The Wide Range and the Short Range

Technique develops, and in a very wide field of possibilities technique can develop almost endlessly. Even in a narrow field, it is wrong to think that the best technique has necessarily been found after a couple of hundred years’ experience. We should not become slaves to fixed ideas and analysis of technique. I learnt the piano as a kid under a teacher of the old school, who was a pupil of the great teacher Oskar Beringer. He taught me to play scales with a matchbox balanced on the back of the hand. I learnt to keep the back of the hand level even when the thumb passes underneath the fingers. I made quite good progress and became able to do it. And then my father sent me to a very famous teacher, and one of the first things he said to me was, ‘Why do you keep your hands so flat?’ ‘I can balance a matchbox on the back of my hand’, I said proudly. I thought he would challenge me to do it, but he said simply, ‘What for?’ I didn’t know any bad words when I was eight years old, but I thought to myself, ‘Oh gosh!’ Then …

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Dr. Jigoro Kano and Judo

A lecture delivered at a meeting of the British Judo Federation The Buddhist Ideal of Mutual Benefit When I was a boy, I heard Dr. Jigoro Kano speak in London. He was then 70, my age now, I thought he was a remarkable old boy, but I wasn’t very impressed with remarkable old boys then, so I don’t expect anyone to be impressed now. His complete works, his complete writings, have just been published in Japan, and I telexed to have them sent by airmail. There are about 1,200 pages here in these three volumes, written in the old style of Japanese. I will just read you one little extract about Judo and other sports. Of course, things change, but this was the opinion of Dr. Kano, the founder of Judo. What I have here is a rough translation of the summarizing part of a short article which he wrote in 1929. What We Learn from Judo Recently competitive sports have become popular in Japan, and often the question comes up as to the relation between competitive sports and Judo. The question is put in various forms, but I will present the two extremes. (1) There are those who attack …

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With Faith in Fellow Human Beings

Many Japanese lack confidence in themselves. Even when they are expert at something, they are frightened of making some small mistake. This is perhaps because there is in Japan a bad habit of laughing at a mistake. All nations do this, but Japanese seem to do it more than others. When a foreigner comes up to me in London and asks, ‘Me from Hungary … where Westminster?’ I do not laugh at his baby English. I know that if I were in Hungary, I would speak baby Hungarian. I smile and point the way. He is not ashamed, and we both understand the situation. But sometimes a Japanese, who has a wonderful knowledge of English, hesitates nervously before speaking. He feels he must prepare a good sentence in his head before he speaks it. His nervousness makes me uneasy too. His literary English is too good for a casual conversation. (I feel as though I am back at school talking to the headmaster.) If he makes a small mistake, I do not laugh at the one percent that is wrong but admire the 99 percent that is right. But his colleagues would laugh at the one-percent mistake and ignore the …

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Technical Training as a Means

When one looks at a high-speed photograph of a ballet dancer in mid-leap, one can get an uneasy feeling. One knows that this figure is not really flying and must come down very quickly. Yet it remains impossibly hanging in the air. It is very unnatural and against the whole spirit of ballet dancing, which is movement. The photograph is frozen movement: it is a contradiction. So it makes some people feel uncomfortable, and I am one of them. Soon after I began Judo in 1930 at the age of 16, I had this kind of experience in connection with Budo. I was a member of the London Budokwai (yes, this is how it was spelt), the first Judo club in Europe. Every year we had a big public display, which was mainly Judo. I remember the exhibition of ju no kata (basic forms of Judo) by the two Japanese instructors—Gunji Koizumi, an art expert, and Yukio Tani, a full-time teacher. Tani had been very famous at the beginning of the century, as one of the few Japanese experts who introduced Judo and jujutsu to Europe, defeating wrestlers and boxers easily. They are mentioned in a Sherlock Holmes story and …

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What are Japanese people really like?

