The Unforgettable Friend I Met Only Once

Still, there are some who can keep the child alive in themselves. I met one such person when I first took a Judo contest in Japan. I had trained hard in Britain, but of course we were limited to what we could learn from the old Japanese teachers there and occasional high-grade Japanese players. I was fairly strong at harai-goshi and osoto-gari. On the other hand, I had never met a really fast kouchi-gari. As it happened, this first opponent was skilled in it. I was totally unprepared for his attack and lost the contest in a few seconds. I was knocked out of the tournament at once.

The winners of contests then were given a little medal, a fact which I did not know. As I came out of the changing room into the crowd, someone caught my arm, pressed a little box into my hand and hurried away. Bewildered, I opened the box and found a small medal. I realized later that this must have been from my victorious opponent. He must have realized how depressing it would have been for me, and he gave me his medal.

Such a thing would be inconceivable in Britain. We too would feel sympathetic, but we would probably just say, ‘Well, you had bad luck this time, but… .’ Words are cheap and soon forgotten. But I still remember that gesture of friendship from a Japanese who met me only once and whom I never saw again.

If by any chance he reads this essay, I should like him to accept my ‘Thank you\ I could not say it at the time, because I did not realize what had happened until after he had gone.

Another surprise came when I was watching one of the big tournaments. They did not have championships then, but we had the senmon-bu contests which were comparable to championships. In those days there was no waza-ari or yusei-gachi, so a contest was either won by ippon or was a draw. There were many draws, in which the result was decided by chusen or drawing lots.

On one occasion, a man (I will call him A) had got to the quarterfinal by winning three chusen draws in succession. His opponent had got there by winning three contests with ippon. They fought their contest, and the result was a draw. Accordingly, they were called to the side of the tatami to make the draw. But now A refused. A friend of mine who was standing near told me that A said:

I give up the contest. He has won. I have been lucky three times, but he has scored ippon three times. Even if I were lucky again, I should be ashamed to beat a better man by luck’. And he withdrew.

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