away. But a straight downward pull will to some extent check that forward movement. So the pull should continue that forward and downward movement; it should go towards the spot where the foot would have landed if it had not been swept away.

I was watching this elaborate analysis open-mouthed. Are such things still discussed today? I do not know.

But after all these deails, I had another surprise. When we left the class, one of the senior men said to me, ’it is a fine thing to know these points, and one shold practise them. But in actual contest, the pull you can make depends on your posture at the time, and often it is not particularly good. So you have to make whatever pull you can. In fact, the body makes the pull; you can’t guide it.’

Such experiences gave me a clue to the role of the teacher. We nearly all have the experience, whether in Budo or something else which we have practised hard, that things happen of themselves, without conscious decision or guidance. Often the result is far better than anything we have been able to do consciously. Again, often it is something quite new, which had not been practised before. The old texts speak of this as the action of the Ri or Principle, as against the ordinary action of Ji, which is waza.

Such things are not out-of-date, nor up-to-date: they are beyond date.

© Trevor Leggett

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