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Judo, or the Path of Kindness (Sage Advice for Navigating the World)


A Japanese martial art and its philosophy provide prudent, temperate clues for daily life and our relationships.

The word “kindness” is probably not the first one to come to mind when one thinks of martial arts like judo, or its predecessor, jujitsu. These are characterized by their vigor and dynamism, and even by their apparent violence. But the Japanese jūdō (the root of the names of both martial arts) actually means “the gentle way, ” and it defines an entire philosophy which can easily be applied to daily life, even for those who don’t formally practice either martial art.

Judo was developed in 1882 by the Japanese doctor, Jigoro Kano. As a young man, he studied, in depth, both the writings of Confucius and the art of Japanese calligraphy. In judo, he combined the techniques of karate and jujitsu, along with defense methods he developed and perfected himself over many years. The foundations of the philosophy of judo (which should theoretically be applied by any true practitioner to other areas of life) include those of non-resistance, and kindness to anyone who wants to impose his or her will upon one. Such softness isn’t static, but it is peaceful. The judo practitioner waits to be attacked and defends him or herself using the strength and momentum of the attacker. If the attacker pushes, the defender uses the same force to throw the attacker to the ground. If the attacker pulls, he or she is thus pushed, again using the same force.

A painting of Judo fighters, with a warm coloured circle surrounding their hands

This brings us to another of the pillars of the philosophy of judo: “maximum efficiency, minimum effort.” An economy of resources is used in fighting. This implies that the opponent gets tired, that he or she will use energy without harming us, and such that finally the attacker can be defeated using movements that involve the least possible effort. Dr. Kano defined this as the correct use of physical and spiritual force, and it involves the development of one’s own character to the point at which one is capable of controlling energy and reactions, especially at moments of danger.

Thus, judo implies thinking of the good of the opponent, and never hurting an opponent when it’s unnecessary. It’s a deeply civilized measure, especially when we’re speaking of physical confrontations between two people. Finally, one more lesson can be found within this intelligent way of thinking: learning to fall. The practice of a martial art often results in falls, and one of the most complex and important techniques is in learning to fall in any way and any direction without hurting ourselves. It’s something we might call “the art of falling.”

A painting of a white and black crane, with the black crain diving underwater.

What might happen if we applied this philosophy of judo in our daily lives and our relationships? In the first place, acting with gentleness and pacifism doesn’t only mean a fuller and more peaceful life, it also means not wasting energy in conflicts that can be avoided. The same softness could be transferred to our language. That is, we could use the power of softness to communicate and, perhaps, to better achieving what we want. Finally, learning to fall is also a good lesson for dealing with the defeats and losses that are naturally part of life: learning to collapse emotionally, while hurting ourselves as little as possible.

In creating judo (a system that reminds us of many of the teachings of Zen), Kano created not only a martial art but also a way of life that makes sense even 120 years later. It’s a path which seeks peace and teaches us not to respond violently to violence (for example, upon the receipt of some aggressive communication). A true judo practitioner has nothing to prove. His or her task is to develop tolerance and to foster peace, and to remind the world that softness will always be more powerful than force.


*Images: 1) Cod.I.6.2º.1, 1561 / Creative Commons; 2) Jigoro Kano and Kyuzo Mifune / Creative Commons; 3) Public Domain

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