Dr. Jigoro Kano and Judo10 min read

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 competitive sports and say that since in Japan we have our martial arts (bujutsu) which are excellent for either spiritual education or physical education, or both, so what necessity is there for all the problems which will be involved in becoming enthusiastic to import sports? If we practise our own indigenous bujutsu arts, then we shall be encouraging the spirit of the Japanese people in a natural way, and it will also be a training in virtue. But the import of foreign sports will naturally affect the spirit too, and perhaps we should end up as foreigners.

(2) Then again there are others who point to the good aspects of sports and say that Judo itself should be popularized as a form of competitive sports, and that it must be completely reduced in its practice to a form of contest, like sports of other kinds.

Neither of these ideas is correct, and one can suspect that each of the two sides has set out with some definite assumptions of what the relation between Judo and other sports ought to be.

As I have often explained, Judo is a Way which has a great universality. In the variety of its application, there are many different aspects from the point of view of martial arts, or physical education, or cultivation of intelligence and virtue, and also methods of application in daily life. Competitive sport is a kind of sport where it is a struggle for victory, and by that alone there is a natural training of the physical body. It is also a system of moral culture. If competitive sport is pursued correctly along these lines, it does have a great effect in physical and psychological training, and there is no quarrel about that.

But that object of competitive sport is a simple and narrow one, whereas the objective of Judo is complex and wide. Competitive sport pursues only one part of the objective of Judo. Of course, Judo can be treated simply as a competitive sport, and it may be all right to do so. But the ultimate objective of Judo cannot be attained in that way. So while we recognize that there is a demand these days to treat Judo on the lines of a competitive sport, on the other hand we must not forget what the real essence of Judo is and where it lies.

In these books of Dr. Kano, the same point comes up again and again. A competitive sport is something apart from our lives. We become experts, say, at tennis and then we are simply expert tennis players. It does improve the physical health, but that is where it stops. It has no application in our lives. But Dr. Kano based his principles of Judo on the idea of a method of learning something for life. It has been said that there are no rehearsals for life: You are on the stage now\ But Dr. Kano thought of Judo as a sort of rehearsal, a way of learning things for our lives.

‘Study for Yourself, Cultivate Yourself

One basic principle which he put forward came from Buddhism—Jita kyoei or ‘mutual benefit for oneself and others’. We in the West do not think so much in this way;

we think just of a good man. The good man sacrifices his own interests for others. But in the East they contrast the merely good man with the wise man, who is able to benefit himself as well as others. And the view of Dr. Kano is that you cannot in fact do much good to other people, unless you have cultivated yourself. We tend to think: ‘Oh, no, no. Do some good to others. Never mind about yourself’.

In such cases where it is a question of what to think and what to do, Dr. Kano recommended us to study for ourselves. Again and again he says in these writings: ‘Study for yourself, do research yourself, find these things out for yourself’. He also said: ‘Don’t read many books. Read a few really good books and know them minutely, in detail’. One of the subjects he recommended was the study of history. History tells us that many people have thought that they wanted to do good, but that they have failed to think whether they themselves were going to be able to do good.

One of the examples from history was the Roman Emperor who came to the supreme position when he was only 18. He was an artist and a musician, and he wanted to replace the bloodstained triumphs of victorious generals by Triumphs of Art, where the crowns would be given to artists and musicians and dancers. He wanted to make Rome cultured and civilized. He passed a law under which any slave who was ill-treated could appeal to the magistrate, show the mark and ask for the magistrate’s protection. The magistrate must then order a compulsory sale of the slave to a good master.

So by that one act the young Emperor took away the fear of torture from the lives of something like a million people—there were probably that number of slaves in the

Empire at that time. That was doing good, wasn’t it? And yet, in ten years’ time he was personally taking part in the tortures himself, because he had not cultivated his own mind, and he became totally sadistic and degraded.

Dr. Kano made a big point of this: benefit others and benefit the self at the same time. He doesn’t specify in detail (at least in the parts I have read) what that benefit is, but he says: ‘Find it in yourself, cultivate it in yourself. Intelligence should be cultivated in yourself, and the Judo training is really a means of cultivating courage, will and intelligence through these forms of attack and defence’.

