Effortless Perfection

Robert Hudson

In our striving to learn Jujitsu there is a spoken and unspoken truth that we all desire to perform a technique with grace and fluidity, perfect motion. To also have a state of mind in harmony and awareness. Past Masters say that Martial Arts can be felt both internally and externally perfect movement. For instance, Ueshiba always referred to his Aikido as a path to perfect Harmony in motion! The desire to be able to perform a movement with “Shibumi” I see as a natural drive inherent in all people. It seems innate to express whatever we are doing in a way that is as the Japanese say full of “Shibumi” or “Effortless Perfection.”

Okazaki says that FIRST Jujitsu is a way to perfection of character, secondly self-defense. This is true, because hurting others as a reason to do the arts is never satisfactory. Mind you, we are a fighting art, of that there is no doubt! But the day to day practice of Jujitsu isn’t supposed to be an experience in joy of seeing others get hurt. Rather, Jujitsu is our vehicle to put to rest the inner turmoil of fear, anger, tension, and many other dark aspects of our character. And to replace it with qualities such as calmness, satisfaction, compassion, centeredness, in other words heading towards “Effortless Perfection.”

For me, the practice or training in Jujitsu produces a feeling of flow, a grace within movement. Or as the Chinese say, an increase flow of Chi! This allows me to see the tension in my partner as never before, and this causes me to want to guide them through my movement versus destroying them. This has come as a natural development from years of training. Danzan Ryu therefore, is not about hurting others, rather, it is a way to find harmony in action. To find a way to resolve conflict by peaceful means, we always feel better for it! Again, Shibumi is a natural urge that needs to find expression.

So Shibumi is a way to conduct ourselves in all our activities to whatever extent we understand it, or can express it in our lives. Striving to develop Shibumi in our training is a noble cause and through Jujitsu is found to be a place of strength versus weakness as many may misinterpret it. We are lucky indeed to have an art such as ours to enable us to practice and find such wonderful qualities within ourselves!

May this convention be for you a deeper grasping of the fine principle of Shibumi!

 From the AJJF 49th Annual National Convention program.

What is Shibumi?

The following excerpt is from Shibumi by Trevanian. Published by The Ballantine Books, New York. Copyright © 1979 by Trevanian. ISBN 0-345-31180-9 Book reviews of Shibumi are available from Books.

“. . . Tell me, Nikko. Will you miss Shanghai?”

Nicholai considered for a second. “No.”

“Will you feel lonely in Japan?”

Nicholai considered for a second. “Yes.”

“I shall write to you.”


“No, not often. Once a month. But you must write to me as often as you feel the need to. Perhaps you will be less lonely than you fear. There are other young people studying with Otake-san. And when you have doubts, ideas, questions, you will find Otake-san a valuable person to discuss them with. He will listen with interest, but will not burden you with advice.” The General smiled. “Although I think you may find one of my friend’s habits of speech a little disconcerting at times. He speaks of everything in terms of Go. All of life, for him, is a simplified paradigm of Go”.

“He sounds as though I shall like him, sir.”

“I am sure you will. He is a man who has all my respect. He possesses a quality of . . . how to express it? . . . of shibumi.”

Shibumi, sir?” Nicholai knew the word, but only as it applied to gardens or architecture, where it connoted an understated beauty. “How are you using the term, sir?”

“Oh, vaguely. And incorrectly, I suspect. A blundering attempt to describe an ineffable quality. As you know, shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges aswabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is . . . how does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that.”

Nicholai’s imagination was galvanized by the concept of shibumi. No other ideal had ever touched him so. “How does one achieve this shibumi, sir?”

“One does not achieve it, one . . . discovers it. And only a few men of infinite refinement ever do that. Men like my friend Otake-san.”

“Meaning that one must learn a great deal to arrive at shibumi?”

“Meaning, rather, that one must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity.”

From that moment, Nicholai’s primary goal in life was to become a man of shibumi; a personality of overwhelming calm. It was a vocation open to him while, for reasons of breeding, education, and temperament, most vocations were closed. In pursuit of shibumi he could excel invisibly, without attracting the attention and vengeance of the tyrannical masses.

Kishikawa-san took from beneath the tea table a small sandalwood box wrapped in plain cloth and put it into Nicholai’s hands. “It is a farewell gift, Nikko. A trifle.”

Nicholai bowed his head in acceptance and held the package with great tenderness; he did not express his gratitude in inadequate words. This was his first conscious act of shibumi.

Although they spoke late into their last night together about what shibumi meant and might mean, in the deepest essential they did not understand one another. To the General, shibumi was a kind of submission; to Nicholai, it was a kind of power.

Both were captives of their generations.