The Spirit of Budo

The Spirit of Budo

In this first essay I would like to recall how an Englishman, who was brought up 70 years ago in the traditional way, viewed the Budo spirit in Japan in about 1940, and to tell you how he sees the Budo spirit today.

First of all, I should say a few words about the persistence of the ideas. When I was young, there were ideas of being a gentleman; doing one’s duty honourably and keeping calm under all circumstances were the main things in life. Culture was less important. In the romantic novels read by young people then, the plot often centred round some conflict of duty: the hero’s problem was just to discover what his duty was. Then he would do it and marry the heroine. She would never marry anyone who did not carry out his duty.

In my teens, I did not much like these traditional ideas. They seemed to me rather narrow and boring. I was interested in Communism for a short time; it had some ideas that seemed good. But then I perceived that though there were

genuine idealists among the lower ranks of Communists, the ones at the top were simply using the ideas as a means to personal power. In Britain at least, they mostly hated each other. This was confirmed when Stalin began killing most of his early associates.

Taking a New Look at Budo

In search of adventure at age 21, I managed to spend a year abroad, mostly in Germany and Czechoslovakia. I made my own living and did not take any money from my parents. To my surprise, I found that the Continental people expected me, as an Englishman, to behave in the traditional way. They expected me to be calm, very polite, and a good sportsman. If I said or did something ‘out of character’, they were disappointed. I began to feel that I was like an actor cast in a certain role which was not my real nature. On my side, I discovered many things. For instance, I was surprised to see the reverence of the Germans for learning: in Britain then, learned men were respected, but not reverenced as they were in Germany.

But I was now meeting people who were not calm, not fair, not patient, and who did not feel personally responsible for their actions. As long as they followed orders, they did not feel responsible. As I got wider experience of the world, gradually I came to see that the traditional British ideas of calm, fairness, patience and responsibility were more important than I had thought.

In the same way, when I went to Japan in 1938 at the age of 24, I found that many young Japanese did not like their traditions of Budo, which were then strongly encouraged.

And in 1950, when I visited the secondhand bookshops in Kanda, they were full of discarded old books on Budo, which seemed to be completely discredited. I bought a number of them. I believed, however, that the valuable points of Budo would revive and come to be recognized by Japanese as part of their identity. To some extent, this has happened.

After my first return to Japan I went back every two or three years up to 1964, when I had a year in Japan. Very soon after my first postwar visit, I noticed that though there was conscious adoption of many Western things, especially American, on the films and radio—and then on TV—there began to appear chambara dramas featuring sword fights. Although the background notions of such films were dismissed as feudal to be rejected by a modern nation, they still appeared in these media, becoming more and more numerous.

They were classed as mere entertainment, and so of course they were. But I asked myself: ‘Why is this kind of entertainment so popular?’ Some Japanese friends of mine who were Communist in outlook still used to watch them. I felt that the people were seeking their own identity, and I guessed that they would ultimately find it in aspects of their own history.

Many Japanese were amazed to find that foreigners admired Japanese traditional culture. Slowly, over the next 20 or 30 years, the Japanese came to know the defects in the foreign cultures they admired, and they slowly turned again to look at their own.

One of the things they looked at was the spirit of Budo.

They could see that Judo had lost something important in its spirit as it became an international sport. It was no longer a training for life as Dr. Jigoro Kano had intended as the founder. It had tended to become a competitive sport mainly practised in order to do well in competitions. Western coaches took it up enthusiastically, applying the training methods used in athletics and competitive sports. Western coaches simply laughed at things like the Judo kangeiko, or midwinter training: it might be good for training soldiers, but it had no meaning in sports. To get the best results was the aim of sports; kangeiko would not help to get good results.

© Trevor Leggett

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