Technique develops, and in a very wide field of possibilities technique can develop almost endlessly. Even in a narrow field, it is wrong to think that the best technique has necessarily been found after a couple of hundred years’ experience. We should not become slaves to fixed ideas and analysis of technique.
I learnt the piano as a kid under a teacher of the old school, who was a pupil of the great teacher Oskar Beringer. He taught me to play scales with a matchbox balanced on the back of the hand. I learnt to keep the back of the hand level even when the thumb passes underneath the fingers. I made quite good progress and became able to do it.
And then my father sent me to a very famous teacher, and one of the first things he said to me was, ‘Why do you keep your hands so flat?’
‘I can balance a matchbox on the back of my hand’, I said proudly. I thought he would challenge me to do it, but he said simply, ‘What for?’
I didn’t know any bad words when I was eight years old, but I thought to myself, ‘Oh gosh!’ Then he said: ‘Throw your hand up when you pass the thumb underneath. Make the wrist soft and throw the hand up. Then it’s easier’.
Well, that gave me a lifelong suspicion of fixed rules of technique. But when I had finished laughing at this 20-year-old tradition, I realized that they made good pianists
in early days. It may not have been necessary, but they made good pianists. Some of them could play faster than our best people today. It may have been oppressive and unnecessarily difficult, but it did get results too. One thinks that one can analyze technique and get it out straight, once for all; one thinks that one now knows the best way. But it doesn’t necessarily follow.
Another point which Dr. Kano discusses is the question of short term and long term. He writes that we must retain clearly our final objective, but also that we must be able to concentrate on what is immediately before us.
There is a wide range, and there is also a short range, and we must be able to direct attention accordingly. We can see this in golf. When they first play golf, beginners make the stroke, but before they have actually hit the ball, they are looking up to see where it has gone. As a result, they miss it altogether. To play a golf shot you first have to get a wide span of attention: the direction, how far to hit the ball, where it will pitch, what effect the slopes will have, and so on. You get a feeling in your body of how the stroke is to be. When you actually hit the ball, you don’t think of any of these consequences; you just hit the ball with that feeling in your body.
Look at the photos of the great tournament professionals, and you will see that most of them are still looking down at where the ball was, long after it has been despatched. They do not look up, even after hitting the ball. But beginners are looking up even before they have hit it. The beginners make up their mind not to look up, but still they do so. They cannot control the impulse to look up. In this way, the extra unnecessary thought interferes with the stroke, and many golfers spend their whole lives looking up before they hit the ball. They never succeed in controlling the impulse, because they have no mental control. They resolve to keep their head down, but up it comes.
Judo in Real Life
Mental control is a very important part of Judo training. We need courage. We haven’t had a war here—a major war—for a long time, but people who have been through some of the worst of war say that a Judo contest can sometimes be more frightening than actual danger. To that extent our contests are a very good training. It’s not a question of being frightened but still going through. That’s something inferior. If the training is pursued, there is an inner calmness. When We face something very extreme— perhaps death, perhaps ‘something even more unpleasant— then we shall know whether our Judo training has been going really deep.
Perhaps you may suffer a medical catastrophe, while you are still young. The doctor looks at all the results of the tests and examinations, and says, ‘Oh’. And you will ask, ‘How long will it be before I get better?’
‘Some of these cases make progress’, he replies.
‘What about mine?’
‘Well, it’s only afterwards really that we can tell: that was a good one, that was a bad one’, the doctor says.
You don’t really get more out of him, but if you know a consultant personally, perhaps you go to him and say: ‘What are the chances in these cases? I want to know’.
‘One in five will survive’, he says.
Perhaps that’s not so easy to meet. But if we have practised Judo in the full sense, then it will slowly come to help us. And maybe when on another occasion we come back home and find our house has been gutted by fire, it may turn out that we are not nearly so upset as might be expected.
When Dr. Kano was in Italy, he was travelling in a coach through the mountains, and one of the members of the Japanese embassy was with him. The coach went off the road and stopped halfway over the edge of a cliff, and there was a hysterical panic among some of the passengers. But that man from the embassy told us: ‘Dr. Kano was quite calm. He knew it might go over any second, but he sat there quietly. That helped to restore quiet among the passengers, and they came off quietly’.
What Judo Teaches Us
We have to become able to meet disadvantages. In most sports, if there is some injury, people say, ‘Oh, you can’t expect me to go on; I’ve got a bad elbow’ or whatever it is. But in Judo we are trained to go on even with injuries. We know that the body is only 30 percent effective, perhaps only 20 percent effective. But we are not demoralized, and we can use the remaining 30 percent or 20 percent, whereas many people, if they are injured or feel a little sick, cannot do anything at all. They are completely knocked out.
The ability to keep up morale in the face of disadvantages can be a great help for our lives. There is a saying in Japan, ‘Every man has seven faults’. Well, to know that we have faults but to go on in spite of those faults, to find ways of lessening them and avoid having those faults completely destroy our lives—Judo would help us with that, if we think back to the times when we have been injured. Not demoralized. Injured but not demoralized.
