An experienced judo teacher can show a keen pupil one or two tricks which, if practised intensively, will get dramatic results in the first year. I remember a pair of friends who began judo at the same time, and worked together in a club in the country. In build they were thin and wiry, and also intelligent. They learnt from somewhere (not from me) two or three such tricks, and practised them more or less in secret, only with each other and a friend or two. They never used them in general practise.
When they came up to The Budokwai in London, the central club for grading, they would execute one of these tricks, and win sometimes in four or five seconds. The opponent, completely taken by surprise, would go over – bang! It was like a magician’s trick, and they gained a fearsome reputation. It was also pleasant for the examiners, a break from the plodding monotony of so many beginners’ contests. In a few months they had progressed to first kyu grade, and it was expected that they would go on in the same way. But now there was a change. They were meeting other first kyu grades, and first kyu grades have seen a good deal of judo. They could no longer surprise their opponents. And these tricks, like tricks in all fields of life, have no sound basis when the concealment has gone. A street trader’s trick works only once.
These two found that they had no strong attack apart from the tricks, which now did not work in their contests. Their ‘tricky’ judo showed its limitations. The result was that they stuck at first kyu grade for over a year, while some of those whom they had beaten so brilliantly earlier on, now gradually overtook them and got a black belt before them. They could make no progress till they learnt some
There is a wider application. Success, especially dramatic success, is often in fact a set-back. With most of us, it means that we think: ‘Oh, I am really good now.’ In extreme cases, the successful man begins to think that he has a message for the judo world. The self-satisfaction can mean the end of his judo career. He does not advance further, though he may remain a formidable opponent at his own level.
But when you have a failure, you have to analyse, and realise: ‘I am not good enough.’ Then you make progress. In general, success blunts the edge of one’s judo, whereas failure sharpens it. There are exceptions, I admit, but that is the general rule. This is why it is best to try to practise as much as possible against superior opponents, and not much against weaker opponents. With the latter, one can throw them even if the throw is not done well; it can easily lead to sloppy technique.
I used to watch Kyuzo Mifune practising with the small children at the Kodokan. He could have picked up the opponent with one hand and just laid him on his back. But in fact Mifune always made the few gentle throws he allowed himself, throws in perfect form. In this case, of course, it was not for his own sake, but to give the little boy a demonstration of that perfect form. The boy would not observe it consciously, but it would be taken in by him just the same as a feeling for the throw.
I myself used to watch him for another reason. I was taller than most of my opponents in Japan. In the 1930s, the difference between me and them was roughly the difference between Mifune (a small man), and some of the children. So I was learning how to handle opponents who were much shorter. They were of course very much stronger than Mifune’s children, but there again Mifune used almost no force in making his throws there. The delicacy of his throws was, incidentally, most attractive to see and it gave me an insight into the beauty of real judo.