The man who relies on certain tricks in life, may have success for a time, but it cannot last long.7 min read

One of the elements in more advanced stages of the Ways is, to develop ingenuity. Some of this can be done by the student himself.

For instance, in judo he can try practising with one arm tucked inside his belt, so that he has only die other arm to fight with. This will sometimes give him an insight into the true mechanics of a throw, especially if he tends to rely on the strength of his arms to make up for lack of technique. When he has only one arm to use, he can no longer do this, and he has to discover how to use the rest of his body properly.

Some physically strong judo men tend to use one or two techniques which they can force through by their strength. But if they come up against a good technician, who can anticipate and forestall their favourite technique, they fail completely.

I mentally compare them to people who go to a foreign country, and do not study the language properly but master a number of set phrases, sometimes highly colloquial. They often sound impressive for about ten minutes. But after that, they have exhausted their repertoire of phrases, and begin to repeat them. I knew a man who had lived several years in Japan, but who never studied Japanese properly, though he had mastered several foreign languages. He was regarded as an authority on Japan by other foreigners, and in fact did know some rather out-of-the-way things. It was therefore assumed that he must be expert in Japanese language.

I knew that in fact his knowledge was very sketchy. We were once at a party when a Japanese professor came up to him, and talked for a little in English. He then said: ’And I have heard that you also know Japanese well.’ I found myself wondering what he would say (and also hoping that the same question would not be put to me). When the reply came, it was a master-stroke. He just gave a laugh and jerked out rapidly; ’Zenbu wasurechatta!’ He laughed again, and began to talk about something else. It was certainly clever. His statement that he had forgotten everything was in highly colloquial Japanese, which denied what he was saying. The professor looked impressed, and asked no more. The prepared all-purpose response achieved its object.

I saw the same sort of thing from the Japanese side, in my first year in Japan. Some very senior man would agree to brush a Chinese character ’for the foreigner’. The paper and brushes and ink and inkstone were brought with due solemnity, and he would then rapidly write two or three characters, often in tide So-sho or difficult Grass Hand. Occasionally he would dash off a sketch in a few strokes. I was always duly awed by his skill; sometimes I showed one to my Japanese teacher and asked him about it. He generally said it was well done, though I detected sometimes a slight reservation. Anyway, my general impression was that the senior ranks of Budo men, and also company presidents, were all masters of calligraphy.

But in my second year the bubble burst. I saw the same company president write for someone else. To my amazement, he brushes the same two characters which he had brushed for me; TETSU-SHI, or Iron Will. The character for Iron, which was then much more complicated than it is today, was written with just the same So-sho strokes. I realized that this was what in England we used to call our Party Piece, something practised to display at a party.

One was not expected to be able to do anything else in the same field. My mother was brought up, like other girls at the turn of the century, to play the piano. She was almost tone-deaf, and music meant little to her. But she could play one or two pieces quite effectively. They were her Party Pieces. There are certain piano pieces which sound difficult, but are in fact rather easy to play; some of the girls in those times learnt a few of these, to give the impression that they were skilful pianists. But in fact they could not play anything else.

These things are examples of ingenuity. I do not say that they are wrong. After all, very few company presidents in countries outside Japan could do anything like the party piece of the Japanese president or senior. Nor would they be asked to. The fact that Japanese are asked, and admired when they can do it, is an example w of the high cultural level in Japan. The mild deception involved is not really a deception, because most people know about it. And after all, even if these So-sho characters are the only ones which he can write, at least they are well done.

But one cannot live by ingenuities like this. The man who relies on certain tricks in life, like the one who relies on mere tricks in judo, may have success for a time, but it cannot last long. The test of the company president is not whether he can write a couple of Chinese characters well, but whether he can make his company a success, socially as well as financially.

And the test of the judo man is whether he can develop the principles of Maximum Efficiency (saidai-noritsu) in his physical and mental undertakings and Mutual Benefit in his social life. The true use of ingenuity is to develop methods of self-training to achieve these aims.

It is important not simply to follow established methods without studying whether they can be further developed. It is important not simply to go on imitating a teacher.

When as a small child I showed talent, my father found for me a well- known teacher. He was an elderly man, himself the pupil of a famous pianist called Oskar Beringer. In the 19th century, when Beringer flourished, it was thought that the best way to train students was to teach them to keep the back of the hand level all the time; the work was done by the fingers alone. I practised with him for some years.

One exercise he set was, to play scales with a matchbox resting on the back of each hand. If it fell off, that was a bad fault. When the thumb passes under the other fingers, it is quite difficult to keep the back of the hand level. I developed a method of doing it by curving the hands inwards a little, which seemed to make it easier to pass the thumb. The teacher made no comment.

After a couple of years, when I had made good progress, my father (a professional musician himself) took me to a new teacher, who had been a noted virtuoso in his time. At my first lesson, he said:  ’Why do you hold your hands like that?’ ’It’s easier to get the thumb under while I keep my hand level, I replied. I added proudly, ’I can keep a matchbox on my hands when I play scales.* ’What for?’ he said.

I felt bewildered, and at the same time furious. I thought how hard I had practised to achieve this very thing, which was now brushed aside. He saw this, and put his hand on my shoulder as he said: ’Look. Mozart used to play that way, and the practice you’ve done is not wasted. But these days we play with a more relaxed hand; you can throw your hand up to pass the thumb under.* Then I felt better. Of course he must have met the same situation many times before. But it was a good lesson for later life: a good traditional way of doing things may not be the only way.

When we have made good progress in basic skill, we can look out for opportunities for ingenuity. Most people polish a table using only one hand; but the best way for physical development is to use both hands, a cloth in each. Similarly I have mentioned elsewhere how Dr. Kano taught the maids in his house to strike the wet clothes with the edge of the hand, and using a movement of the whole body. There is still scope for ingenuity in simple things of life: most people all over the world hold a pen near the tip, as they did when they were small children. The best way to hold it is two inches from the tip, as a high-speed shorthand reporter does. Then he does not have to keep moving the hand with almost every word, as the others have to do.

© Trevor Leggett