Let us shoot at each other. If you are the better archer, you will win’. The challenge was declined.3 min read

For over 10 years from 1952 at the 100-tatami London Budokwai, I ran a weekend class for black belts, who came from all over Britain every week to attend. There were about 60 of them, and they became the Judo teachers of the next generation. We held a kangeiko every year. An athletics coach once asked me, ‘What benefit do they get from this?’

‘It is a training in being able to face difficult circumstances’, I told him, ‘with inner calm and resolution’.

‘Well, what is the good of that?’ he asked. ‘The Judo competitions will be held, like all athletic competitions, in reasonable circumstances—not in the very early morning in midwinter with the windows open’.

‘Yes, but in your athletic competitions, have you ever noticed how very nervous many of the competitors are?’ I asked. ‘The smallest thing seems to upset them and put them off’. And I gave some examples of tennis stars who lost their temper on the court and screamed and shouted because of some imagined fault of the umpire.

He admitted this but said, ‘They still win’.

‘They may win at tennis, but they do not win at life’, I replied. ‘Their tennis does not help them in life; it does not give them a calm inner will. That is more important than their technique. This is a central point in our Judo training. We do study technique, but we study inner training which is more important. This spirit runs through the Japanese tradition in all the Knightly Ways, which are called Budo.

He got excited and cried: ‘Give me one example where the inner training shows itself more effectively than a superior technique. I challenge you to give me just one example!

So I told him a story I had heard in Kyoto.

Japanese archers draw to the shoulder. When the bow is fully stretched, the right hand is level with the right shoulder. Western archers draw to the cheek or to the ear. The Japanese draw is fuller and thus more powerful than the classical Western one, but it is in general less accurate. An expert American archer, who visited Japan in the 1930s, showed a Japanese master that his Western style was more accurate than the Japanese. They went together to the range, and the American could get slightly better results on the target.

The American offered to give him some lessons, but to his surprise the unimpressed Japanese master said: ‘You may do a bit better on the range, but that is not the point’. The American was understandably annoyed and retorted: ‘Then what is the point of archery, if it is not to get the best results?’

‘Well, let us take up our bows and three arrows and go to opposite ends of the range’, said the Japanese master. ‘Then let us shoot at each other. If you are the better archer, you will win’. The challenge was declined. ‘That is the point of our archery’, he added. The Western archer left in silence.

So did the athletics coach, after he had listened to this. He told me later that it had given him a new perspective on what he was teaching.

© Trevor Leggett