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DATE : 17-08-22 06:07
Judo’s philosophical roots in Taoism
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Judo’s philosophical roots in Taoism
Dr. Gene Shin

As we all know, Do is a variant of the original Chinese term, Tao, so I would like to begin by discussing Judo’s philosophical roots in Taoism. Just as there are three parts to every throw, there are three levels of intellectual comprehension in Taoism. The first level addresses the question of how we can understand the world around us. What is the meaning of Being, of Origin?

There is something which exists prior to heaven and earth, which was the Mother of Heaven and Earth, so complete, so prevalent, and so prevailing, it can not be completely grasped, but only be described as Tao, which literally means Way or Path. As such, all existence is one. Where Buddhists might say that since all is constantly transitory and changing, nothing is real, or Plato taught that all we know is a flawed reflection of what is perfectly true, Taoists say that reality is not abstract; it is concrete, but it is also in constant motion. So the first level of comprehending Tao is to be aware that the vast and pervasive forces of nature and society cannot be fully described or rationally understood; they can only be appreciated so one can move with them.

However, actually doing this is very challenging. One day, a new Judo student flooded me with questions about every tiny detail in every motion. In fact, he asked so many questions we spent more time talking than moving. One reason for this was that he happened significantly older than I am, who also happens to be Chinese as well as a full professor in statistical mathematics. The combination of all these qualities triggered deeply ingrained responses to respect elders, to listen quietly and patiently, especially to senior Asian men. I answered each question as well as I could, and tried to get him to carry on with the technique, only to be interrupted by another exclamation like, “But this doesn’t make sense! How can I do this? If I pull this way, then I should be able to do this!”

His confusion and distress are understandable. The concept of Ju, gentleness, is understood in the sense that, rather than resisting force with force, it is more efficient to yield before a force in order to turn it to one’s own advantage. In practice, however, it means balancing two roles, tori and uke.

Tori is the partner committing a throw; literally it means the one giving action or energy. Uke is the partner being thrown or receiving an action or energy. However, in order to throw someone, you must be sensitive enough to feel the precise moment when his balance shifts in the right way for you to move with that shift, adding to it just enough to execute your technique.

So, in order to be an effective tori, you must be a good uke at the same time. It is a lot to deal with, and most beginners are very stiff as they try to keep everything clear in their minds. Slowly, over time, I have learned that the more relaxed you are, the more able you are to throw even people much larger than yourself, and the most relaxed person is the hardest to throw.

My student, trained for decades in intellectual rigor, was caught in the habit of analyzing everything he did rationally, and was frozen by trying to juggle too many physical variables in his mind.  Finally, I burst out with a laugh and said, “you will never be able to understand this by taking it apart and analyzing the pieces separately. You have to get out of your head for a moment and just do it!” He looked at me in shock for a second, then he laughed and threw me.