The principle of Ju, or Gentleness, or not using unnecessary force, was well-known in the Taoist texts of China, but it was not a Way. That is to say, the technical excellence, though it showed the principle of Ju, was not thought of as a Way to learn that principle of Gentleness for life.
For instance in the ancient classics such as Chuang Tzu there are passages like this: ’A duke was watching his chief cook cut up an ox. The cook’s knife followed the natural lines of the body, and he never used unnecessary force. And so his knife never needed sharpening. As he watched, the duke was very impressed and he said: “From my cook I have learnt about the principle of Ju – Gentleness.”
Again, it is said in the same classic that Confucius was once watching a fisherman who lived near a waterfall. The fisherman could throw himself into the turbulent waters at the bottom of the fall and swim about there freely. When Confucius questioned him he said: “I follow the currents, and by following them I can make use of them to go where I want in the waters.” Confucius was very impressed and said: “From this fisherman we have learnt a great principle of life.”
But the point is, that though these activities showed the principle of Ju, neither the duke nor Confucius thought of learning cooking or swimming from these men in order to train themselves in learning a principle for life. They simply watched and they saw the principle in these skilful activities, but they did not think of practising the activities themselves. So they did not regard cooking or swimming as a Do – a Way of training, though admittedly cooking and swimming might illustrate the principle of Ju.
Now in the same way in the West, I have noticed that real experts in certain lines do come to grasp these inner secrets. But in the West generally, there is no idea of a Do. Sometimes we are, so to speak, almost making a Do: very occasionally a teacher of a particular skill tries to make the pupils understand something wider than the mere skill itself.
Now I give one or two examples from my own experience with my father, who was a violinist. He was one of the best violinists of his time. He was the leader in some famous orchestras for nearly twenty years. Of course he had very sensitive fingers. He also played golf, and had been athletic when he was young. But he had given up physical exercises, so his long shots at golf were nothing special. His handicap was between twelve and fifteen. But in putting, he was wonderful. In those days, golf clubs were made of wood with a leather grip put round them. He took off the leather grip from his putter, and held the bare wood in his fingers, and he developed tremendous skill in putting. The sensitivity of his fingers on the bare wood gave him amazing control.
I remember playing a round of golf with my brother, when he was about sixteen years old. He missed a short putt of about two foot. Now my father was famous for never missing any short putt. He always put them in, without fail. But like other golfers, we youngsters sometimes missed them. After this round, in which we had both missed short putts, my father took me and my brother on to an empty green. He put down a number of golf balls in a circle round the hole, about three foot from it. Then he went round, and putted them all in, with no miss. He put the circle of balls down again, three foot from the hole. We boys tried. We got most of them in, but missed one or two.
My father said: “When you putt that short putt, what are you thinking, what are you trying to do?” We felt bewildered; it seemed such a silly question. He said again: “When you make a very short putt like this, what are you trying to do?” We answered: “Well, trying to put the ball in the hole, of course.” He said no more, and we went home.
My father was also an expert billiards player, and we had a half-size billiards table at home. He sometimes used to compare golf and billiards, and he said that there was a big contrast between them. In a top tournament, even a very good golfer will miss a short putt. There have been famous cases in championships, when six-inch putts were missed. My father said that such things never happened in a big billiards tournament. A top player sometimes played less well, but he never missed an easy shot. My father concluded that there must be something wrong with the golf training, because even champions can miss an easy shot. It is rare, but it does happen. He mentioned this soon after our little test on the golf green. There is something missing in the golf training. Naturally we said: “Well, what is it?” He said: “Come to the billiards table, and I will show you.”
He put a ball down at one end of the table. He gave me the cue and said: “Hit it so that it goes straight down the table to the end cushion, and comes back here, without touching the side cushions.” It was very easy, and I did it. Now he said: “If you can do that 100 times, I will give you five shillings.” Five shillings was quite a bit of money in those days for boys of fifteen and sixteen. We could hardly believe our luck.
So I began. It was simple. I hit the ball, and he counted. Very, very easy – and at the end there would be Five Shillings! But it was boring, of course. I began to snatch at the ball as it came back, and quickly put it in position for the next shot. I began to play the shots more quickly. My brother counted monotonously: Thirty … Thirty-five … Forty .. Forty-five …. Easy, so easy, but boring.
At about the count of Seventy. I did not hit the ball in the centre, and it went off at an angle. It hit the far cushion near the side, and as it came back, it touched one of the side cushions. I had failed.
Then my brother tried. He began very carefully. Up to Twenty and Thirty he was still playing the shot slowly. But gradually, without his realizing it, he began to do it more quickly. He was not aware of it, but I was counting and watching, and I could see it. The thing was just too boring. And again, at about Seventy, he miscued.
