Instruction: Learning through instruction consists mainly of hearing and reading. Some people say, ‘Instruction is wrong; let students find out everything for themselves by experiment’. That idea is nonsense. How can we say to a student? ‘Here are some copper, zinc, acid and wire. Now discover electric current! Geniuses like A. Volta, M. Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell took only about 200 years. Perhaps you can do it in an afternoon’. Clearly it would be impossible; he must have some instruction.
For a negative-‘Don’t do that!’-the instruction alone should be enough. Judo beginners are often told: ‘Do not try to prevent yourself from being thrown by putting your arm out on to the tatami. It is dangerous. You may dislocate your elbow’. In life a similar instruction would be: ‘Do not drive a car when you are drunk’. These instructions may be followed, or not followed, depending on the intelligence of the pupil and also on how much he respects the instructor.
For many people, such warnings alone are not enough. ‘A hundred hearings are not like one seeing’. The instruction may have to be confirmed by other means of knowledge.
Observation: This is seeing what happens to others. If we see an elbow damaged in the dojo, or a drunken driver go into a tree, the instruction is confirmed.
Inference: We look at some tough but not too intelligent Judo men and see how many of them cannot straighten one of their elbows. Or we can read about the many police-court convictions for drunken driving. We infer that the instruction was not right.
Personal experience: If in spite of the instruction not to do so, observations of accidents to others and inference from the long-term effects, we still do these things, then we get personal experience. Our own elbows are dislocated, or we drive into trees.
It is sometimes said that ‘we must learn by personal experience alone’. But this cannot always be possible. If we get drunk, drive the car and crash into a tree, it is a personal experience. But often we shall learn nothing from it, because we shall be dead.
Therefore, with negative things, personal experience is not necessary. It is usually undesirable. The most intelligent learn-from instruction alone-not to make mistakes. The less intelligent need observation and inference before they are convinced. The stupidly obstinate have to undergo a disaster before they understand, but quite often it is then too late.
My generation is very opposed to taking drugs, even though we drink tea and coffee which are mild drugs. Sometimes young people say to me: ‘It is unreasonable to condemn drugs, if you have never taken them yourself, because you do not know about them from personal experience. You say they have bad effects, but how do you know what the effects are? You have never taken them yourself, so you do not know what the experience is like’.
Elderly people often do not know how to answer this argument and become silent. But I reply, ‘I do not have to jump into a cesspit to know what it would be like.’ Then usually the young people become silent, or else hurriedly change the subject.
So with negative things it is best to be able to accept instruction, without waiting for observation, inference and personal experience. We can learn this fact in the dojo.
But with positive things it is the reverse. Instruction is merely a starting point. It must be deepened by observation, inference and finally personal experience. There is always a danger that instructions will be too detailed so that the pupil follows them mechanically. Such a pupil may become technically expert, but he is simply like a machine. He can carry out his programme, but he cannot meet anything unexpected. The Budo schools knew about this danger.
The teachers would give the main points but not all the details. The students had to work out the details themselves. One of the ‘secret scrolls’ of the Shinno shintoryu school says:
‘My own teacher used to explain a technique to us only roughly and then tell me: “You have the root. Now you have to train relentlessly, crushing the bone and flesh, for a long time, never forgetting that the basis of our training is mental. Jujutsu is shinjutsu, or the art of the heart’.
Again and again these old traditions emphasize this: a Way or do is not simply a collection of tricks or a sequence of correct moves. There must be something living in it, which comes from a much deeper level than thinking: ‘Now I will do this. Now it is time to do that’.
© Trevor Leggett