Teaching Points (December 1997)

Judo throw against where the opponent will be.

Inventing reasons.


A judo throw is first taught against an opponent who is static, who stands there like a dummy; but occasionally there are some illogical or seemingly unreasonable things shown in the technique which a pupil is puzzled by. He thinks, ‘Couldn’t this be done better in another way?’ Japanese pupils generally are willing to trust the teacher. They perhaps cannot understand why things are there as they are, but Western pupils often raise objections and these objections hamper their willingness to go on practising single-mindedly. So, in the West the teacher has to think up some plausible reason why the throw is being taught in exactly this way which the pupil can understand, and this will give him the necessary confidence to go on practising with perseverance and intensity – but it will not be true, or not completely true. Now, the real reason for these puzzling instructions about part of the throw is that the throw is going to be made, not against the opponent where he is now, but it’s going to be made, going to come off, against the opponent where he will be when he has moved away from the initial movement of the throw. The opponent is not a dead dummy. He will react immediately the throw begins, so the culminating moment of the throw is against the opponent where he will be and not against the opponent where he was at the very beginning of the throwing action. The ordinary student doesn’t have the experience to be able to understand all this. Even if it were explained to him, it would only confuse him. So, it has to go in the case of some students on the basis of faith and in the case of other students on the basis of plausible-sounding reasons.


Now, it can be a little bit the same in the inner training. The practices are taught at first in calm surroundings and some pupils don’t understand, at first, why there is emphasis laid on centring the attention on particular points in the body – for instance, the navel or the heart centre or between the brows. ‘Why this physical location when we’re told that ultimately the aim is to forget the body-consciousness?’ The real reason is that the practices of meditation are to be continued finally, not merely in quiet circumstances, but even in outer, distracted or turbulent circumstances; and it’s found by experience that unless there is a physical location it’s very difficult to meet outward interruptions, disturbances simply by mental means, by philosophising or by devotion or by trying to think up some way of meeting them. It is like, as the saying has been put, throwing stones into a wave to try to stop the wave. But if there is a physical location which can be a basis for the meditation in actual moving life then the mind can be much more easily kept under control even under very distressing situations. So, quite often additional plausible reasons are given for these physical locations. For instance, the concentration on the navel makes the integration of the physical movement much better and it can produce a much more efficient action in daily life and so on. These things are not necessarily untrue, but they are not the main purpose of the meditation. They are supports in the early years and later they become natural and finally they are forgotten.


End of teaching point.


Making it difficult


If one wants to give up a bad habit but is not prepared at first to simply break it off, then a useful strategy is just to make it difficult. I saw a Japanese, a heavy smoker who had got the idea that it was bad for his health and he had evolved a strategy to control it. He was an artist and artists then smoked heavily. When he was at a party of them and he wanted a cigarette, he would take out a pouch from which he would produce a piece of metal, a flint and some indeterminate material like sort of brown cotton wool and cigarette paper and cigarette holder and a little tobacco. Then he would roll himself a cigarette and put it in the holder. Now he would hold the flint in his left hand with some of the tinder under his left thumb near the edge of the flint. He would strike the metal on the edge of the flint and most times a spark or two would be produced. Sooner or later, the tinder would begin to smoulder from one of the sparks, then he would bend forward and fan it, blow on it and so bring it to life. Then he’d take his cigarette in the holder and apply it to the smouldering tinder and light his cigarette. Then, while he was smoking his cigarette, he would put away all the different implements in separate parts of the pouch. He told me that it reduced his tobacco consumption very much because the whole thing took about five minutes, but he said he didn’t have a sense of frustration because he always knew that he could have a cigarette when he wanted.


In the case of one who has a bad habit of making rather vicious little remarks about people one knows or has heard of and it’s difficult to check, the teacher said something along these lines: when you feel the impulse to make one of these biting little comments, make it a rule to count to ten, then make your biting comment. He said, humorously, quite often the conversation has gone on and it’s no longer relevant and you’re no longer tempted to make it. You won’t get such a feeling of frustration because, after all, you can still make your little comment but somehow you’ll find they get fewer and fewer. Also you’ll find that people seem to enjoy your conversation more, as he said.


