The Unforgettable Words of Tani

The Unforgettable Words of Tani

One evening, however, I felt very tired with a headache. At about seven, I picked up my towel and prepared to leave the dojo. Tani looked across and asked, ‘Where are you going?’ I replied, ‘I feel tired and I’ve got a headache. I’ll come tomorrow’.  Tani asked quietly: ‘If a man rushes at you in the street with a hammer, waiting to kill you, can you say, “I feel tired and I’ve got a headache, so come back tomorrow”?’ Then he turned away. His words were like a thunderbolt. I went back on to the mat and practised. After half an hour he said, ‘All right, go home now’. Somehow I felt I did not want to. I went on practising, but he gave me a little push with a smile and repeated, ‘Go now, go now’. This time I went.  Later in life, when I have promised to do something but then have been tired or sometimes even ill, I wanted to make an excuse. Tani’s words would return to me: ‘Can you say, “I feel tired and I’ve got a headache, so come back tomorrow”?’ Then I was able to put aside the tiredness and carry out the promise.

Another comment Tani made was not addressed to me, but it had a great effect. In those days the Budokwai members were mostly beginners and very clumsy. There were a very few skilful men to be models. So members had the idea that in a throw like ashi-harai you simply knocked the opponent’s legs away from under him. They had not much idea of tsuri-komi, though of course it was shown to them by the teachers. They often bruised themselves and their opponents too. Soon after I had joined, I saw one member bruise his toes badly against his opponent’s shin. He gave a loud cry and sat down on the mat, holding his foot and rocking to and from with the pain.

Most of the other members stopped practising and watched as Tani walked across. He looked at the toe and felt it gently, while the injured man was still giving little moans. ‘Only bruised’, said Tani. ‘Get up and sit at the side’. But the man still sat there, his face screwed up in pain.  Tani looked at him with concern. ‘Shall I call your mother?’ he asked. The injured man turned scarlet with embarrassment and got up quickly, hobbling off the mat. Somehow I felt embarrassed too. I made up my mind that he would never say such a thing to me. I did get injuries but I did not make a sound. I felt I would rather have the pain than hear the words: ‘Shall I call your mother?’  Later on in Judo I was in the general tradition of not making a fuss. It is much easier to endure silently when one knows that all the others do so too.

But I remember one occasion when there was quite a test. As a tall man, I used ashi-harai a good deal. On one occasion I met a tall Japanese who also used it. It was a sort of ashi- harai battle. Then, we moved at the same moment very fast. The feet met in mid-air; one of my toes were broken and the toe nail splintered. During practice one does not feel such things very intensely. I knew I had been hurt, but I thought it would be just a bad knock. My opponent in fact was only bruised. We went on practising, but began to slip. Looking down, we saw that there was blood on the tatami, and looked at each other: ‘Me or you?’ Then I saw blood streaming from my toe.

We wrapped it up and went to a nearby hospital, where one of the surgeons treated all our Judo injuries. He was a Kendo man. At that time there were a few Kendo men who felt that Judo was relatively modern and not quite in the traditional Budo tradition.  I sometimes felt his treatment of the Judo was rather— well— direct. No false sympathy there. On this occasion, he had to pick out the splinters of nail from the smashed end of the toe. He did it with a pair of tweezers, fragment by fragment. By now the toe was really hurting, and this of course was worse still. I managed not to make a sound or move the foot. He looked up at me once or twice during the little operation. What was going through my head were the words, ‘Shall I call your mother?’ No, you are damned well not going to call my mother!

He finished fishing for splinters, set the toe and bandaged it. As I prepared to go, he leaned back with a half-smile and said: ‘I should think that was extremely painful’. I stood up, and he gave a little nod of approval. I realized that I had passed, in his private book, as not merely a foreign Judo man but also as a proper Budo man.

Tani said one thing about which I have never made up my mind. In my early days at the Budokwai, I was a member of the team which had matches against Oxford and Cambridge Judo clubs. They had no black belts, so our team was limited to kyu grades also. Once I was the captain. I had just got a brown belt, or 1st kyu grade. It was a team of five, and the contests were a five-minute nihon-shobu.  In this event Cambridge had won two matches, and the Budokwai had won two. So my contest was crucial. I quickly won a first point and I thought, ‘T’ must not risk a counter’. I did not attack seriously again and gave no opportunities to my opponent. I won, and the team won.

But Tani would not speak to me afterwards. During the car ride back to London, he said nothing to me at all. Only when we parted, he said, “Coward!” I have never made up my mind whether this remark was justified. I can see that in the long run, it is better to practise attacking, even though one may sometimes lose to a counter. But (this is my British feeling, I suppose) I was a member of a team; this was crucial to the team. If I had been a member of the team—and my captain had lost by attacking again when he had already won—I would have said he was a fool.

My policy today (another British compromise) is to take the risk when I am alone, but if I am in a team I think of the interests of the team first.

What would be the traditional view of Budo?

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