Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jim Elliot was a judo master

In 1956, Jim Elliot, a Christian missionary in Equador, was murdered by members of the Waodani tribe that he was attempting to make contact with.  His life and mission and death are commemorated by the fabulous movie, End of the Spear.  Elliot is perhaps best known for a famous quote that his wife, Elizabeth pulled from his journals after his death...
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
So, what does this have to do with judo?  I can think of three parallels right off the bat... 
  • Kano gave up on the 'unsafe techniques' of jujitsu that he couldnt get really good at anyway because they couldn't be safely randori-tested, and because they were socially unacceptable at the time.  In exchange, this allowed Kano and his students to perfect a smaller set of techniques, to thoroughly randori-test everything, and to get so good at what they did that Kano-ryu (Kodokan judo) became the predominant form of jujitsu in Japan and throughout the world.
  • Strength and speed are fleeting.  They are subject to inexorably diminishing returns as one ages.  Sure, you can (and should) exercise and eat right and take care of yourself, but that's just pushing that decline a little bit down the road.  True-ju classical judo holds these ephemeral physical attributes in reserve, so that the judoka can get better at timing, mobility, and strategy - qualities that tend to persist better well into advanced age. (Note that I'm not saying 'no strenghth and speed' - I'm saying 'timing, mobility, and strategy first')
  • Static balance is an illusion in the context of the human body. You cannot ever be in a condition of static balance (standing strong and immovable in jigotai, for instance), so give up on that in favor of mobility - dynamic balance.  This will make you quite hard to throw and it will destroy your opponent's ability to try to balance themselves.
It is true-ju judo to give up that which you cannot keep in order to gain that which you cannot lose.  And for that reason, I say Jim Elliot was a master of judo.
Patrick Parker
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