When foreign people are asked to give a lightning impression of the British, many of them mention ‘mania for dogs, the gentleman ideal, honesty in politics and something called a sense of humour’. Then they go on to give individual opinions. Frenchmen say that Englishmen are crude and cold, and I have heard Japanese call us yabottai (unrefined) and also cold. Russians wonder why the English are always complaining, like Russian farmers. As to the dog mania, I admit that it is true. Often British people say to me: ‘What are Japanese people really like? I have talked to some Japanese, and they were all very serious’. ‘You forget that they had to use a foreign language to talk to you’, I would tell them. ‘They wanted to get their English sentences right—that is why they were serious. You would be serious if you had to talk to them in Japanese: they would be making jokes, and you would be silent’. Then I go on to tell them about Hachiko  and the statue of Saigo with his dog. When they hear that, British people warm to the Japanese. Now, however, I want to say something about the famous British sense …

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The Unforgettable Friend I Met Only Once

Still, there are some who can keep the child alive in themselves. I met one such person when I first took a Judo contest in Japan. I had trained hard in Britain, but of course we were limited to what we could learn from the old Japanese teachers there and occasional high-grade Japanese players. I was fairly strong at harai-goshi and osoto-gari. On the other hand, I had never met a really fast kouchi-gari. As it happened, this first opponent was skilled in it. I was totally unprepared for his attack and lost the contest in a few seconds. I was knocked out of the tournament at once. The winners of contests then were given a little medal, a fact which I did not know. As I came out of the changing room into the crowd, someone caught my arm, pressed a little box into my hand and hurried away. Bewildered, I opened the box and found a small medal. I realized later that this must have been from my victorious opponent. He must have realized how depressing it would have been for me, and he gave me his medal. Such a thing would be inconceivable in Britain. We too …

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World Culture and Budo

To a few foreigners, Japan is a second home. I am excluding the sentimentalists who are fascinated by* the polite surfaces of Japanese life. Most of them are living comfortably sheltered from its deeper realities. Usually they can neither read a Japanese magazine or book nor speak more than broken sentences. These people are not at home in Japan, though they sometimes think they are. They are more like guests. Home is a place not only of security and affection, but of quarrels and struggles. Furthermore, it is a place where in the middle of the quarrels and struggles we give—and find—love. In spite of all the faults, we want to be there. A few foreigners can feel that about Japan. They know all the defects, but still want to be there: it is home. For still fewer of us, it is a sort of third home. We are the ones who lived in Japan in 1940 and again in postwar Japan. Britain has not changed so much: Japan has changed completely. Or so it seems, but has it? I am often asked, ‘How much has Japan changed?’ If it is English people who are asking, I often say, ‘When …

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Yin and Yang in Budo

In some texts of traditional schools of Budo like the Itto-ryu, there is a distinction between the Budo of yin and the Budo of yang. I first heard about this from a Judo teacher, long before I could read the Budo texts. It confirmed an impression that had been growing in me that there are two kinds of Budo. This is the sort of thing that some of the traditions taught: Before a combat, the swordsman of yin is perfectly calm. His expression does not change; he does not defy the enemy. He does not stare at the opponent wide-eyed or try to intimidate him with feints. He does not come forward with little steps, as if crossing a single-plank bridge, but he walks as if on a wide road, with a perfectly normal posture. This is a master who can hardly be defeated. The swordsman of yang, on the other hand, has an expression which would seem to crush rocks, has an aggressive posture, stares wide-eyed and tries to intimidate the opponent by feints and glaring at him. He advances and retreats awkwardly; his heart is agitated and he is weak. One of the texts added, I remember, that …

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True Sportsmanship

The true spirit of sportsmanship is appreciation of the game itself. The game must not be a means of national or group superiority. In the English soccer, the teams were generally representative of a particular town. Soccer originally did not have a strong tradition of sportsmanship; it was the sport of the masses. So the crowd of spectators was divided into two parties; each would applaud a goal by their own side but would be silent when the other side scored. But in a cricket match, the spectators—though supporting one side—would applaud a skilful stroke by one of the opposing batsmen. The true sportsman could appreciate an opponent’s skill as well as his own. He could rise above mere partisanship and view the game from above, as it were. This ability to rise above the immediate situation was one of the most valuable assets given by sport. Of course, the sportsman tries to win and tries very hard. But he is independent of winning or losing. He is not overly elated when he wins; he is not depressed when he loses. This attitude, if it is cultivated, gives him a calm independence even in the most dangerous situations in life. …

