At the Kodokan in the 1930s national Judo contests were held every year. Each county in Japan provided at least two contestants, and these were reduced to 64 and then to 32.

In those days contests were decided by a full point – throw, lock, or hold – and there were no half points. This meant that were a fair number of drawn contests. Even though on contestant was clearly superior to the other if he failed to score the full point the contest was drawn. The winner was then determined by chance: the two contestants stood by the side of the mat, and the referee presented one of them with two straws and if he choose the long one he won and if he pulled the short one he lost.

I was deeply impressed by an incident that I saw on one such occasion in the forth round. The two contestants, whom I shall call Kihara and Rwu were fairly evenly matched and Rwu was asked to draw a straw. He pulled the long one, so I was told; I was not near enough to see. But there was a brief animated conversation between him and the referee. After a pause the winners name was put up on the giant board: Kihara.

One of my friends who had as it happened been standing just the little straw drawing ceremony told me that Rwu had refused and conceded the contest to Kihara. He had said to the referee and judges “In the previous three rounds I have won each time by the straws, and I’m not going to win again in that way. Maybe Kihari could not beat me, but he has beaten two others on his way to this forth round. So he must be the one who goes on to the semi-final.”

I have often recalled this incident which breathes the real spirit of Budo. To get into the semi-finals would have been a great achievement, but to him Judo contests were not just steps to fame. The spirit of Judo was much higher than any personal success or failure. I have given him the name Rwu, was means a dragon.

In the Far East the Dragon is the spirit of transcendence which soars above the clouds into the freedom of heaven.

© Trevor Leggett

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