Live Movement and Dead Movement
From Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, January 1951, 21-25. Reprinted courtesy of Richard Bowen on behalf of the Budokwai. Copyright © 2000 the Budokwai, London, England, http://budokwai.org.
This article has been produced in response to a direct request from the Editor [of the Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin]. It is hard to explain judo practise in print: the theory is even more difficult, and I do not feel competent to attempt it. I have not therefore even touched on the theoretical basis of the subject. The article is in colloquial style and intended to help the practise of keen brown or black belts with their judo career before them; it is NOT for prowling theorists.
Some years ago I spent several months studying a particular style of kendo kata. The teacher's method of training was to make his pupils practise the cuts and thrusts without an opponent, on the empty air. He paid great attention to a host of technical points, and it took a considerable time to get the main ones to his satisfaction. He then remarked: "You have learnt something, but your movements are as yet dead, and useless from the point of view of my school." He explained that simply to bring the sword down in the correct manner is not enough: it is necessary to imagine vividly one particular point in the air and strike at that. Only so will the movements become what he called "alive." He told us never to practise "dead" movement, as it misses the essential point, and added to me: "It is the same in your judo also." The two points of his training are to be noted: first, a technical study (including the correct use of tanden), and second, making the movements alive. Live movement is not necessarily connected with speed. The archery teachers talk about it, and in Japanese archery the bow is lifted slowly and the aim is taken slowly, with the tanden firm throughout. But in addition the student has to imagine strongly that the target is not a dead thing but a living opponent. This makes his posture "alive," and concentrates his mind. The same idea comes in all the arts. For instance, there are definite rules for writing a Chinese character with the brush; as you learn each one, the teacher seems to find another. And when all have been faithfully followed, how discouraging it is to hear the teacher say: "The rules have been observed, but the character is dead." My own teacher would never say what he meant more exactly than that. It was after about a year's practise that I brushed my first really "live" character, and I still remember the teacher's pleasure: "Now you have begun to understand the spirit of the brush. Think how you felt when you wrote that, and try to reproduce it always." And then the inevitable: "Probably it is your judo training, but I did not expect that a Europeanů" And he took it away to show his friends.
I have mentioned these personal experiences only because the distinction between live and dead movement is not easy to express, though it is clear and definite in the minds of the experts. Dr. Jigoro Kano never favoured ordinary athletics as an aid to judo training, because he considered that mostly the movement is "dead." He recommended exercises on judo lines, striking the air at a definite point and imagining an opponent there. Similarly, when stretching the body for exercise, one should raise the hands and try to "push up the sky." In the exercise which consists of spreading the feet wide apart and sinking down on to the heels alternately, one should try as it were to push the feet into the ground. Of the systems of exercise available here [in Britain], I think Muller's "My System" is the best, because it stresses abdominal control and correct breathing. But its benefits can be increased by the vivid imagination that the outstretched limbs are thrusting to the ends of space, and that the in-breath is filling the whole body from the top of the head to the tips of the fingers and toes. All these things have one purpose only, which is to make the body and mind increasingly "alive."
Relaxation is essential. Japanese judo men understand very well how to relax the body when they have two or three minutes to spare. Unless relaxation is practised, the abdominal control of movement will not be felt, and the attention will not become bright and clear. Sitting upright on the floor, balanced and in relaxation, the student concentrates on the point just below the navel for a few minutes daily: this helps him to get the "feel" of how to use his body properly when in action. Similarly, he can practise relaxation of the mind by sitting still and discarding his wandering thoughts one by one as they come up: this makes his mind calm and clear. Some teachers emphasise these special exercises more than others, but all agree that they help towards getting live movement.
They also say that live movement is felt first when performing a trick which the student can do so well that he does not have to think about it. It comes in time, by constant practise. He feels it once, and then he knows what he is trying for; if he keeps up his practise it returns more and more often. To get this feeling of live movement is one of the points of butsukari, and I might say here that some of the Budokwai members stop the butsukari movement too soon. It must be carried up to the point of kuzushi, when you can throw your opponent by the slightest twist of the loins. If it is cut short before that, the practise may simply degenerate into "dead" movement. You must get the feel of the moment of kuzushi, when, as they say, his toenails begin to scrape the ground. It is the lively attention directed towards this tiny moment that brings butsukari out of the category of dead movement. Special attention to relaxation, and with some people shutting the eyes, helps to bring it to consciousness.
I would urge young judo men who want to become really skilled to concentrate on one or two main tricks. In spite of some recent articles in this Quarterly, I still think this is the right road. When you are good enough to make your favourite throw without thinking about it at all, you will one day feel your body come alive, and once that happens you understand one of the secrets of judo. You may not be able to duplicate it whenever you like, but your understand it. It is like the moment of illumination that comes when you first get the trick of balancing on a bicycle, and you never forget it. Of course, if you do not continue to practise, it will not come to you very often, but still you have grasped the central point. You can bring this moment nearer by concentration on one main trick. A teacher gave me the figure of 100,000 repetitions as about the number before a throw becomes natural and perfect, that is, "alive." Once you have got the idea, each new throw tackled needs far fewer repetitions. Of course the figure is not meant to be exact, and it has been criticised here on the ground that some judo men acquire perfect performance at an age before they could have got through 100,000 repetitions. I can only say that I have never seen or heard of them.
