The dragon mask II

When I was practising judo at the Kodokan in 1940, Japan and Britain were moving nearer and nearer to war. There was fairly widespread belief in Japan that they were being encircled by potential enemies. I experienced hardly any hostility on the personal level. There was, however, one man at the Kodokan, a tough young fifth Dan, who from the first looked at me in what seemed a baleful way. I will call him K.

When we practised, it was indeed very rough. I came to feel that he had the intention of injuring me, and I suppose I fought back with corresponding aggressiveness. We did not often score points off each other, but it was certainly a rough business. K was a grim-looking fellow, who shaved about once a week (as it was then a patriotic duty to save razor-blades). I began to feel that I did not want to practise with him, as I learnt nothing. However, I felt it would be some sort of moral defeat to refuse him when he came up and asked for a practise in his challenging way. I felt somehow that I had to practise with him every day. Sometimes I would get him over by going up to him at the beginning of the afternoon. At other times I would put it off, and half hoped that K would leave early. But he never did.

Sometimes we would be among the last twenty or thirty on the mats. He seemed to know that I couldn’t refuse him, and he would stand there looking at me with sombre satisfaction, waiting to have another go at me. This went on for quite a time. Then one day another fifth Dan, a good friend of mine, said to me:

‘You always practise with K, don’t you? Every day, don’t you?’ I felt somehow a bit embarrassed, I didn’t know why.

‘Well, yes,’ I replied, T suppose I do.’ He gave a little laugh.

 ‘He is afraid of you,’ he said.

When I got over my surprise, I realised that I never had to practise with K again. I did not go up to him, and when he came across to me, I turned him down. When he got over his surprise, I think it was as big a relief to him as it was to me