Training for later experiences in life

Now let me talk about an example which doesn’t apply to anyone else here. Suppose I am 60 and I want to learn a new and difficult language. People would tell me: ‘That’s absolutely out, absolutely out! At your age, you know, the brain cells are dying at the rate of 100,000 a day’. I look it up, and it’s true. I feel like clutching my head and crying, ‘Aaargh!’ That’s what they want me to do. But if I have faith, I think that I can do it with fewer brain cells and then find that in fact I can.

As a matter of fact, if I look a bit deeper I find that I’ve got 10,000,000,000 brain cells, so at that rate they’ll last me 274 years. If I had been scared off, I should have been scared by nothing.

In this sort of way, the experiences which we have at Judo are meant to be a training for later experiences in life. If we just practise and teach Judo, as something separate from life, then it is really probably not worth spending very

much time in it. It is interesting, but not all that interesting. But if we can combine it—and perhaps in our teaching show others how to combine it—with living experience, that is something important and valuable..

The Impossible Can Happen

One of the artists of the early part of this century was Eric Gill, and he remarked that in Britain we tend to think of art as something where you have to get out your easel, you get out your oils and you paint a lovely picture. Then you go and do something else.

‘So, art must be brought into our everyday lives’, said Gill. For instance, he designed new typefaces, so that art would be brought into what we are reading. His design, called Gill Sans, is very famous, and when we read something printed in it, we receive a vague impression of something beautiful. Perhaps we don’t know why that book or whatever it is gives an attractive impression, but it does.

Judo can be brought into the smallest things in our daily lives. People often hold a pen near the very tip, so that they have to keep shifting their hand on the paper every word or so. And they hold it very tightly—often you can see the white round the tips of the fingers. But a pen has length and should be held well up its length, balanced on the fingers even if the thumb is taken away for a moment. Then when you write, you don’t have to keep shifting the hand. An expert high-speed shorthand writer holds it like that.

The Judo principle of maximum efficiency can teach us many things about our most ordinary activities. Dr. Kano

insisted that what you learn in your interesting Judo practice must affect your daily life.

For example, when we are teaching a beginner on the ground, sometimes we pass our left hand from behind under his chin and hold his right eri, high up by the side of his neck. Then we come forward and show our face to him on his right side. He sees us, and of course he wants to get at us to fight us. So he turns to the right. And as he turns so strongly to the right, he strangles himself. It sometimes takes him quite a little time to realize that he should turn away, and that will release the pressure. He should whirl away, and then he is free to come back at us.

Something very similar often happens in life. We are trying to get something, and we try very directly. But somehow, we seem to be killing ourselves doing it. When we apply our Judo experience, we realize we must turn away—turn away abruptly and completely. Then we are free to come back. Often we find that we only succeed in getting things when we are free to turn completely away. Not so easy. But Dr. Kano says that it is in just these things that the value and interest of Judo training lie.

Again, Judo can show us how to look at limitations. Limitations, we are told, must be accepted. They tell us that we have all got limitations, and we must accept them. Judo shows us—as many other things in life can show us too if we look—that the limitations at the beginning can be changed. Even what the expert may point out to you as ‘your limitations’ can be changed.

Edith Evans, one of our greatest actresses, was rejected by the teachers at an important drama school at her first hearing. In her reminiscences she says: ‘Yes, they gave me a hearing. And then they told me, “Well, no”’. But she became a genius at acting. If she had accepted that ‘limitation’ which they thought she had, it would have been a great loss.

I knew very well the Japanese shogi (chess) champion Yasuharu Oyama. Chess is a much more popular game in Japan than it is here, and the chess champion is as big a national figure as a football star here.

When Oyama was a small boy, he got the idea that he wanted to play and went to a famous dojo training hall in Osaka. They gave him a few test games. The head teacher, a man of enormous experience who trained champions, told him: ‘My boy, you haven’t got the talent for it. To take you on as an apprentice wouldn’t be honest, and it wouldn’t be fair to you. You haven’t got the basic gift for this—go and try something else’.

Well, Oyama, the little boy, wept and finally the teacher said: ‘Look, I’m not taking you on as a pupil, because that would not be fair to you. If you like, after school you can come here and you can help clean up, as a servant. You can watch the games and you can play occasionally, but I’m not taking you on as a student. It would be wrong and would just give you false hopes’.

Oyama became champion at least ten times, and he dominated Japanese chess for 25 years. He won 100 major competitions in those 25 years. If he had accepted that decision about his limitations, he would have failed.

Judo can teach us this: things which are impossible for us can happen. Things one would think absolutely impossible can come about, if intelligence and will are applied.

© Trevor Leggett

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