Master Teacher Lesson: Judo and Philosophy

Lesson: Judo and Philosophy

The Three Guiding Principles

Parallel to Jigoro Kano’s questions were the ideas prevailing during his time.  San-iku-shugi or the The Three Guiding Principles included the concepts of intellectual (chiiku), moral (tokuiku), and physical (taiiku).  “These were new terms,” states David Waterhouse, in his paper, Kano Jigoro and The Beginning of Judo, 1983.  He believes that they were taken directly from Herbert Spencer, whose paper was entitled, Education, Intellectual, Moral, and Physical, published in 1861.  Speculation though it may be his contact with philosophical ideas added to his beloved physical activity of jujitsu and suited the needs of an emerging nation as well.  Prior to the Meiji era, there was no national educational system, much less a concept of physical education or sports.  These were important ideas, which Jigoro Kano played an important part in instituting into Japan.  Kano was one of the first Japanese to play baseball in Japan.  This had a profound effect on the concept of team type activities, as he also included team competition into the Kodokan menu.

In Japan’s newly formed educational system, Kano played a large role in the development of one of Spencer’s three needed areas of development; the physical area.  Moreover, Kano included in his statements and awareness of the other two areas of Spencer’s areas of development.  Character was also discussed by Kano, “Because we are all alive in this world as humans, we must abide by the rules of humans.  Once we lose the desire to live as humans, we lose our worth.”  As to intellect, he wrote, “For the realization of a fuller life.  It is imperative that we have and strive to develop our intelligence.  Intellect aids greatly in building character.”  For his efforts in the physical realm, Jigoro Kano is often referred to as the father of modern sports in Japan.

For the West, the idea of gamesmanship had been popularized by the 1500 with knights who participated in mock battles during tournaments.  This activity found favor with kings as a  exercise in warring skills  while keeping mortality to a minimum.  This tradition was passed on to where today’s mock battles are fought in the form of football games and wrestling matches.  During World War II Winston Churchill stated, “The battles at Dunkirk were won on the playing fields of Eaton.” acknowledging the contribution of sports to the war effort.  Actually, the 19th century, provided the world with many new sports and games.  Games added not only to a nation’s competitive spirit, but also to its health.  The emergence of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 also added to the ideals of sportsmanship, character building, a sound mind in a sound body, and acted as a weathervane to a nation’s vitality.

It was within the Meiji era that Jigoro Kano became an educator, physical educator, and later statesman, writer, member of the International Olympic Committee, and founder of many of Japan’s prestigious organizations, but for the judoka his most important legacy to the world was Judo.  He was the right man at the right time.  Jigoro Kano’s ability to speak English was one of his greatest assets.  Through his language skills, he was able to glean Western ideas on education and physical education.  One auspicious event was his meeting with American Educator John Dewey, with whom he had many valuable exchanges.  Through his ties with the Ministry of Education he reintroduced many of the martial arts, not as a feudal way of fighting, but as a means of developing the fitness level and the character of its participants.  Dr. Kano’s was reformulation of the reasons for the practice of the martial arts, was revolutionary for Japan.  The idea was that martial arts were to be practiced, not to inflict damage or death, but rather as a means of enhancing life.  Amongst these martial arts, was his newly formed jujitsu which he named judo, the “gentle way.”  an activity that could bring to life the ideals of “san-iku-shugi.”

 Small Judo — Large Judo

From almost the very start, serious thought was put into what we so loosely know as the gentle way, judo.  According to Asian studies professor, David Waterhouse of the University of Toronto, “The name judo, the pliant way, comes from Kito-ryu, having been long used in Jikishin-ryu, an old branch of it.”  The use of the suffix do in judo has ties to Taoism and Buddhism and in Chinese characters when written means road or way.  According to Professor Naoki Murata, Kodokan historian, “The reason that the ju of judo was kept by Professor Kano was out of respect for tradition.”  Together judo took on a different flavor.  Not only was there a tradition of power but thought, philosophical thought that could aid in the development of a thin emerging nation.

In the case of judo, its meaning was that through its practice, one would develop concepts, skills, and attitudes that would assist one in everyday life situations.  Dr. Kano in his writings also emphasizes the idea of small judo versus large judoSmall judo is concerned only with techniques and building of the body.  Large judo is mindful of the pursuit of the purpose of life: the soul and the body used in the most effective manner for a good result.

One of Dr. Kano’s more interesting statements concerning education, and in particular, physical education was, “The body is the instrument for the purpose of life, without which there is nothing.”  Such a simple but ever so profound statement.  The implication is that care must be taken to ensure its proper functioning.  In addition, that the mind cannot function, experience, or learn, without having a body.  The body is the package in which the mind functions and that their functioning is integrally linked.  One Japanese word for experience, taiken, means to experience with the body.

The Judo Maxims

Although Dr. Kano was widely known as a scholar, there was a side of him which favored experience over knowledge purely based on books.  Many of his maxims are derived from life experiences that led to a certain conclusion.  David Waterhouse, in his paper, “Kano Jigoro and The Beginning of the Judo Movement” writes, “As far as I can judge, Kano’s thinking evolved to meet the changing circumstances of the movement, which he created”.  He was a pragmatist (in a loose sense of the word) and he mistrusted abstract principles based on book learning.  In a note written in 1902 or 1903, he made a distinction between learning which is alive and learning which is dead.  The former was a practical use, the later serve no purpose.  “If one reads books, excessively, even if one does many things, what one knows may or may not be useful, depending on the circumstances.”

