Judo And The Life Journey
We are incredibly fortunate to live in an age where information is so easily, widely, and readily available. We have access not only to many current teachers around the world thanks to platforms like Judo Fanatics and BJJ Fanatics, but also through the writings of some of the greatest martial artists throughout history.
A classic of the martial tradition is Miyamoto Musashi’s text ‘The Book of Five Rings’, which can be read and understood at deeper levels throughout one’s life, much like the practice of martial arts itself.
Musashi dedicated his life to the Way of the sword and began duels with other martial artists at 13 years old, when he defeated and killed a fully grown adult, and finished duelling at the age of 29. During this time he was victorious in over sixty duels, all of which risked the outcome of serious injury or death.
After all this combat however Musashi realised that he didn’t truly understand the martial arts. He had a natural talent for combat, but hadn’t cultivated himself in the way he’d truly hoped for.
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So, what makes a martial art practice different than other disciplines, and how can it support us throughout our life’s journey? Let’s see what Musashi says:
The martial way of life practiced by warriors is based on excelling others in anything and everything.
Yet there will be people in the world who think that even if you learn martial arts, this will not prove useful when a real need arises.
Regarding that concern, the true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.
So, to say the least, Musashi set quite a high bar for true achievement in the martial arts!
The question then is, how can Judo help us in all things?
This was a central concern for the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano.
When Kano began studying Jujutsu (a catch-all phrase in 1800’s Japan for mostly unarmed combat) he did so in order to defend himself against attack, and found that most schools were limited to this concern only.
Kano came to call restricting one’s ambition to defending oneself against attack alone “low level Judo.”
Jujutsu was also regarded for the most part in 1800’s Japan as antiquated, and a sign of the old dark days of Feudal conflict, and an attitude of ‘might makes right’.
To combat both of these concerns Kano stopped calling his system Kano Jujustu and instead used the characters ‘Ju’ and ‘Do’.
‘Ju’ means ‘Gentle’ and ‘Do’ means ‘Way’, but we must be careful to understand that ‘Do’ in the Japanese context carries with it deeply held spiritual significance, linked to Confucianism, Shinto, and Buddhism.
‘Do’ doesn’t mean ‘Way’ as in a simple system of practice, but instead an entire Way of living, developing, and contributing to society.
How can learning how to throw someone make the claim that it is an entire system for living well?
As well as being the founder of Judo Kano was an educator with a largely secular and globally humanitarian outlook. He was a practical and diligent man who strove to benefit others through education and rigorous practical mastery.
The Judo of Kano was founded on certain principles that benefit us at whatever age we begin to practice Judo. What are these principles?
In 1922 Kano established the Kodokan Culture Council and its general principles were:
Perfection of oneself is the best use of one’s energies.
Self-perfection leads to success in one’s endeavors.
The perfection of oneself together with others is the basis of human welfare.
These simple and clear guidelines are core to practising Judo both inside and outside the dojo.
They also mirror the actual learning process of Judo, both learning and mastering waza (technique) and working with others in a mutually beneficial way so that everyone can develop and grow. In fact, Kano had terms for many aspects of these ideas, and saw them as working together.
Seiroku Zenyo is the principle that in all things one should use their mental and physical energy in its most effective way. It is clear to see the importance of this in randori when a smaller person is trying to throw a larger person, but Kano applies this to all aspects of life as well.
Kano was known to make the best use of every possible moment he could to study, train, and improve his ability so that he could be of benefit.
Saki o tore means to anticipate our opponents attacks, and to use our own techniques on our opponent before they can use their techniques on us. Applying this to projects in life Kano advises us to look ahead and carefully consider what we are embarking upon.
Once we have carefully considered then comes the next concept Jukuryo Danko, which means decisive action after careful consideration.
In Judo the conviction the Judoka puts into their technique can often be the deciding factor in whether or not the technique is successful.
Once we have practised and honed technique we need to have confidence in the technique, and throw ourselves completely into it in order that it’s successful. The same is often true in life.
Following from this however is a wise point of balance, or as leadership expert Jocko Willink would call it a dichotomy. We must fully commit, but we also must know when it is wise to stop.
This is the concept of tomaru tokoro o shire, or knowing when to stop.
The final concept is jita kyoei, which means all this cultivation of oneself must be applied with others, and when we do so there must be jita kyoei, or mutual benefit.
Judo is remarkable in that it offers a very practical method of protecting oneself but also within it’s training it is teaching us a very valuable sensibility towards life as a whole.
These lessons come baked into the very practical building blocks of Judo.
If you want to learn more about the practical aspects of Judo then see ‘Judo Building Blocks’ by Israel Hernandez here!