We have to become resourceful and we have to become objective. An expert on the ground whom I saw and knew at the Kodokan was a vicious man. He used to put the locks and just put them on a little bit more to hurt. He did not do any damage, he never caused any injury at all, but he would just hurt. He was an expert on locks on the ground, and in those days the rules were wider, so there were more locks.
Well, I practised with him. I could throw him some times, but on the ground he was much better. I experienced this and saw him hurting other people. No one liked to practise with him, and I was among them. But then I realized: ‘No, Pm wrong. He’s a most unpleasant man, and it’s not very nice to have these little pains, but you can learn a lot’. I did practise with him regularly, and as a matter of fact after a time he stopped doing it.
Another thing which Judo can teach us is: ‘Hold tightly, let go lightly’. Suppose I am holding this stick tightly. You would have to be quite strong to make me let go in the ordinary way. But if someone comes along who knows, he can just press the end of the stick in exactly the right direction. I may be holding like mad, but sooner or later the pain at the root of the thumb is going to be too bad. I am forced down and out of balance trying to hold on, but in the end I have to let go. And my balance has been destroyed, and my hand hurts.
In general, if we are holding an opponent and he moves in the right way and gets out to continue trying to hold on and on, one’s own position is ruined. In these cases we should hold tightly, but when we can see that it’s going, let go abruptly and even push it away.
Then we retain the balance, and we can turn and move freely in a good position to meet whatever may happen next. For this can happen in life. We must apply this in life. We try something very hard, put all we have into it. Then it begins to go, to leave us. We think: ‘No, no. I’ll hold on. Don’t go, don’t go’. But it goes, and we are left regretting; our balance, so to speak, has been destroyed. Instead of that, Judo can teach us to let go, even cheerfully to push it away, ‘Go, then’. Judo can teach us how to do that.
Being Good on the Mat Isn’t Enough
In these writings Dr. Kano often says, ‘Find these applications of Judo to your daily life, and don’t just practise Judo on the mat’.
When we fall in Judo, the first thing we learn is to fall with the whole body. If one tries, as the beginner does, to keep off the ground, then the whole shock comes on to one unfortunate wrist or elbow, which gets badly hurt. The right technique is not to try to keep off the ground but to take the fall with all of us.
In the same way, when we have a failure in life, try to use our Judo experience and take that failure. But people tend to say, ‘Oh, wasn’t I unlucky?’ or ‘It was their fault; they let me down’ or more often ‘Well, I wasn’t feeling very well then, you know’. Dr. Tartakower, who was a great chess master but had been in his youth a Hungarian cavalry officer and a famous duelist, once remarked, ‘I’ve never beaten a man, either at chess or in a duel, who was wholly well’.
We have to develop faith, faith in ourselves. Judo can give us faith. We are able to have faith, even when we are trying something where we seem to have no chance at all. In the Kodokan in the old days they used to be ranged in groups round the wall; all the 4th dans stood together, and all the 5th dans and so on. The grades tended to practise mostly in their own groups, and when you moved up a grade, you come into h new group. Perhaps you would go on first with some hard-bitten trap-scarred veteran of that group. (He would never move up any more, but in his group he would be very formidable. In a way these chaps were like rungs of a ladder; they had a fixed position, and you had to move up past them, if you could.)
Now the first time you go on with a man like that, it isn’t that you can’t throw him: you can’t shift him. And then you think, ‘Oh for goodness’ sake, you know I’ve been doing Judo for seven years, and I can’t shift him. He is like the Rock of Gibraltar’. But you have faith in yourself, so you practise with him every day. And then one afternoon, you find that he has got a weakness. Yes, he has got a weakness. And then you find you can exploit that weakness, and after three months, yes you can sometimes throw him. And after six months you can throw him a lot, and after nine months, it’s not worth practising with him. That gives you faith—faith in yourself.
When you have got a little bit of experience like that, then it has to be applied, as Dr. Kano said, to our own lives:
‘Oh, I’m no good at calculations, mathematics. Can’t add up or do anything. Now I am put into an office and I’ve got to add columns and columns of six-figure numbers. And now I’m liable to think that I just can’t do that, no I can’t’.
‘But I have to do it, so I do it slowly with many mistakes, and I have to check it and check it again and get somebody else to check it as well. I may go on and on like that, always frightened by it, always making a mess of it, always trying to get out of it’.
But a true Judo man doesn’t do that. He faces it, just as he faced that veteran whom he couldn’t throw. He goes out and buys a little book on rapid calculations, and he practises for 20 minutes every morning and evening. In three or four weeks he becomes a master of rapid calculation. The very thing he was so frightened of he masters completely. In these ways Judo can help our lives, not just be something which we are good at on the mat.
© Trevor Leggett