Things Judo has taught me by Gotaro Ogawa

(Editors' comment) Gotaro Ogawa, our special correspondent in Japan, is a retired diplomat and 6th Dan judoka who practices judo every week. Looking back on his half-century of judo training, he presented us his candid thoughts, as found below. While they represent a Japanese view (vision) of judo, they can in fact be considered a universal vision as well. (Ogawa is 67, married, father of three children, Kodokan 6th Dan, retired diplomat and member of the International Committee of the All-Japan Judo Federation. For his opinions, see www.judo-voj.com.)

50 years of judo training

As I was preparing to write this article, I realized I have now been in judo training for exactly 50 years. Looking back to the early days, I remember that practice was really tough. Especially in the beginning, those senior to me would throw me with no trace of mercy and press me down at will, refusing to loosen their strangleholds on my neck even when I signaled "Maitta." Kangeiko practice in the early mornings of the coldest part of winter was held in dojos with no heating or anything to keep us warm. In the process of several decades of practice, I have been injured time after time. When I think about it, I have to say I like this physically and spiritually demanding judo. But why?
With me, I probably get some sort of spiritual satisfaction from being able to endure difficulty without giving up. When absorbed in practice, I have a feeling it might not be unlike being in a state of Zen meditation. I think about nothing. After a hard practice session, my body's fatigue releases my mind and makes me feel as if I can be freer than before. Maybe that gives me some kind of feeling of achievement. But could this somehow be of any use? And is there any point in which we can call it something particular to judo? Sometimes people I know tell me that long years of judo practice are what have instilled deeply in me a character of perseverance, calmness, composure and not losing control in the face of trouble.

Pursuing what is essential

Things like the will to endure practice and seeking persistently after the best movements have built up in me the attitude of pursuing only what is truly important. Just as when I am on the tatami mat, so in my daily life, I do not need anything fancy and there is no need to put on superficial airs. The great thing that judo has taught me is the value of being simple. You could even call it plainness. In fact, I prefer simplicity. Simple things are useful in my everyday life, and they are worthwhile. I think many of my judo friends, at least those older than I am, feel the same way on this point. It seems all of us, through judo and perhaps thanks to judo, share the same understanding.

From Japan to Denmark

Whether the act of "rei" performed while seated Japanese style at the beginning and end of practice sessions or that exchanged repeatedly between opponents during practice itself, rei, through having been made the custom and an act to be conformed to, has in the course of practice become an ingrained habit, and as a result, traits like humbleness, humility and respect for others just naturally follow. This is something that could originally be said of Japan, but I am moved every time I feel it also applies all over the world. I was deeply impressed when I found the attitude of humble respect for others in French judoka I met 40 years ago at the dojo of Master Michigami in Bordeaux. I came across this character and attitude in people learning judo everywhere, even in places thousands of kilometers away from Japan. It was the same in all the places where I lived and worked, including with the children in the dojos of Denmark and Cambodia.

Long years of training

I knew that if I underwent proper training in judo for a long enough time, then I myself could attain this kind of character. On the other hand, I also understood that while it is possible to appreciate overall what judo gives us and shows us, one obstacle is the tendency to attach too much or even absolute importance to judo matches, the inclination toward, to use what has become a common phrase, "judo where winning is everything." That is not the only problem, but the tendency to attach too much importance to matches has in fact been causing trouble.

Judo in confrontation with "Death"

Kaori Yamaguchi, leader in the field of Japanese women's judo, told me as follows of her feelings at the time of the huge earthquake that hit Japan on March 11th.
"The moment I felt the violent shaking, the thought flashed across my mind of how I should face death when confronted with it. After the earthquake, I thought about how to grasp the meaning of life and death in the context of judo, and about what people who practice judo could learn from it.
"When you think about it, the core importance in the martial arts in olden times was the very concept of how to cope when confronted with death. When I think about whether I would be able to make calm and wise decisions when faced with a situation as serious as death, I feel judo can give some useful lessons.
"Children are not always with their parents when a big accident strikes. In case they have to face things on their own, I think training in judo might help put them in the right frame of mind. It's natural for anyone to want to save himself in the face of crisis, but you shouldn't forget to help others, too. It's the spirit of 'jita-kyoei (mutual well-being).' "
There is fact and truth in these words. Judo teaches these things, and what Kaori Yamaguchi says comes from her personal conviction. While constantly busy with work that includes being professor at Tsukuba University and commentator for Japanese television broadcasts covering major tournaments, she still spares much of her time and effort for judo training for children.

Keeping going(Keizoku )

Teruyuki Miura (70), an educator with nearly 40 years of service at Rikkyo High School as well as having a hand in judo instruction at the Kodokan, gave me this reflection.
"Perseverance and a harmonious spirit are fostered through training in judo. I've been able to observe this firsthand throughout all my years in education."
On the day of this year's All-Japan Championships in late April, I came across a 76-year-old lady in the auditorium. She shouldered a backpack and moved lightly, and I thought she must be in her 50s. When I asked the secret of her energy, she lit up with a smile and answered, "Keeping going." She said she started judo when she was 30 and continues practice even now.
Judo, more than just simple drilling, is also the cultivation of a way of living. It is not just a mere expression. In relation to the massive challenge Japan must now confront, my inward feeling is that I would like to stay optimistic. With the start of the new school year next April, the martial arts will be returned to their former position as a required subject in Japan's middle schools. (Translation: ES )