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Being sincere versus being right

In 1938, my first year in Japan, I noticed how often the word ‘sincerity’ came up. Sometimes I was surprised at how it was used. For instance, before leaving Britain I had met the Japanese ambassador in London, Mr. Mamoru Shigemitsu. He walked with a stick, and I assumed that he had probably been in a car accident. Later on, I was told that he had had a bomb thrown at him by a Japanese nationalist. Many years later, I heard that Mr. Shigemitsu had met this bomb thrower, after he had finished his dozen years in prison. The Japanese press asked Mr. Shigemitsu how he felt about this man, and he replied something like this: ‘I have no resentment against him, because I feel that he was sincere in his beliefs’. A British politician would not say this. In fact, after an attempt was made to kill her by a bomb, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher said: ‘These people may be sincere in their beliefs, but those beliefs are completely wrong. They are half-mad, and they are cowardly murderers’. We can say that most British people would feel like this. So I felt it strange that some Japanese were more impressed …

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The Spirit of Budo

The Spirit of Budo In this first essay I would like to recall how an Englishman, who was brought up 70 years ago in the traditional way, viewed the Budo spirit in Japan in about 1940, and to tell you how he sees the Budo spirit today. First of all, I should say a few words about the persistence of the ideas. When I was young, there were ideas of being a gentleman; doing one’s duty honourably and keeping calm under all circumstances were the main things in life. Culture was less important. In the romantic novels read by young people then, the plot often centred round some conflict of duty: the hero’s problem was just to discover what his duty was. Then he would do it and marry the heroine. She would never marry anyone who did not carry out his duty. In my teens, I did not much like these traditional ideas. They seemed to me rather narrow and boring. I was interested in Communism for a short time; it had some ideas that seemed good. But then I perceived that though there were genuine idealists among the lower ranks of Communists, the ones at the top were …

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Two Zen Stories

(1) TESSHU Tesshu was asked by a brilliant young fencer: “What is the inmost secret of the Way of Fencing?” He said: “Go to the Kannon temple at Asakusa and pray to be enlightened about it.” After a week the young man came back and said: “I went every day and prayed there a long time. Nothing came to me. On the last day as I was coming away disappointed, I noticed the inscription above the shrine: The Gift of Fearlessness. Was that what you meant?” “Yes,” repiled Tesshu. “Complete fearlessness is the secret of fencing. It must be complete. There are those who are not afraid when they face an enemy with a sword, but who are cowards when they confront the assaults of passions like greed, and delusions like fame. Complete fearlessness in the face of the inner as well as the outer enemies is the end of our Way of Fencing.” (2) THE BELL This was when Ekido was abbot of the Zen temple Tentoku-in, in the nineteenth century. One morning he heard the dawn bell being rung and after a little he called his attendant from the next room and asked: “Who is ringing the bell …

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True Man of No Rank

Recently I wrote about a general impression that foreigners have, that Japanese people tend to put everyone into some rank or relative position.  The rank or position determines what the person is.  I have heard a Japanese say (and have read similar remarks) that without all the personal connections and relations, “I should be no more than a pinpoint on a blank sheet of paper”.  When we think just of brothers, they think of elder brother and younger brother; in other words, there is a fine distinction between the ranks.  Of course in life, people can change their ranks, and when they do, Japanese society treats them differently.  Or so it seems to us.  Seniority seems to account for a very great deal in companies.   Japanese are supposed to like long-lasting relations; they want to stay in a company for life if possible.  All this is the familiar picture as seen by a foreigner. But there are some of us who discover something very different in the Japanese character.   I think this may have something to do with the True Man Without Rank, though I believe that it has considerably altered the original idea.   In my personal experience, I came …

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