A tradition of manners in the combat arts

Sports Notes
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The Independent Culture
GENTLEMANLY BEHAVIOUR is a quaint concept for modern sport. It has little commercial or tactical merit. So Danny Kingston and Ryan Birch, both with European titles to their credit, must have been astonished when, because of a relatively minor breach of manners - they came back late after drinking and locked the door against the coach - they found themselves, in sporting parlance, on the benches. Today, in Bratislava, the European Judo Championships will start without them.

It is a paradox, but true, that there is a long tradition of manners in the combat arts. This applies as much to Western styles - fencing, jousting, and even boxing and wrestling - as it does to the martial arts of the East. But it is stronger in judo and karate-do, not least because of the name. "Do" means "the way", with the implication of a journey of character building.

When Jigoro Kano founded judo from the remnants of ju-jitsu ("the gentle art") in the late 1880s in Japan, the unarmed combat arts were going through a bad spell - they were the preserve, more often than not, of thugs. Kano saw the role that the training could play in the development of young men and, having survived the rough path, sought to transform it into a new, respected form. Thus, when he opened his first dojo in the eight- mat room of Eishoji, a Buddhist temple in Tokyo, he called it "judo" - the gentle or yielding way.

He spent much of his life promoting it throughout the world and the etiquette of the formal bows, and concept of consideration for one's partner was integral to his teaching . . . no matter how rough was the actual combat. Trevor Leggett, the senior British judoka who practised in Japan before the war, remembers it as "very rough".

But manners were observed. In his book, The Dragon Mask and Other Judo Stories in the Zen Tradition, Leggett points out that the old Japanese texts speak of the opponent as "teki" but Kano used the word "aite" which means "the one who faces you".

And even though Kano was a prime figure in the international Olympic movement, he was ambivalent about whether his beloved judo should become part of the Games, and thus become a sport in the modern sense. He was concerned that it would be compromised by the search for medals. Certainly, he forbade his students to fight in the streets, no matter what the circumstances.

The toughs from the old ju-jitsu schools caught on to this quickly and used to challenge the judo men - who were forced into undiginified retreat: they had to run away. When one, Toku, ran into a cul-de-sac he had to face his attackers, and put eight away, a few with serious injuries. Kano, nevertheless, banned Toku from training at his dojo for six months. (Leggett wondered if Toku had run into the cul-de-sac on purpose).

Was it really in this kind of spirit that Udo Quellmalz, the German Olympic champion now in charge of the British team, banned Kingston and Birch? By punishing them, it is almost certain he was throwing away at least one medal, and it could have been a gold.

A quietly spoken man of polite demeanour - though known as an expert in the arcane judo corner of shimewaza ("strangles") - he doesn't talk about manners. He left that to the official announcement from the British Judo Association. He says, more practically, that if these players don't learn manners now, they will not win major medals at the world championships in Birmingham in October.

So, his move could be seen as a clever tactic or a gamble - medal famine now for future feast. But perhaps Jigoro Kano would approve of an attitude that promotes the view that behaviour and self-discipline is as necessary a prerequisite to sporting success as talent and fitness.

Philip Nicksan is The Independent's judo correspondent. `The Dragon Mask and Other Judo Stories in the Zen Tradition' by Trevor Leggett is published by Ippon Books (pounds 7.99)