A seventeen-year-old judo student who was very promising lost his right arm in an accident. When he recovered he began to go to the judo training hall again, and practise with the loose sleeve tucked into his belt. He could not throw anyone except a few friends who let him do so; when he told them to try hard his defences were completely broken, and he could not get near to a throw himself.
His parents consulted with the judo teacher, and they made attempts to interest him in something else. ‘You have a fine judo spirit,’ the teacher told him, ‘and now you can use that spirit to excel in something where you don’t need two arms. You might try table tennis – show them what the judo spirit can do in that.’ But his interest could not be diverted from judo. This sometimes happens – for a time a particular thing becomes the whole world, and it was so in this case.
When the boy finally realized that he would not be able to make up for his lost arm, however much he practised, he fell into depression. He became unable to study, and hardly spoke. The parents again consulted the judo teacher who told them, ‘I have no idea what to do. But we could take him to see my old master, who is a spiritually advanced man. He lives in retirement and it is a good way from here, but if I write to him I am sure he would see us.’
So the four of them went to the old master, who had been a contest champion in his time. He listened carefully, and asked a few direct questions of the son. Then he said to the parents, ‘Is it intended that he should go on to university?’
‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘but he is not studying now.’
The master was silent for a little. He turned to the judo teacher, ‘What is the standard of the students’ championship in your county – what grade are the finalists?’
‘Well, as you know we are a small county, but the judo isn’t too bad. The champion is generally not more than Second Dan, but not under that either.’
The past master said to the boy, ‘I can see that you will have to fulfil your ambition at judo before you can go on to anything else. Now – to become the students’ champion of your county in three years’ time, would that satisfy you?’
The young Judoka could only gulp in bewildered acquiescence. ‘Then you must undertake to study again, because if you don’t study you won’t be able to be students’ champion, will you? And I will make arrangements for your judo training, wdiich you will have to follow without any questions or doubts. It will be a rather hard time.’
When the parents had finished making their thanks they departed with their son, leaving the younger judo teacher behind them. ‘I suppose you think that I have been promising him something impossible in the hope that before the three years are over he will have got interested in something else? It could happen with some of them, but not that one. He will have to do it or die.’
‘But master, how can he do it with the odds against him like that?’ ‘His disadvantage must be turned into an advantage. You remember how you used to have that bad habit of occasionally taking a wide step with your right foot? We reduced it by paying attention but still you occasionally did it when there was a flurry. When I realized it would always be with you and would come out from time to time, I made you practise Hizaguruma every day as part of your routine. Perhaps you thought I was being eccentric, or giving you something unsuitable as a test of your will-power? After all you must have thought to yourself that Hizaguruma wasn’t at all suitable to your build. But it has been quite useful to you in contest, hasn’t it? When you accidentally made that wide step, your opponent often automatically made a Kouchi attack, and then your Hizaguruma was all ready sharpened for the counter. So your disadvantage, your tendency to make a wide step, became your advantage; they used to walk into an unexpected counter.
‘You have the principle from your own experience, but it’s not enough to know about it. You must find some way of applying it to the present case. It will be good for you to train this boy, because the experience will turn you into a real teacher of the Way and not just technique. Now think how you are going to turn his disadvantage into an advantage. Come back next week.’
When the teacher appeared again he blurted out, ‘I’ve thought and thought about it. All I can see is that this boy has got only one arm, and however hard he trains there will be others with both arms who train just as hard. You know some of them are just as keen as he is. I can’t see how he can ever do more than put up a gallant losing struggle.’
The master said, ‘In your ordinary classes, train him in defence only. Even with one arm, he can get fairly expert at that, anyway enough to survive any rush attack at the beginning of a contest. Tell the other boys that it is a good opportunity for them to practise their attacks against someone specializing in defence. He’ll take some hammerings, but that doesn’t matter.
Then have him in private at your training hall every morning for half an hour. Teach him a few Jujutsu wrist turns which a man can do with one hand, and let everyone know that, so they don’t get inquisitive. They’ll think you’re sorry for him, and giving him some special training in something he can do with one arm. And that will be true. But the main part of the time teach him some variations on Hanemakikomi and a special form of Osotomakikomi, which we can look at now/
There are certain rare forms of throw which are extremely effective if the thrower can get in properly, but which are easy to stop. The defender just has to press with his hand on the attacker’s arm, a small movement which can be made very quickly. To succeed, an attacker must make the complete movement with his whole body, covering a distance of perhaps two foot or more, before the defender can make this small movement of the hand. Judo men of any experience have an in-built reflex action of the hand to defend against this whole class of throws, and it is not worth while spending several years mastering one of them when it can so easily be stopped. Hanemakikomi is one of the rare forms of this class of throw, and it is hardly ever seen.
The one-armed judo student kept up his training on these lines for three years. He had a sad time at pure defence in the regular classes, and he had to work very hard in the mornings with the teacher alone, practising the movements until they were as natural to him as breathing. He was told he must never attempt them in public. As he got more expert, he often longed to score a few surprise successes against his regular opponents, but he managed to hold himself in. He had to put up with their pity, and in some cases ridicule.After three years he was entered for the students’ championship, to the puzzlement of his fellow Judoka. In the event he went straight through to become champion, winning in each contest in the first few seconds with a Hanemakikomi or Osotomakikomi. His opponents in later rounds saw the technique, of course, but found they were unable to check it in time.
What happened was, that when he came in, very fast, the reflex defensive hand action automatically functioned. But in this case there was no arm to press. This was a Judoka with no right arm. The whole system of defence reflexes became confused at the unfamiliar feeling, and the throw came off. Theoretically a defender could make some other defence, but at these high speeds no ordinary Judoka is able to modify his reflexes at short notice.
This is a striking example of the principle of turning a disadvantage into an advantage.
About 540 BC two Chinese states, separated by mountains, were at war, and the men of the Ch’i state were known to be poor on the battlefield. They appointed two generals to l§ad them, one being Sun Pin, descendant of the sage Sun Tzu who wrote the earliest classic on war. His colleague said to him, ‘How can we face this enemy? Our men are not good fighters, and he is aware of it.’
Sun Pin said, ‘Let us turn that very disadvantage into an advantage.’
He persuaded his colleague to lead the army through the mountains into the plain on the other side, and far into enemy territory. The instructions were to engage the enemy army when it appeared, but only briefly. Then a retreat was to be made, quickly and continuously according to a special plan. The baggage was kept to a minimum to facilitate this retreat.
After the first short clash the army went back quickly, just outpacing the heavily equipped enemy. On the first night, as arranged, every tent of Sun Pin’s army lit its camp fire5 on the second night only half of them lit a fire. On the third night it was only a fifth.
This was reported to the pursuing general by his outriding observers, and he concluded, ‘I always knew they were cowards. Now their men are deserting in crowds. There is nothing left to fight.’
Sun Pin’s men fled through a narrow valley, which the pursuers reached at nightfall. Knowing there was no effective opposition in front of them, these too went straight in. When they were strung out along the narrow defile, Sun Pin’s full strength rained arrows and rocks on them from the vantage points occupied by the ‘deserters’, and the whole invading army was destroyed.