Doctors sometimes complain that patients who are overweight, for instance, come to them and seem to be incapable of setting up for themselves a programme of exercise or of controlling the diet and sticking to it. They are always rushing to the doctor again for some help.


Some cultures have solved this sort of problem by their strategy, for instance, of preparing and serving meals. Suppose you go to a traditional Japanese restaurant and you order an evening meal in the Kyoto style. You’ll be served with several trays, small trays, and on them little dishes which each contain a small amount of separate food with tastes quite distinct – some strong, some very subtle – and these are eaten with white rice as a sort of background, like some interesting jam or ginger marmalade on bread and butter.  But there’s not very much of any of them and you complete the meal and you’re feeling satisfied. You’ve had  a number of quite distinct and attractive tastes. You don’t have big mountains of spinach or potatoes as we do but just a very small amount of each, perhaps as big as a tablespoon, but they’re distinctive and separate. At the end of that you’re satisfied, and you’ve had an interesting and attractive meal. Now, if you’re still hungry, you can go on with rice but there are no more tasty things. There’s a plain pickle which is not very interesting, but if you’re really hungry it tastes delicious.


Compare that with the Western style. We are presented with perhaps a little appetiser but then a considerable main dish heaped up with vegetables and we get full up with that. We can have seconds and we’re satisfied but then after we’re satisfied, when really we should stop, a sweet comes – very attractive ice cream or something very sugary.  So we’re tempted to eat a little bit more, more than we need and that temptation is particularly attractive. So there are many overweight people in the West and very few in Japan. Here we’re tempted to overeat. In Japan we’re not tempted to overeat.


We can apply these things to life in general. There’s a strong law of diminishing returns in the sense pleasures and with most other pleasures, too. The Indian saying is: “After the second mouthful, the attractiveness of the taste deteriorates markedly, falls away and it’s the same with most other pleasures.” If they are rationed out very carefully, they don’t clog up the mental and emotional works and, as they stand, they can be enjoyed much more because just a little of them doesn’t impair the vigour of the body and it doesn’t bring a reaction. We have to learn the truth of the saying: “An instant satisfaction lasts only for an instant”.




Quite often in our lives we’re going to meet Satan, either in other people or in ourselves and we don’t realise this because we often fail to recognise him. Well, here’s an example from the time when smoking was just a social habit and not known yet to be such a fatal killer as we now know it to be. A certain heavy smoker did find some adverse symptoms and he recognised greatly clear that it due to smoking, so he resolved to give it up. He  managed to maintain this for several months. He was respected by his smoking colleagues: they had tried to break it down as they always do and having failed to break it down, they respected him. Then he made the fatal mistake of beginning to preach to them, which is always extremely annoying: “Why not give up this filthy habit? You know it’s bad for you. It’s disgusting. It only needs a strong will. Haven’t you got the willpower to give it up?”


Well, of course, that began to be resented so one of them, or something in one of them, devised a plan. The next time the preaching began he said, “You haven’t given up!”

“What do you mean? I haven’t touched it for nearly six months in spite of great temptation”. “No”, he said, “no, you haven’t really given it up because you’re still terrified of it. That’s not giving it up”.

“Well, what do you mean? What is giving it up, then?”

“If now, in front of me you could have one and then throw it away when you’re halfway down and never touch it again that would be giving it up”.

“Oh, that’s ridiculous!”

“No, while you’re frightened of it, you’ve not given it up.” In the course of his persuasion and eloquence, they decided to try the experiment, so the heavy smoker lit one and then, as he said afterwards, bitterly, the avalanche was on. He was once more a heavy smoker like the rest of them. The friend who told this just to one or two people said reflectively after giving one account, “You know, I think then I realised for the first time how Satan must feel! When I saw that chap lighting that cigarette to show he wasn’t afraid of it, I realised the satisfaction that Satan must have.”



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