People who live in towns (in other words, most people) keep themselves upright by looking at the walls when they are indoors, and looking at the corners of the buildings when they are outside. They use these things to tell them what is vertical. This is proved by putting people in special rooms where the walls are slightly tilted to one side. When they are asked to walk across such a room, they walk unsteadily. They must continually adjust their balance. However much they try, they unconsciously align themselves with the walls, which means that they tend to lean a little to one side.
If they are told to shut their eyes, they can walk fairly steadily. But with shut eyes, an ordinary person cannot balance himself very well, because his inner balance is weak. A footballer or skater put in the room does much better: he is trained to feel his balance internally; he does not rely much on outside verticals to keep upright. After all, there are no outside vertical lines on a football ground or a skating rink. But even he may become unsteady occasionally; when he is indoors, he may have developed a habit of relying on the straight walls.
The trained judo man does best of all. He never relies on outside things, but has his whole feeling of balance inside him. He can stand up well in a high wind, because he is used to being pushed strongly.
The principle of developing inner balance should extend far beyond the judo hall. In life, most people judge what to do by looking at outside standards; often they simply do what other people are doing. They have no inner standards. But we should train in life as we train physically on the judo tatami (mat). We must learn to meet the shocks and changes of life flexibly, without losing inner balance.
Suppose there is something which upsets us. If we practise controlling our immediate reaction we shall find that after one or two years we no longer respond involuntarily to that situation.
There are various methods of practising control: a traditional budo (martial arts) one is to pause before doing anything and take several deep slow breaths, centering the attention on the navel. After that litde break, make the response to the situation. The response will not now be based on some instinct like anger or fear, but will be controlled and appropriate. It is called in the budo books ‘having a litde margin in life.’
It is perhaps a bit similar to the idea of what is called ‘tolerance’ in machinery. When there are two parts of a machine which have to slide against each other, they must not be too tight. There should be a small space between them, so that they can slide easily. If there is no space, and the metals are pressed tighdy against each other, they will generate heat and friction, and quickly wear each other out. In the same way in life, when people have to get along with each other, there should be just a small space between them. Then they can move easily and things go well. But if they are too tightly pressed against each other, tightly bound together by ties of liking or disliking, then heat will develop, and ultimately friction, and finally they will wear each other out.
Someone who has trained in this way begins to get an inner balance in life. He is not upset when outer supports and friends leave him; he does not stagger, relying on false outer standards.
This does not mean furiously refusing to do something just because everyone else is doing it. That can be a blind rebelliousness, just as false as the standards which it is supposed to be rejecting. The proper training gives inner calm, which can see clearly what is the effective action in the situation that comes up.
To live with a little margin gives balance. The principle can even be a help to other people. I remember a rather exceptional case when I was head of the Japanese Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Occasionally guest speakers are invited to broadcast, and usually they manage fairly well. The audience does not expect that a guest speaker will be as expert as the professional broadcasters on the staff. But before inviting someone to broadcast, one has to judge what he or she will be able to do. There are people who become very nervous when facing a microphone for the first time, and realise that very many people will be listening to them (we used to get 250,000 letters every year from Japanese listeners).
It can happen, however, that someone who is confident beforehand suddenly becomes nervous when they see the studio. On this occasion it happened. He was the head of a Japanese trade mission, and he was to read a short statement, telling the Japanese public what they had achieved. He seemed quite at ease until we came to the studio for the rehearsal. Then he suddenly became very nervous. He read over his statement, but he kept making mistakes, or missing out a word, and things like that. Then he did not know what to do: whether to begin the sentence again, or just to go on as if nothing had happened. Each time he was getting worse.
The Japanese staff member who was coaching him began to look very anxious. I was watching from the control cubicle, and had a sudden idea. I went in to the studio and sat down opposite the guest. I told him: I do not want you to worry about mistakes. Your mission has been a big success, and it is not good if you just read your statement correcdy in an even voice. It would not sound natural. If you find you are doing that, please deliberately make one or two mistakes. Then it will sound much more natural. Some of our most famous broadcasters make a point of putting in little occasional hesitations or mistakes, just to make it more lively.’
He looked at me, and relief spread all over his face. All the tenseness dropped away. As a matter of fact, he read it perfectly, and only remembered to put in a little hesitation right at the end. He had been given a margin, and that had restored his balance.