The Dragon Mask extract

With age, a judo expert’s speed begins to decline and he has to find means to offset this against up and coming opponents. One of them is to establish a psychological ascendancy over a younger man who may be actually stronger in fighting ability.

This can be done by preventing the junior from estimating the respective standards of ability. An experienced man can make an estimate easily in most cases by merely looking at the movement, but a young man generally cannot do it without something definite to work on, and he can be prevented from getting the information.

The senior’s attacking policy is to attempt to throw only when it is certain to succeed – in other words, never to fail in a throw. This often means waiting for quite a time till the opponent takes some risk and so gives an opportunity. But promising young judo men take risks all the time; they get bored unless they are trying something. The senior’s defending policy is never to take any risk himself, so that the opponent never scores. This is not difficult for a patient man.

The physical result of these policies is that in a practice of say six minutes, the junior makes dozens of attempts but does not score at all, whereas the senior makes perhaps three attempts and each time with success. The psychological result is that the senior appears invincible. Every time he attempted a throw, he succeeded. Reason may urge that after all he did not try more than three throws in six minutes. But perhaps he did not want to. Who is to say? The lower grade feels helpless.

A seasoned judo expert has experienced this situation from both sides and knows that in spite of attempts to reason away the conviction of helplessness, it remains very powerful. He sometimeswonders how he could have been taken in by it for so long as a young man, and he wonders why the young men whom he impresses today do not simply see through it.

The paralysing awe of the senior can go on for a good time till one day the senior tries a throw and fails. Immediately, the situation changes; the junior realizes that under certain circumstances he can successfully resist the attack. He now has a measure – out of four attacks in the practice, he has resisted one. The magic spell is broken, and the higher grade appears as a mortal with weaknesses of his own. Once there is a measure, the young man’s ambition comes up with confidence – ‘now I can only stop one in four, but I will fight to make it one in three and then finally I’ll be able to stop them all.’

The essence of the matter is that previously he did not know how wide was the gap between them, and so he could have no ambition of closing it, but now he has a way of measuring it and confidence that it can be reduced and them annihilated.

The same principle applies in struggles against interior enemies. If someone is irrationally afraid of aeroplanes or electric machines, or figures, or getting up in the morning, he tends to regard these things as unconquerable. In such a case, it is essential to make a space in life and establish one clear success. A student can put aside one week during which he is prepared to change his life. During that week he may support his resolution by reading up statistics, if his intellect is one that puts up this sort of argument; he can find out, for instance, that it is safer to travel by plane than by car. If it is a question of getting up in the morning, the resistance is more like to take the form of a headache or stomach-ache. Then the important thing is to go on into the day with the headache or any other ache; it is only for a week, but it does have to be for that week.

After a week of getting up early, or practising rapid adding, or planning and executing an air trip to another part of the country, or getting someone to give a lesson on an electric circuit, the aweinspiring magical threat of these things disappears. It may not be necessary to go further with them. The point is, that if it is necessary now or later, he is able to do it by a reasonable effort. He is notshrinking back before he has even tried.

In Zen, this is called by various names, and one of them is ‘hitting through the dragon mask’. Students of Zen are made to practise a good deal of austerity, and one purpose is to get them used to hitting the dragon masks and finding out that they are only cardboard after all. Experiences of this kind in small things give confidence when it comes to hitting the final dragon mask.