My father gave a smile, and went out of the room, saying: “Think about it”.
We tried again a few times, but always we got impatient, and finally struck the ball slightly off-centre, and so failed. So we asked Father. He said: “What are you trying to do?” We said: “To hit the end cushion so that the ball comes back.” “Where on the end cushion?” “Oh, somewhere about the middle.” He said: “That’s why you fail”; he took a piece of chalk and made a mark on the end cushion, exactly in the centre of the cushion. “Now,” he told us, “Don’t try to aim the ball somewhere-in-the-middle of the cushion. Instead, see how many times you can hit the cushion exactly on the chalk mark. Count how many times the centre of your ball hits the mark. Have a competition between the two of you.”
My brother tried first. I counted: “…Five shots, two hits; Six shots, two hits; Seven shots, three hits …” He played very carefully up to the hundredth shot; he scored about forty hits on the mark..
My turn came next. I wanted to beat him. There was no question of making a hurried shot. I got about Fifty hits. He tried again, and did better still.
But the interesting thing was, that now neither of us hit a careless or hurried shot, and we easily made the hundred without hitting a side cushion.
This time, though, my father was not offering any prize. And yet, he had given us something far more valuable than a couple of silver coins. My father told us: “When you tried at the beginning, you were aiming vaguely to hit the end cushion somewhere round about the middle. The exact point did not matter. So you were telling your nerves just: Somewhere-Near-The-Middle. You were giving confused signals to the nerves in your fingers and arm. The nerves want to know: “Where shall we send the ball?” and you were saying: “Oh, that place would do, or that place, or that place.” So the nerves became confused and bored, and finally they were not acting properly, and you mis-cued. But the second time, you were giving them very clear instructions: “I want the ball to go just on that mark”, and they obeyed.
“It is the same principle with the short golf putts, though many golfers don’t know it. Instead of the rough idea “put the ball into the hole somehow”, choose a particular blade of grass on the nearest side of the hole. Try to make the ball roll into the hole exactly over that blade of grass. To try to do this will make the instructions to the nerves of the hand very precise. There will be no uncertainty in the putt – it will be short and decisive.
“Try to remember this in life. When you have got something rather boring to do, and it is a rough job, you can create interest by making it more exact, even turning it into a little competition with yourself. Practise this, and you will become accurate in your movements generally.”
In this way he tried to get us to apply the little secrets of golf and billiards to life in general. It was on the edge of the idea of making a Jutsu – an individual technique – into a Do – a principle for life.
This article has turned out to be a set of personal experiences. Well, here is a last one on a similar theme, but with a little surprise at the end. My father found that I had musical talent, and arranged for me to have piano lessons from a well-known teacher. He was an old man, who taught in the orthodox way. I made good progress, and passed some examinations. Then my father gave me a shock. There was a difficult little piece (by de Falla, I remember) which I had learnt rather well. I could play it at a good speed, following all the musical directions given on the music sheet, and by my own teacher. I played it every day, and very rarely made a mistake. I was pleased with myself. But one day my father said: “I am going to make a criticism.” I knew he was a noted violinist, but he did not play the piano, and I wondered what he would say. “You play that piece like a technician, but not like a musician. A technician plays a piece the same way each time. But a musician must make something new each time he plays it. If it is a real classic, you will be able to find fresh inspiration in it again and again. If it is cheap music, the deeper meanings are not there, it’s true – but then, why play cheap music?”
This idea of freshness each time was a good lesson, but my father did not tell me to apply it to life outside music. It was not till I got to Japan that I found it in a tradition. It came when I was studying Kata with one of the great masters at the Kodokan. I got fairly good at a couple of Kata; in fact I was chosen to demonstrate one at the annual Kodokan Dojo-biraki, or Opening of the Training Hall. In Kata, the movements of both the Judo-men are fixed, and one knows exactly what is to happen. Of course, it is not easy to execute some of the movements well, but this Kata I could do without hesitation, just as when a boy I had been able to play the de Falla piece. As we rehearsed, he made his move, then I made mine, and waited for him to make the next one. But instead of that, he suddenly gave me a little slap on the face. I was bewildered. He said: “You are doing the Kata. But your Kata is dead Kata. You know what is going to happen, and you do the same thing each time. But you have lost your general Judo awareness. I have shown you that you do not in fact know what is going to happen. I may not do what I am supposed to do. Be aware of the world: don’t be aware of just the little situation of the Kata. Then your Kata will come to life. We practise Kata, but we don’t rely on the fixed order. We do not lose the Randori spirit.”
This was an illustration of Do, or a Way. It was a help later in life. Both in Britain and in Japan, we have many fixed ways of doing things. But we have to learn also not to depend on them – we have to keep a Randori spirit.
© Trevor Leggett