One of the persistent images in the imagination of martial artists comes from movies where a wise old Asian instructor has mastered technique to such a level that strength and size are meaningless.
But is there any basis in reality to this, or is it merely a movie myth?
I have a collection of old judo books that are interesting for the fact that some of the “new” techniques of BJJ are demonstrated in these WWII-era judo books. Every bit as interesting as the techniques are the theory chapters.
One of the best books (likely long out of print) is “Best Judo” and features the distillation of decades of knowledge from several of the greatest judo competitors in history. Concepts and philosophies of the top Japanese judo fighters are a fascinating glimpse into the methods of the highest level coaches from the birthplace of judo and jiu-jitsu. Their words are as true today as they were decades ago.
One of the authors, Isao Inokuma, introduces the idea of shin-gi-tai, which translates to “spirit, skill, and power.”
“You have to train hard so that these three elements will be in harmony with each other when you face your opponent in the judo arena,” Isao said.
The idea of judo is that “softness overcomes hardness”. Technique is paramount, and a smaller man can defeat a larger man.
Another author said, “There are some who, upon hearing this, believe that even without strength, they can defeat their opponents. But this is false…Adages like ‘softness overcomes hardness’ or ‘A small man can defeat a big man’ only apply when your basic physical powers are on par with the opponent’s.”
Inokuma explains that in international competition, superior physical conditioning had at times overwhelmed the higher technical level of the Japanese judokas. This provides a strong impetus for the Japanese to improve their team’s physical conditioning regimens.
When studying the classical Japanese approach to judo, the purity and aesthetic of clean technique is foremost. Rough techniques that are muscled are frowned upon as inferior judo.
Yet one of the top judo minds reinforces the idea that strength does matter! A balance of fighting spirit, technique, and physical conditioning are the three parts to “shin-gi-tai”.
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