There is no need to practise humility as it is usually understood – that is to say, pretending one hasn’t got a skill or knowledge that one really does have. There are superiorities, and they should not be falsely concealed, any more than they should be boasted about.

Because the superiorities, whatever they are, are still only little; once we raise our eyes from the immediate surroundings, we see we are like children who think that the hill at the back of their village is higher than the Himalayas.

A saying in all the martial arts is this: “When you find yourself becoming an expert, and feel yourself puffing up like big frog, just go to the next pond, and you’ll find you’re only a little tadpole.”

One famous Judo teacher whom I knew insisted that all his students should practise the flute; the shrieks and wails that proceeded from his dojo in the early morning told the neighbourhood that though a young man might be a wonderful performer on the Judo mats, he was nothing at all when it came to the flute.

Shogi, the Japanese chess, is a far more popular game in Japan than chess here. All the main newspapers, for instance, have quite a sizeable column on it every day. A shogi champion is a well-known national figure, and makes a very good living.

Yasuharu Oyama has dominated all the big tournaments for many years.

As a small boy he conceived a passion for the game, but when he applied to a famous training hall in Osaka they gave him just one or two tests. Then the teacher, a man of great experience who trained champions, told him that he had no ability for the game. He said: “Give up your idea, and try to find something where you have a real talent. Then you can excel at that if you try hard.” The little Oyama wept and kept coming back, so the teacher told him: “I will not take you on as a pupil, because it would not be fair to you. In spite of what I have said, it would raise your hopes. Also it would not be good for my dojo. But if you like, you can come here in the evenings and be a servant, brushing the floor and so on, and looking at some of the games, no doubt, as you pass.” Oyama finally became a champion of champions; and when he won his 100th major tournament, a great ceremony was held with considerable magnificence, to make presentations to him from a variety of organizations and individuals.

I know Oyama fairly well, and I was very impressed with the brief speech which he made on this occasion. Many of the speakers had stressed what a marvellous achievement it had been – to win One Hundred Major tournaments, with all the present and past masters taking part. Wonderful, wonderful, they repeated. Oyama thanked them in the Japanese conventional phrases, and then added: “Yes, it’s true that I have won a hundred tournaments. It’s also a fact that I have lost two hundred. But let’s not talk about that now – it wouldn’t be …. tactful, would it?”


© Trevor Pryce Leggett

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