Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kano's rainbow nation - Part 3

I am constantly amazed at seeing this happen. The American who has may have a cultural mindset that he bow to no man is totally comfortable performing the rei to his sensei and other judoka. A Brit who suffered seeing his father being interned in a POW camp in Singapore in WW2 and vowed never to buy anything Japanese is now trying to pronounce words like Harai Goshi while trying to perform that exact technique

In my dojo, I am blessed by the multitude of nationalities that train there. And I have to admit for someone as cynical as I am, that I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see Korean white belts eagerly learning from their Japanese sensei, a remarkable sight given the degree of traditional animosity between the two groups. An Iranian judoka gives his Japanese opponent a hug after an incredibly intense randori, that is his cultural sign of respect and affection. For the Japanese, where this display of physical contact is not the norm, accepts it good naturedly.

Even on a more personal front, it allows me, a very Westernised Malaysian chinese, to interact with my more traditional chinese speaking brethren in a way that is filled with bonhomie and fun, while in any other situation; the degree of uncomfortableness and unfamiliarity would give way to plentiful moments of awkward silence. It's where the different races in this country which sometimes clash over the smallest things, learn to give respect, tolerate and even appreciate each other.

Judo doesn't solve all the world's problems. Global warming won't be solved by getting everyone to do Judo. But on a micro scale, if Kano could have seen what it was going to do in terms of uniting at least a small group of rainbow coloured individuals in peace and harmony, at least for a short while, he'd be chuffed

Of that, I have no doubt

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kano's rainbow nation - Part 2

Rather than learn a few styles of jujitsu and safe guard the authenticity of the techniques, he melded them, modified a few and applied a new concept to it. The techniques were now for exercise, recreation or even self defence but now, the latter was not the overriding objective. Nor was learning it for the reason of maiming and killing, although they still could do those, with a modicum of modification

But that wasn't enough. Unlike a lot of the people of his day, he saw a world outside Japan that..and this is the important bit...could benefit from the practice of Judo. Not defeated in competition to prove the superiority of the Japanese race (although I have no doubt there were a few who though that as there are those who still think that these days whether in regard to Judo or other arts), but because it could enhance the quality of their lives, irregardless of whether they were Japanese were not.

The codified techniques meant that there were no 'secret' techniques held back to ensure dominance by one group over another. Randori practice meant that even if this occured, it would be for a short while until the counterweight would shift in the opposite direction. And because there were no real secrets save for hard, regular dedicated practice - everyone could do it. Thus, it spread to the world

Being made an Olympic sport did not hurt it's chances either. But one great thing about Judo, is that in not overly pushing the cultural element, it ironically enabled it to be embraced in far greater numbers and I am sure, has done a lot more to carry a slice of Japanese culture to the world that many would not have been exposed to.

Kano's rainbow nation -Part 1

The Japanese have usually been a closed society where not many things are revealed to outsiders, especially in the area of martial arts. Now, this goes for other societies as well. The chinese were (and some still are) particular about teaching Kung Fu to non-chinese. Sometimes, other chinese are even prohibited, with the 'secret' techniques residing within the clan, or the family

Judo is one of those very rare abberations where divisions of race, gender and societal differences are broken down very quickly. When Judo was established, it was not long after that women were allowed to practice it. On the mat, no one knows if you're a rich man or a poor one, in a judogi, the only means of telling someone apart is the belt colour and how hard they throw you.

It is even more remarkable that Jigaro Kano then proceeded to open the practice of Judo to non-Japanese, to the extent that legends like Yukio Tani and Ishikawa were sent to Britain and Europe to spread the gospel of Judo. I suspect that this may have much to do with Kano's upbringing.

When he was young, he was enamoured with American baseball, which he was exposed to as a student in an international school. Mind you, remember that Japan at that time had no sport, or a concept of sport. Martial arts was for killing, and that was it. But by that time, it was starting to fall out of favour with a populace more attuned to the change that modern society was bringing. Western clothes and technology were more relevant that learning jujitsu from an ever decreasing pool of teachers. And furthermore, it was archaic. It was the equivalent of learning the art of the quick draw from Wyatt Earp in the 21st century. Good for a yarn but quite impractical.

What Kano did was a fundamental paradigm shift. He didn't just learn the old arts as a keepsake. No, he changed their operating structure by applying a sporting mindset to it. He made the mental leap and understood that Jujitsu as practiced and taught as it was, would gradually die out, even if he himself learnt and practiced it meticulously to to the end. He was just one person trying to stop the tide from coming in.

But how did this look in practice?

(To be continued in part 2)