By Trevor Leggett

Journal of Combative Sport November 1999

Reprinted from the Japanese-American Courier, Seattle, Washington, September 28, 1940, page 3. It first appeared in the October 1940 issue of Nippon Hoso Kyokai.

 The idea of this little talk is to give you some notion of Judo as it is practiced in Japan itself, together with one or two sidelights which it gives on things Japanese generally.

 Probably most of those listening to me have heard of Judo, or Jujitsu as it is still widely known, and they will, I dare say, have the popular conception (which as it happens is a true one as far as it goes) of an extremely fast, delicate, and effective method of self defense. It is all that -- but a great deal besides.

 Maybe a good introduction would be to ask you to walk with me into the main practice hall of the Kodo-kwan, the Headquarters of Judo in Japan. As we round the corner you will probably be startled by a tremendous bang, and feel the floor shake slightly, but you needn't mind that.

 You see before you a great hall, nearly square, with a very high roof. The floor is covered with smooth tatami, or Japanese straw mats, which reflect the afternoon sun pleasantly and give an atmosphere of lightness and airiness to the whole place.

 Just in front of us a man is getting to his feet -- yes, that was the bang you heard, his opponent threw him. But he isn't a bit hurt. For one thing, he is an expert at falling, and knows how to turn his body and what to do to ensure that his muscles take all the shock of the fall, and for another, the whole floor is sprung so that even a slight jump will make it give. Now suppose we take a look at him as he moves up to his opponent, who is waiting for him.

 They are both wearing a white jacket and trousers of strong but soft material and a black belt. They take hold very quickly and lightly, seeming just to touch each other, and immediately begin to move rapidly about the floor. They don't tug or push each other, they don't strain violently -- that would endanger their own balance. They're just trying to find an opportunity. There it comes… an incautious step, and one of them describes a half circle through the air and comes down, seemingly hurled to the ground with tremendous force. But he's up on his feet again at once, and off they go once more.

 You probably didn't see the technique -- it was rather quick, and anyway we needn't go into that now. But suppose we take the general atmosphere of the place, what impresses one most is the feeling of quiet, almost of solemnity, pervading it. Those who are not playing don't lounge about and chatter; they sit or stand upright, and there is no laughing or joking. The faces of the players themselves express complete concentration. If you play Judo yourself you will know that is the only way -- it is far too potent a thing to be taken lightly or treated as a toy.

 Another thing that will strike you is the politeness and formality surrounding the practice of the art. The two players salute each other with the deep Japanese bow. Over there you can see one of the head teachers with an absolute novice, about to begin a lesson. They start off just the same with the ceremonial bow -- in that way the novice shows his respect for the teacher, and the teacher also respects him as a devotee of the art, no matter how great the disparity of skill.

 Everyone in the class goes at it hard during the whole practice, and hardly a word is exchanged from beginning to end, except for a few brief sentences now and then from the teacher, always very much to the point. The teacher himself goes to have his bath a few minutes before the end of the practice. He may then chat to the Captain for a few minutes, and drop a few words of advice, and then takes his leave. The practice is over.

 And immediately everyone relaxes. All their natural Japanese cheerfulness comes out. The practice is over, and you can smoke and talk freely, and joke as much as you like. In the next room is a huge bath of steaming hot water where one can soak, and afterwards return to cool off clad in nothing but a towel. Some tea and cakes are brought in, and you can spend a pleasant half hour with some of the jolliest, kindest, and most unaffected friends you could meet anywhere in the world.

JCS November 1999