IN THE 1950s, a stipendiary magistrate of unimpressive build called at the Budokwai Judo Club. I’ll call him Henry Symonds. His work took him sometimes into dangerous places where he might be attacked, and he wanted to learn some self-defence. We did not normally teach self-defence to anyone who had not done at least two years’ Judo, and could not control their temper. Furthermore, the tricks will not work without precision and balance acquired by considerable training.

He was referred to me, and I explained this to him. He asked, “Is there nothing then?” and I told him that if he joined the Club, and was willing to practice fifteen minutes a day at home, I could show him something. (Our principle was to make the wealthy pay for the poor: some of the keenest young members had very little money.) I told him it would be very boring, but there was something determined about him.

I explained that he would learn only one trick. I gave him three lessons on this very unusual technique: it has the advantage of infallibly surprising an attacker, but the slightest hesitation or imprecision ruins it. He had to build up his practice to 150 repetitions of this each morning; as he mastered it, he could do it in ten minutes. I saw him occasionally for the first few months; when he had mastered it he thought of dropping the practice, but I warned him, “Never miss even one day, however off-colour you may feel. It has to become natural.” I suddenly shot a hand toward his eyes, and as he blinked, said, “It’s got to become as unconsciously done as that blink.”

I heard no more till about thirty years later, after I had retired from Judo and never went near the Judo clubs. Then a young Judo enthusiast came to see me about something quite different. He was a bit in awe of my Judo grade, and seemed slightly embarrassed as he said on leaving, “My uncle is Henry Symonds, and when he heard I had taken up Judo, he gave a message for me to pass to Mr. Leggett, if I ever saw you. He didn’t explain it, and I don’t know what it means, but anyway I’d like to pass it on now. It’s in two words: ‘IT WORKED.’”

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