I began Judo in 1930 at the Budokwai in London, the oldest Judo club in Europe. I was 16 years old. Our teachers were the famous Yukio Tani, 4th dan, who was one of those who had introduced Judo to the West, and Gunji Koizumi, an art expert and also 4th dan. Tani came from a line of jujutsu teachers; his grandfather had given exhibitions before the shogun. While Tani never learnt English well, Koizumi was a cultured man who spoke and wrote good English.
The amazing success of jujutsu and Judo, demonstrated by Tani and others against Western wrestlers and boxers at the beginning of the century, had given them a magical reputation of wizardry in the physical realm. Phrases like ‘Verily the soft controls the hard’ (ju yoku go o seisu) became well known. Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan and Kaiten Nukariya’s ‘Religion of the Samurai’ led to idealization of the supposed ‘living chivalry’ of Japan. Even sceptical writers like H.G. Wells were impressed.
One evening I saw a pair of straw sandals in the Budokwai changing room. They belonged to Tani. I noticed that underneath each sole there was a small piece of metal fixed and wondered why it was there. Tani put the sandals on and walked a few steps with the metal making a tapping sound. He told me that the old samurai, like his grandfather, used to wear such sandals so that it would be impossible for them to steal silently up behind someone iike a coward’. I was suitably impressed. He said, ‘A true samurai washed his face with cold water only so that even after death it would remain firm’. For over 20 years afterwards, I washed and showered only in cold water, using hot water reluctantly for shaving.
I practised Judo hard and read about Japan—mostly idealistic stuff. I heard Dr. Jigoro Kano speak when he came to London with Masami Takasaki and Sumiyuki Kotani. They confirmed my expectations, and I thought most Japanese must be like them. (I knew of course that Japanese bicycles and typewriters were of poor workmanship, though they were cheap. But by a sort of conjuring trick, this inconvenient fact disappeared down a mental trapdoor. Most idealists get adept at this trick.) So I wanted to be like the Japanese, more Japanese than the Japanese, if possible even super-Japanese.
Then I got a big surprise from a young Japanese businessman. He was marvellously skilful at Judo and gave me lessons in advanced technique. In turn, I gave him lessons in golf and took him to some good courses. One day I told him never to stand closer than about ten yards when another player is making a fairway shot. ‘That’s golf etiquette’, I said.
Afterwards he thanked me effusively, adding: ‘As we are friends, I want to ask a favour. Please tell me, without any hesitation, about any points of behaviour where I make a mistake. I shall not think it rude; I shall be grateful. I want to behave like a perfect English gentleman’.
I could hardly believe my ears. I was trying to be like a Japanese, while he was trying to be like an Englishman, or rather like our imagined paragons of Japanese and Englishman. Still, as a matter of fact, we both worked very hard to actualize at least some part of these ideals. Moreover, we had learnt something from each other: there was also great value in our own native traditional culture, on which we (like many young men in all generations) had previously turned our backs.
After World War II, in which he had fought on the mainland and I in Southeast Asia, we met occasionally. We used to grin at each other at the thought of our previous naivete. We now knew the dark sides of our former ideals as well as the bright and dark sides of our own culture. Yet on the deepest level, something remained. He became a successful politician, though contemptuous of what he called the ‘small-minded corruption’ he found in the world of politics. He told me once that a few of them were trying to change it to something like the British model. ‘But it will take a long time; everything is interlinked’.
In 1946 I had the chance to become head of the Japanese Service of the BBC. We were broadcasting to young people in Japan, like that young businessman friend of years before, but we did not broadcast just good points about Britain. I did not want to create illusions. After all, if we know someone who talks only of his good points, never mentioning his failures, we do not like him, do we? So we broadcast about our difficulties and struggles as well. Our frankness appealed to listeners. The Japanese Service was very successful, and many of our scripts were later published as books by the Simul Press in the Lion Series and by other publishers. This achievement was unique to the Japanese Service.
Broadcasting to Japan was my professional life. I took part once a week, answering letters from our listeners. I remained as head of the Japanese Service for nearly 25 years, refusing promotion to higher administrative posts. But I wanted to do something in the reverse direction. I believed that Judo was a good introduction to Japanese tradition, and with the prestige of my 6th dan from the Kodokan I taught most of the British Judo teachers. Many of them learnt Japanese, spoken and written, went to Japan and wrote books afterwards about Japan.
As Judo became an international sport, I grew disappointed and predicted that the ideals of Dr. Kano would be largely lost. And they have been largely lost. The concession of making a standing bow, instead of the traditional zarei (a sitting bow) symbolized this loss. It was a misunderstanding of the psychology of foreigners, most of whom would have liked to preserve the old traditions, as they have been preserved to some extent in fencing. Judo as a mere sport has lost its main original purpose set out by Dr. Kano—training for life. Dr. Kano, Takasaki and Kotani never showed outwardly that they were experts in Judo, though a trained eye could see it. We were impressed by their calm demeanour, and British Judo men of my generation never swaggered.
Nowadays some have begun to swagger as in Japan. They may be first-rate at technique on the tatami but are only second-rate at Judo.
Judo practice can be no more than an introduction to the much deeper Budo spirit. Some outside observers (and even some Japanese) deny that it exists. When Japan was in ruins just after World War II, there was a view that its future lay in becoming a tourist lotus land. Its wonderful decorative charm would make it a holiday centre for the world. Yamato- damashii (the Japanese spirit), it was said, had originally meant the ability to appreciate cherry blossoms, and so it would be again. Budo would vanish. I never believed this. I felt that Budo would not vanish but would show itself ih new forms. (Perhaps the present excellence of Japanese products is one such form.)
In 1947 I went round the secondhand bookshops in the Kanda district of Tokyo, which had miraculously survived the bombs, and bought many books on Budo and Zen. These books were now almost given away, and the whole group of ideals had been discredited. I began to translate some of these materials—no easy task. Already in 1946 I had published some short essays in small magazines. At first, editors asked for articles about the decorative arts or about ‘how Japan has changed’. But quite soon they were attracted to the theme of Budo. One of my earlier writings, ‘The Maxims of Saigo’, became rather well known. In 1956 my First Zen Reader, a collection of translations, was brought out by Charles Tuttle in Tokyo and had a big success. It was followed by a number of other writings—translations and some essays of my own.
This book consists of 18 articles which have appeared in the monthly Budo magazine and are reproduced here by the kind permission of the editor and my friend Mr. Kisaburo Watanabe. My thanks go to Mr. Katsuo Tamura, President of the Simul Press, for his co-operation.
It may seem daring for a foreigner to write on Budo. Yet there are parallels in history. Ask anyone for the composer who uniquely represents the spirit of Hungary, and they will answer ‘Franz Liszt’. But he was taken from Hungary when a baby and could hardly speak a word of Hungarian: he was in fact a foreigner. Still, even true Hungarians find his Hungarian Rhapsodies worth listening to. May it be so with the 18 essays which are presented in this book.
© Trevor Leggett