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Part 5: Lao Tzu

Judo, more than most, reaches back to Lao-Tzu, and beyond, for its explanations.

Lao Tzu was the greatest of the pre-Confucian philosophers in the old kingdoms of China. He was an inspiration for Confucius himself, who had visited Lao-Tzu, and had come away transformed, if somewhat shaken and dazed: "He is a dragon," he told his students after the visit.

He was cantankerous, perhaps even obnoxious, but otherwise we don’t know much about him, even whether he really existed at all, or whether the works ascribed to him were really written by him. In the legend, he was the chief Imperial archivist during the Chou Dynasty, some 600 B.C.. During a period of turmoil and a weakening of civilized values, he allegedly turned his back on civilization, and went, as most oriental sages seemed to do, to live in the mountains to reflect on man’s ways at a satisfying and safe distance from them.

His name is not really a name, but a title "the old master," and there is much scholarly debate about whether the works appearing under his name were reissued classics, or borrowed from other writers. Some think he was a compilation of five or six different sages, writing, or being recorded, over a period of two or three hundred years.

In any case, he wrote the key work particularly useful to understanding Budo: "Tao Te Ching". Tao-Te-Ching is the foundation of all Taoist literature; and is thought to be really a reissue, under the name of Lao Tzu, of a much older work.

In any case, we find in Lao Tzu not the origins, but already a sophisticated expression of Tao, the foundations of modern theoretical Do, as expressed in Judo, Karate-Do, Aikido, Kendo, and other modern forms. But, the Tao of Lao Tzu is an expression of modern Judo which might come from any modern Judo textbook.

"Allow yourself to yield, and you can stay centered.
Allow yourself to bend, and you will stay straight.
Allow yourself to be empty, and you’ll get filled up.
Allow yourself to be exhausted, and you’ll be renewed."

"The way to illumination appears dark.
The way that advances appears to retreat.
The way that is easy appears to be hard."

"I repeat what others have said:
The strong and violent don’t die natural deaths.
This is the very essence of my teaching.
The soft overcomes the hard in the world
as a gentle rider controls a galloping horse."

"This is called the power of noncontention.
This is called using the strength of others.
This is called the perfect emulation of heaven.
In conflict it is better to be receptive than aggressive,
Better to retreat a foot 
Than advance an inch.
This is called moving ahead without advancing,
capturing an enemy without attacking him."

"At birth a person is soft and yielding,
at death stiff and hard.
All beings, the grass, the trees:
alive, soft and yielding;
dead, stiff, and hard.
Therefore the hard and inflexible
are friends of death.
The soft and yielding
are friends of life.

An unyielding army is destroyed.
An unbending tree breaks.
The hard must humble itself
or otherwise be humbled.
The soft will ultimately ascend."

Nothing under heaven is as
soft and yielding as water.
Yet for attacking the hard and strong,
nothing can compare to it.

The weak overcomes the strong.
The soft overcomes the hard.

Thus, the foundations of the physical theory of Judo are found 2600 years ago.We find these Tao elements in the formulations of Judo theory:

Gentleness controls sturdiness.
The essence of Judo is to keep the center of physical gravity.

The distinctive feature of Judo is to make no anticipation or prepared attitude in a match.

As the modern founder, Jigoro Kano, stated it: "Judo is the ‘Way of Gentleness,’ with the implication of first giving way to ultimately obtain victory." However, Kano modified this Taoist concept somewhat. "Giving way" he cautioned, did not convey the true meaning of Judo, and perhaps, by implication, Tao. "Ju" in this view meant "flexibility," not limiting the idea to simply "yielding." Rather, Judo is defined as a method of finding the most efficient way of using mental and physical energy. This theory and practice of Judo was so representative of Tao philosophy, that Zen masters had an immediate affinity for Judo; it was considered physically representative of Zen thought.

This is not remarkable. Kano’s study of the Kito Ryu brought him into a philosophical system based on teachings of a Zen monk named Takuan. Takuan Soho had a tremendous influence on the development of martial philosophy in Japan, particularly his ideas of mushin ("no-mind") as an ideal of martial practice. When "the object of Judo is to understand and demonstrate swiftly the living laws of movement," as Kyuzo Mifune believed, this is a reflection of the Taoist underpinnings of the Kito Ryu. Indeed, Kito itself is one translation of the yin and yang, the passive and active components of being.

Typically, Judo texts do not reference the Japanese concept of Ki. This oddly distinguishes Judo from virtually all of the other Japanese martial arts, at least in the textbook area, particularly Aikido and Kendo. Yet, "Judo theory and training make implicit assumptions concerning this principle." This seeming absence of an important martial concept from Judo literature highlights the difference between Kano’s philosophy of martial practice, and those of virtually all the other modern martial art titans. Kano believed that ki as well as enlightenment and understanding would follow as a natural result of rigorous training in Judo. A modern proponent of Aikido, on the other hand, would argue that technical proficiency follows the development of Ki. Kano’s interpretation reflects the more classical approach of the Taoist philosophers; experience is the key to understanding; and not the other way around.

In this, Judo and Aikido are profoundly at odds on the most elemental philosophical level. To some, who see the sport element of Judo as distracting and destructive of martial idealism, it is ironic that Judo remains the most classical of martial philosophies in both inspiration and practice. This comes from Takuan, through Kano. The Monk Takuan was highly revered, and most recently, highly ignored, by the developers of the modern Budo disciplines, Kano excepted. The concept of mushin reflects the Taoist distrust of reason and intellect. "The idea is not to reduce the human mind to a moronic vacuity, but to bring into play its innate and spontaneous intelligence by using it without forcing it." As Lao tzu suggested, "if you try to grab hold of the world and do what you want with it, you won’t succeed." "Too much talk about it evaporates your understanding." Sport practice, is, ultimately, a profound training in experience. "Experience" is the yin of sport and the yang of sport.

Experience, not discourse, is the underlying philosophy of Tao. Kano’s attitude reflects this classical approach: Judoka practice randori to develop Ki. "It is not uncommon for young and strong judo players who have an opportunity to practice with very experienced, and perhaps quite old, judo men to find themselves handled with ease." The old Judo men do not lecture, when they lecture, on philosophy; in Judo, it cannot be taught, it must be experienced. So, when they lecture, it is on their experiences.

Kano, however, was not looking back when he formulated Judo, he was looking around him, at a broad world, and appreciating what he saw, brought many ideas back to Japan to include in Judo. The result was Judo.















12/21/09 07:31 PM