"Live movement" is one of the most valuable things judo can give to its students. If you have understood it to some extent, you have an enormous advantage in other forms of activity. A judo man may know many tricks and moves in theory, but if his judo does not give him the key to activities outside judo, then he has not yet made his movement live. The same applies to the other arts which study these things. For a joke I once practised with a kendo man who knew nothing of judo, not even how to hold. He displayed none of the hesitation and dithering which we associate with beginners and I found his first unorthodox attacks, delivered with the speed and confidence which we should associate with a high grade, extremely disconcerting. Of course his ignorance of technique told against him in the end, but I was deeply impressed by his performance.
Judo men who are still students should not let their practise become "dead" when practising with a beginner, or when they are tired. With a beginner, try to practise your favourite throw on the left side, or try some unfamiliar movements, but do not let yourself fall into a "good enough" attitude. Similarly when very tired, try not to splash about with a helpless feeling. If it is your last practise, finish up with a real burst of attack, properly directed and executed. If it is not, then recognise that you are tired and try your throws less often, but when you do try them, don't let yourself get wild. I may add this, that when very tired it sometimes happens that the right feeling for a movement comes more readily than when fresh. Sometimes the teachers try to tire their pupils out completely with the expectation that the relaxation caused by fatigue may prove fruitful.
As recommended by the kendo teacher quoted at the beginning, you should try to avoid practising "dead" movement. For this reason I do not agree with Mr. [Eric] Dominy's point that as some black belts seem exhausted after five minutes of contest, they should all do some track running as training. It mistakes the nature of the problem. Judo is not a contest of strength or endurance, but of skill. If black belts in constant practise do become exhausted in this way, it simply means that they are wasting their energy. The solution is not to provide more energy for them to waste, but to use properly what they have. Of course, if they are really out of training, they must get into training, but the constant practise of judo is the best way for them to do it. I never knew any Japanese who trained for a contest in any other way than by getting plenty of fresh air, fresh food and good sleep, and plenty of contest practise.
One last practical point. The judo man who has advanced to about brown belt will occasionally find in his randori (if he is sufficiently relaxed) that he suddenly has an impulse to attack without thinking about it. Generally he feels disconcerted and checks himself, as he has not gone through the State ceremony of making up his mind to launch an attack. The result is a futile little dart in and out. It is a great mistake, and leads to hesitating and ineffective judo. These involuntary impulses to attack are highly prized in judo, and should never be checked. If you once start checking them, you will always have a poor technique. It is better for a long time that you train yourself always to go through with an attack once begun.
I know that some of my readers are burning to tell me that we do sometimes see a skilful man come in very fast on one of these impulses and then go out just as fast without having really tried the throw. But that is not because he consciously checks his movement, but because his body feels of itself that the relative positions are wrong, and another impulse, just as unpremeditated, takes him to safety. It has nothing in common with the spasm of confusion or fear that overtakes the beginner.
I have tried to stick to things which will be of practical benefit to some of the young black and brown belts. The waters of theoretical controversy are deep, and I do not want to plunge into them. The points given are not my personal opinions, but what I have heard. I know it is sometimes said that a man may be very expert in judo and yet not really know what he is doing, by which is meant that he does not know the mechanical or anatomical implications. This has always seemed to me a mistaken proposition. I do admit that to learn the mechanical explanation of a judo trick gives a special satisfaction, and I always try to give it when teaching. But the mechanical description is never complete even in its own sphere, because it treats the opponent's body as something inert and rigid, whereas in fact it is not only living but conscious. And in advanced theory that becomes of great importance. Furthermore, the mechanical explanation is a description of only a part of what is going on, and not the most important part. It tells you nothing about how to produce abdominal control, how to produce live movement, how to gain the psychological lead on the opponent. And these are really the essence of the thing.
Many great pianists have no complete knowledge of the mechanics of the arm and hand, or even of the piano itself, as was clear from the correspondence which followed the publication of the late Astronomer Royal's book on Mathematics and Music. And it remains to be shown that it would be an advantage to them if they had. I do not think that this ignorance is any reason for saying that they do not know what they are doing when they play. In the same way, though there are many judo masters who thoroughly understand the mechanics of judo (I admit it is a satisfaction to know them), there are other famous teachers who have not bothered. But I have always found that they knew exactly what they were doing.
Summary for Practise:
- Practise physical relaxation by keeping attention in the tanden and the body balanced and soft, especially the legs.
- Practise mental relaxation by removing agitation from the mind, especially over-anxiety to win and fear of loss.
- Practise one main throw and try always to find the point of kuzushi when executing it. Don't be just satisfied with throwing the other man, but try to become conscious of this tiny moment.
- Trust your impulses to attack, letting the body come in freely and going right through with them.JCS Apr 2000