He adds that the same things can be learnt in other forms and gives the example of the big department stores in Japan. They were all originally—about 100 years ago—just haberdashery shops; they simply sold cloth. When the Westernization of Japan began, they became these huge department stores like the Selfridge’s. But they had all begun in a small way, selling cloth. Dr. Kano explains that it would be a mistake to think that their business success is necessarily tied up with selling that. It was true that they had learnt how to buy and sell by trading in cloth, but then they had extended that knowledge and skill to everything else.

In the same way, Judo must give us qualities which we can use in our daily life, and we must study how to apply what we learn in Judo to our lives.

Bunbu Ryodo

A great second principle emphasized by Dr. Kano is Bunbu Ryodo. You will recognize two out of the four Japanese characters here: the second character bu, or the first character in Budokai, means ‘martial’ or ‘fighting will’ and ‘courage’; and the last character do, or the second character in Judo, means a Way, as distinct from merely a technical skill.

The whole phrase means ‘Culture and Martial Power, Both Ways Together’. Now, bun means literature and stands for civilization and culture in general; bu, as you know, means fighting spirit. Dr. Kano was using a very old ideal in Japan: culture and power united together. Culture without power will be ineffective, and power without culture will be barbarous. Dr. Kano exemplified the ideal in himself; he invented Judo, and then he was a great figure in Japanese education, headmaster of two important colleges and the author of all these writings which are collected in these three big volumes.

The character bun, as he explained it, included culture, refinement, good character, and clarity of vision and intelligence. Bu means fighting ability, willpower, concentration and the ability to remain calm in a crisis. He divided this character into two parts; he did this with Europeans, and though it may seem a bit complicated, I will do it too. The part at the bottom-left means to ‘check’ or ‘stop’, and the part to the top-right was the old character for a ‘spear’. So the whole character means to ‘check the spear’.

What it means is that one should learn to use a spear not for the purpose of attacking but in order to ‘check the spear’ with which one is attacked. This was to be the fundamental basis of the bu power which you get through practising Judo or other martial arts. The ideal was intelligence and power, and these two Dr. Kano explains with many examples.

Training for What?

Dr. Kano says that we must not specialize in some training without thinking what the training is for. There is an important Confucian saying: ‘The true man is not a tool’. He is not an implement. Suppose we are paid to do something, say, to build a bridge. If we neglect the inner culture, the development of our intelligence and will and sense of beauty in our bridge-building, then we are just an implement that builds bridges. In the same way when we teach Judo, we must not just teach technique: we must develop our own intelligence and capacity for thinking.

Judo is an inspiring system of training for life, because

in Judo the impossible happens. In about 1903 my father saw Yukio Tani, who had just come to the West. My father was very impressed with Tani’s marvellous victories over wrestlers and boxers. Tani was very famous; he appears, for instance, in Bernard Shaw’s 1905 play Major Barbara, where one character describes how he defeats the local fighters of the East End in London. When my father finally found out that I was doing Judo under Tani, he asked, ‘What is he teaching you?’ I showed him one or two of the techniques like kouchi-gari. My father said, ‘Oh no, that’s not the real stuff!’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘I saw him beat a huge man’, he replied. ‘And he is a small man himself, isn’t he? He must have touched some nerve centre to paralyze the huge man; he could never have thrown that big man otherwise. I expect he doesn’t teach you the real secrets yet’. My father could not believe that by speed, balance, technique and timing a big man could be thrown by a small man. The impossible happened.

In Judo one of the beauties was that any means could be used—absolutely any—provided that they were not dangerous for the opponent. There weren’t all these rules that we have now. And that meant there was a great scope for surprise and the exercise of intelligence. Surprise was very important, but as the rules are increased in number and the possibilities become fewer, it is more and more difficult to surprise anyone. We know everything that can happen: it is like a game of tennis, in which you know everything that can happen. You may not be able to do it, of course. But in Judo, you can practise for 20 years with the best Judo men and still suddenly come across something quite new to you.

© Trevor Leggett