By Sanjay Kabir Bavikatte

Photo credit:   Airbear Photography

Photo credit: Airbear Photography

In judo dojos in Japan, every training session involves several bouts of sparring called randori. There is no holding back in a randori and it is pretty much a throw or be thrown match. In the heat of a randori, my old Japanese sensei in his heavily accented English would yell: “No singingu.” Now he wasn’t saying this because I was inclined to burst into song while being subjected to grievous bodily harm. What he meant was – no thinking in randori which got me thinking about ‘not thinking.’

The great judo technician Kyuzo Mifune used to describe the essence of randori as: ‘No idea of death in facing death, no idea of life in living life.’ When asked what this meant, he would relate the story of Basho, the Japanese haiku master. Basho on his deathbed was asked by his students to compose a farewell haiku. To this Basho replied he wrote every haiku as if it were his farewell verse.

Perhaps Basho’s response and Mifune’s aphorism can give us an insight into not singing or thinking in randori or in life. The obvious interpretation of ‘no thinking’ is that with conscious training or living, the body develops its own wisdom. One then trusts the body to intuitively respond to the situation at hand rather than override it with conscious thought. This makes sense in terms of what soccer players describe as being in the ‘zone’ when they pull off spectacular tackles and goals that seem to happen without any conscious thought.

But there is a more subtle interpretation of ‘no thinking,’ and that is to be fully present to what is unfolding at any given moment- to be here now, rather than dwelling in the past or anticipating the future. Randori especially, demands a searing present awareness, where change is the only constant. Nothing can be planned, nothing can be anticipated, and one can only respond unselfconsciously and truthfully to what unfolds- No idea of death in facing death, no idea of life in living life.

The art of judo then is like the art of life itself - no heed is paid to victory or defeat. Instead every move is like a Basho haiku, an exquisite farewell played out with courage and openness…. And of course ‘no singingu’