Sanjay Kabir Bavikatte

Photo credit:  Airbear Photography

Most judoka who have practiced the art for a while will tell you that good Judo ultimately comes down to sensitivity. It is not easy to describe this sensitivity but I will try anyway. Sensitivity in Judo is an intuitive awareness of the micro-shifts and changes in one’s own balance and the balance of the opponent. It requires an open present awareness that isn’t clouded by any preconceived ideas or strategies about a match. Sensitivity is the key on which hinges the success of speed, power and technique.

Mifune, the patron philosopher of Judo, used to refer to this as a state of cool and ever-adaptable mind that is not thinking of advantage or disadvantage, but responds without hesitation. I suppose what Mifune meant by this is a kind of body intuitiveness. This intuitiveness can be learnt by the body and is usually the result of hours of training. Judo sensitivity is a bit like walking or driving or speaking a language. They all require a conscious application of mind when learning, but once they are learnt, they become a part of muscle memory. When this happens, we don’t think about walking, driving or speaking when we do them. It just happens. In fact thinking about how to walk, drive or speak while walking, driving or speaking ends up confusing us.

It is this non-thinking, open and adaptable mind that allows for body sensitivity in Judo. There is no thought of winning or losing or advantage or disadvantage. There is only the present moment awareness that is constantly alert and responsive to what is occurring. When this happens, muscle memory takes over because it isn’t being overridden by the mind. The body becomes acutely sensitive to everything that is happening around it. This enables a judoka to quickly perceive and respond to opportunities with the efficient use of speed, power and technique.

In fact this is the essence of the first principle of Judo- seiryoku zenyo roughly translated as ‘maximum efficient use of energy.’ It is true that the efficient use energy is a result of the right application of technique coupled with speed and power. However as judokas know, even the best application of technique will fail if the timing is off. In fact repeated application of technique with poor timing will result in a waste of energy tiring the judoka. But good technique at the right time works all the time. The right timing is nothing but body sensitivity that as Mifune says is a result of a cool and ever-adaptable mind.