Cutting off the bull’s horns (longer version)

Most keen Judo students come to develop special skill in one or perhaps two throws. These are not necessarily the throws which they took up naturally at the beginning, but throws recommended to them by the teacher on the basis of his long experience of physiques and facility of movements of particular kinds. As skill increases, the student gets more and more of his successes – such as they are – from these techniques.

All such special techniques, however, have their limitations, and furthermore to concentrate on refining them leads to a failure to develop evenly. So there comes a point when the teacher tells him: “Now for at least three months give up those techniques which you have developed, and learn to use other ones.”

One teacher used to call this “cutting off the bull’s horns”. And as a matter of fact, if the student is strong-willed enough, and has enough faith, to do it, he does feel at the beginning like a bull without his horns. What is he going to fight with? In fact many of them give up at this stage; after some weeks of failures, and looking ridiculous before his fellows, he is liable to go back to his “horns”, feeling that at least he can get some good results with these, whatever the teacher may say. However, his Judo career thereafter has quite definite limits. He can never, however hard he practises, get above a certain level of ability.

The true students are able to give up being specialist bulls, and become instead non-specialized men, who can study and devise entirely new techniques, and have facility to change their attacks and defences, and whole strategy, to suit contests against many different kinds of opponent. The bull knows only how to charge and gore, and when he meets a matador, he has not much hope of surviving.

Judo teachers tell us that the same thing applies in many of the martial arts, and also in life as a whole. Many of us develop a particular technique for dealing with life, which is perhaps effective up to a certain limit. Some people say things like: “Well, I always look at things scientifically”, or again: “It’s just a question of how one feels, isn’t it? You can’t do something you don’t like.” Others have a technique of helplessness: “I am such a fool with anything electrical”, and friends rush off to do the job in order to show their mastery, unaware that they are simply being manipulated.

Judo can give us a hint to give up periodically our beloved excellence in the narrow sphere, and try making a fool of ourselves with things at which we are not so excellent. In this way an even development of the whole can take place. Judo experience can also tell us how extremely difficult it is to get out of the rut of excellence.

Before a practice nearly all of us think: “This is how I am going to win” and then we seek to force an opportunity if one does not come naturally. (As a man gets known in the Judo world, most of his opponents become aware of his special techniques, and rarely give opportunities for them.)

If he can give up these fixed notions and memories, the time will come when he finds himself winning – or rather, that he has won – in a manner quite unexpected. In such cases the thrower is almost as surprised as the man thrown. One old teacher told me: “It isn’t the man who does the throw then: it is the god of Judo.”

© Trevor Pryce Leggett

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