Why do we do judo? The true answer is to train body and mind to act efficiently in life


There has to be some effort in a judo technique, but Dr.Kano’s principle was to make that effort efficient. In his time there were still some flourishing jujutsu schools, though not as flourishing as they had been. He studied their methods, and found that a good many techniques relied on surprise and extra strength developed by particular exercises. They were not using the body as an efficient unit. For this reason, they tried to keep their techniques secret.

Although judo is no longer generally taught in this way, one sometimes sees something like it. If a man has a very strong right arm, he can get results with a poor technique because of the extra strength he has with that arm. Unless something is done to check it, he will develop more and more limited judo, and cannot acquire a real mastery of it.

But it is not necessarily easy for a teacher to get him to change. One can explain to him that he must try to use the whole body as a unit, and if he is reasonable he will see and understand this. But when he actually tries to do it, the strong right arm takes over, and he gives a big punch with it in his usual way. He cannot stop the habit. He sees this himself and says: ‘What can I do? I just can’t help it,.

In such cases I sometimes used an unusual method of training for a time. Suppose his big throw was Harai-goshi, forced through with a punching action of the right hand. I knew that he had never actually felt his body acting as a unity; the consciousness of the strong right arm was always dominant, in spite of his efforts. So I used to put him on with a much weaker opponent. But I made him hold the jacket with only the little fingers of each hand. ‘Now go ahead with your Harai-goshi’, I told him. Of course, if he had tried anything like his usual punch, he would have hurt his finger. So he was compelled to try to make a good Tsuri-komi, and then make the actual throw with a sweep instead of a punch. After a surprisingly short experience, some students get the idea. It improves not only their Harai-goshi, but their judo in general. For the first time they really understand what Dr.Kano meant.

We can try applying this principle in life. An injury to the right hand which prevents writing can be made an advantage. Serious attempts should be made to write with the left hand, instead of avoiding writing as much as possible during the healing period. With many of us, the body consciousness is poor in the inferior side, and this is a chance to develop it.

It is a principle of Budo that the first field of study should ideally be judo, in which there is no weapon. The whole body is trained to get equal facility in all different movements on both sides. When this general facility has been acquired, the special techniques of fighting with weapons can be studied better. I heard an old saying that if a student spends his first year studying judo, and then specializes in, say Kendo or the spear, for five years, he will often be better at the special art than one who has done nothing but the special art from the begining. I know that Kendo men will say this is just the prejudice of a judo man, but I think there is some truth in it.

It comes down to the question: why do we do judo? The narrow answer is ‘to win contests.’ The true answer is ‘to train body and mind to act efficiently in life.’ Exceptional ability with a right hand punching action could give a winning advantage for a time in judo contests, but it does not train the whole body. So it gives nothing for life in general. Other methods of trying to win a contest, such as making insulting remarks at the opponent, taking drugs, even trying to bribe the referee, might in some cases help to win a contest. But again, they give nothing for life itself.

One who trains at judo in the proper way gets a big advantage in life: he can quickly learn to drive a car or handle a computer, he can easily pick up skills like golf or tennis or do-it- yourself jobs. Then he has the courage to face, when necessary, being laughed at, for instance when he makes mistakes learning a foreign language. Judo men are used to falling. They jump up at once, and are not at all inwardly upset; they know it is part of the learning process. But the ordinary person hates falling: it is undignified, and possibly dangerous. Generally they are ashamed of making a mistake, and sometimes they will simply not try anything where they may lose badly. There is a saying, found both in some form in East and the West: ‘There is no certain way of winning at chess. But there is a certain way of not losing at chess: it is, do not play chess.’ This saying is meant to show that strong desire to win at any cost, or fear of losing, is a complete misunderstanding of sport.

The interest of sport is the contest, within the rules; the satisfaction is the struggle itself, and it is not important afterwards which side has won. A particular result is important ^ at the time, and we try very hard for it, but it is not the real point of the game. Every sportsman knows that if he always wins, the game has no interest; the opponent is too weak to give a proper struggle.

Just as over-specialization in judo can damage its use as a general training of the body-mind, so over-concentration on winning can damage sport as a training for life. Since money¬making and political prestige have become important in sport, the desire is to win every time, by any methods. This is no longer sport, but at best a spectator entertainment, and at worst a sort of international warfare. It makes enemies, not friends. One of the great purposes of sport is to make friends through a temporary make-believe struggle. Afterwards the competitors are no longer competitors; they congratulate each other on a good fight, which is yet not a fight.

Some historians believe that the reason why there was a bloodstained French Revolution, but no such revolution in England, was because cricket was played so widely in England. The French landlords used to spend most of their time at the King’s Court at Versailles, and so they were away from their estates. They did not know how their agents at home were oppressing the peasants. But the English gentry did not go to the Court much; they stayed on their estates, and they played cricket with their tenants. After the game, they would drink ale together, and the local squire would hear, directly or indirectly, what was going on in the local villages. If things werr bad, he would in many cases quietly try to improve them. The peasants did not have the same intolerable conditions as in France, and so there was no Revolution and guillotine.(The word guillotine is a French word; the machine was introduced by a French doctor named Guillotin; when the Revolutionaries went mad and began to kill each other, he was himself guillotined.)

Let me try to sum up. Both sport and Budo were interesting and healthy pursuits, involving some sort of struggle and often rivalry. The purpose was not simply to achieve, or win. Sport as it developed specially in Britain became a training in struggling hard but somehow remaining detached from success or failure. A good sportsman remained undisturbed in either case! He could accept the bad luck which everyone meets at times in sport, with calm, or even a smile. There was a vague ideal of applying this attitude even in situations of life and death. ‘A good sportsman is not afraid to play dice with Death. ’ While he lives, he plays with life as a game. In his sport, he must have respect for his opponent; furthermore, a common interest in a particular sport led to friendship.

Budo is a much deeper training. It directly trains for two things, which are only hinted at in the sportsman’s training: freedom from the fear of death, and a certain freedom from anxiety as to what may happen.

The mania to win, and the degeneration into spectator sport, is contrary to the whole point of practice of Budo or sport. There is a danger that they become a show, where a few stars motivated by money or prestige perform before masses of passive onlookers. Even the stars have very short careers; once past their peak, they sink into obscurity. In spite of momentary excitements, the general atmosphere is deadening. This is why hooligans riot at soccer matches: they do not themselves play any disciplined game, but they want some action. So they take to the undisciplined and destructive fighting of children. They may seem energetic, but in fact few of them can concentrate; long on any one thing; it is all short-term excitement, almost useless for life.

If the ideal of sport, and still more the ideal of Budo, is pursued, it strengthens the will and endurance, and gives inner calm. It cannot be done if there ia narrow focusing on just one part of the training; the training must be even and broad. To focus on only one technique will narrow the physical capacity; to focus on tricks will cramp the mental capacity; to focus just on winning will paralyse the spiritual capacity of calm and freedom. But with proper practice, the whole personality is energized. He can see clearly in life, and face death. This was Dr.Kano’s principle.

© Trevor Leggett

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