“Mutual Welfare and Benefit”

The maxim, Mutual Welfare and Benefit Ji-ta Kyoei, can be thought of as referring to Kano’s concept of the interdependence of body and mind, but more importantly here, the interdependence of one person working with another person.  It was the resulting revelation of years of physical practice that enable Kano to understand the benefits of mutual encounters.  In Buddhism, the two paths are ji-riki (self strength) and ta-riki (other’s strength).  In judo, there is also the strength of the individual, which is pitted against the strength of others resulting in a positive change.  An example is the mutual benefit found in judo’s randori practice, which is done, not by oneself, but with another and results in the eventual development of both individuals.  Judo is mindful of this resulting benefit from the practice of two individuals, and thus bow in gratitude and respect before and after the practice session.

Ji-Ko No Kansei

A seldom quoted maxim is that of Ji-ko no Kansei or self-perfectionMost likely ignored because of the seemingly egocentric motives at the time of judo’s mass importation into the United States just after World War II.  In addition, the other maxim of Mutual Welfare and Benefit, already has inherent in the word mutual, implication that oneself as well as another is involved.  Today it has been told that we must improve ourselves.  Scores of self-help books attests to this fact.  The dilemma, however, arises when one asked, “How is it that you can have both self centered act and mutual welfare and benefit at the same time?  Doesn’t someone lose out when one person thinks of improving himself?”  Kano explained it thus.  “Needless to say, there is a gap between utopia and the sometimes reality of things.  Let’s say that rather than two individuals we think on a larger scale and have two countries at war and one of them is your country.  Whose side would you favor then?”  He continues, “Build yourself first, then you may help others.”

In the short-term, one side suffers a loss, but both have gained from the experience, and at a later time under different conditions the outcome may be different.  One need only think of our next randori practice session or shiai tournament.  Who will win?  What was gained?  Competition tends to breed excellence, and in the long run there is mutual gain from the encounter.

Seiryoku Zenyo

Seiryoku Zenyo is commonly translated to mean Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort.  When Dr. Kano was still a student he found his roommate would always finish his homework earlier and in addition get better grades.  Why was it that he had the same amount of homework, as his roommate, same instructors, yet this result?  He decided to observe his roommate which eventually resulted in the maxim of Seiryoku Zenyo, maximum efficiency with minimum effort.  He states, “In order to study the maxim of Seiryoku Zenyo we must first know what energy is.  Energy is life force or the essential force for living.  A correct use of this energy will result in maximum efficiency with minimum effort.”

As per energy expenditure and a judo throw, do we expend more energy to throw a person if he is off-balance or on balance?  Do we expend more or less energy if we have our center of gravity above or below our opponent’s center of gravity?  Do we use energy more effectively if we do the technique quickly or slowly?  Is it possible that there is a more efficient way of applying energy?  Could one say from this use of energy, one could learn and understand the principle of maximal efficiency with minimum effort?

It is through practical experiences that judoka may learn lessons.  The lessons may have to be translated from the practice of judo into words and usable concepts but the body experiences of judo are kept for reference and understood at a very basic level.  Here are a few concepts that are realized through practice, and with a little imagination can be translated into usable concepts for everyday living, large judo:

  1. Over a period of time and through diligent practice, one can become better at judo(at a hobby, sport, work, etc.).
  2. There are subtle techniques that allow one person to do better than another person who does not have technique.
  3. Although one may not be so skilled to begin with, if one has heart one may still succeed.
  4. There are different types of strengths in each of us.
  5. Over a period of time we rely on different strengths at different times.
  6. Energy utilized in a successful ways can instill confidence.

While different ideals may abound within philosophy, it is more an ongoing process rather than a set of immutable ideas.  There are philosophical thoughts surrounding judo.  Initially in the martial art of jujitsu, the sole thought was how to kill, maim, or control.  At that time, it entailed a philosophy based on survival by hand-to-hand combat.  With the opening of Japan, it had to change or disappear.  Kano remolded jujitsu. This replacement became a way of life, with lessons in its practice that could be applied to everyday life.  He named it judo.  Today it is an Olympic sport, which is practiced in over 200 nations worldwide.  The emphasis of the goals and philosophy of judo have been broadened and while there is a current emphasis towards the idea of judo being a sport concerned mainly with winning and losing, there are still other elements to judo which keep it grounded to the grass roots development of individuals into productive citizens.

The goals of judo are diverse.  They provide for a wide range of participants with varied interests: It can also serve as a means of self defense; the police use many of the techniques of judo to subdue criminal offenders; For children, judo provides a positive atmosphere where they learn discipline and mutual respect.  Children account for more than 75% of our judo population; older participants practice it for recreational and fitness value, and education’s use of judo is to change behavior in a positive way.  Each has it’s own set of specialized ideals and goals concerning judo.  Each draws from judo’s philosophical core. 

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