This applies in many fields, including speaking a foreign language. Japanese students tend to learn correct grammar and many sentences by heart. But often they have no fluency. They have to prepare each sentence inwardly before they speak it.
I have sometimes taught the Japanese language to British people, and I have been told that my methods are rather unusual. But often the students become interested. Take the word shitsurei, for example. I explain that this means roughly ‘Excuse me’, and tell the student, ‘You say this when there is some little accident, whether it is your fault or not’.
The student nods yes, and I make him say the word two or three times. Then I tell him to stand up and walk past me, brushing against me. He does so, silently.
Then I say: ‘You should have said “Shitsurei” automatically’. I make him do it several times more, saying ‘Shitsurei!’ or ‘Ah, shitsurei!’ each time, till it comes naturally.
When he comes for the next lesson, I do not greet him at the door. I have switched off the hall light so that the little hall is dim. I leave the door half shut, and just inside I put a little table, so that when the door is opened it will be knocked over. As I hear him come up, I call out, ‘Come in! ‘ He pushes the door, knocks over the table and says, ‘Oh,
sorry!’ or ‘What’s this?’ As he stands puzzled, I say: ‘You should say “Shitsurei”. Now go out again’. I put the table back and he comes in and knocks it over again, but this time saying ‘Shitsurei’. We repeat the whole process two or three times. Students have told me that, after this experience, whenever they spilt or dropped something, ‘Shitsurei’ came out of their mouths without their thinking about it. Sometimes their British friends were bewildered.
Of course, these examples are not directly from Budo. But Budo can help us to overcome embarrassment. I have always thought it strange that a young Judo student will keep trying, even though he is thrown all over the dojo. He is not embarrassed, and no one laughs at him. They admire him.
But in speaking a foreign language, the Japanese feel embarrassed when they make a mistake, and other Japanese laugh at them. We should think of speaking a foreign language as randori in a dojo. The Budo spirit does not give us technique, but it gives us calm courage. With it, we can soon master technique.
© Trevor Leggett