Trevor Pryce Leggett was a British judo teacher, author, translator, and head of the BBC's Japanese Service for 24 years. He was one of the first Europeans to study martial arts in Japan. Leggett served in the Ministry of Information during World War II. After the war, he taught judo at the Budokwai and worked in Japanese language services at the BBC. He held the title of Shihan, and the rank of 6th dan in judo from the Kodokan. Leggett helped introduce Japanese culture to the United Kingdom and was honoured for this by being inducted into Japan's Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1984. He also produced many works on Eastern philosophy.
Leggett worked in Japanese language services at the BBC for more than 20 years, becoming a well-respected colleague
Leggett had begun teaching judo at the Budokwai in 1945, and the next year joined the external services of the BBC as Japanese editor of the Far Eastern section. He became programme organiser of the BBC's Japanese Section in 1950. In 1954, he was made a senior instructor at the Budokwai. During the 1950s, he helped 16 British judo practitioners travel to Japan to advance their training, and also arranged for Japanese practitioners to visit the UK.
During his time teaching in the Budokwai, Leggett held a two-hour class every Sunday afternoon. Attendance was by invitation only and was restricted to those holding brown belt rank or above. Leggett's student, Syd Hoare (2000), claimed that "Virtually all the key figures of British judo graduated from this class." Leggett also held a resuscitation class once each year. In these classes, students would pair up and take turns strangling their partners to unconsciousness, and then reviving them under his supervision.
"[The Renshuden] was started in 1959 by Trevor Leggett, who saw the need for a dojo that would focus exclusively on people who were training for competition judo, which was then becoming increasingly important. [The Budokwai and the Renshuden] lived in a weird symbiosis, sharing top Japanese teachers...while members trained together at either location and then competed against each other with startling ferocity, most famously at the annual shows staged by the Budokwai at the Albert Hall."
In 1964, Leggett abruptly stopped teaching judo. He had apparently decided he had done enough in this sphere and began writing books about judo, budo, Eastern philosophy, and Zen Buddhism. He held the rank of 5th dan in shogi (Japanese chess) and wrote books on this topic as well. Leggett remained with the BBC until he retired in 1969. He was remembered as a courteous and kindly colleague, well respected for his extensive knowledge of Japan.
Leggett published over 30 books, including A first Zen reader (1960/1982), Samurai Zen: The warrior koans (1985/2003), and Three ages of Zen (1993). Dunne and Bowen (2003) assert that Leggett's greatest literary contribution was, however, the translation of a (then) newly discovered Sanskrit commentary from around AD 700. This endeavour took him 17 years.
On 3 May 1984, Leggett was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 3rd Class (Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon), by the Japanese government for his services in introducing Japanese culture to the UK. In 1987, he received the All-Japan Buddhist Association Literary Award for Translations of Japanese.
In his later years, Leggett lectured on philosophy at the Buddhist Society (where he was a regular lecturer), the Theosophy Society, and other institutions. He was dismayed by the direction judo had taken, seeing it as a chase for medals. Through the 1980s and 1990s, his writings focused on philosophy rather than judo. Despite having severely impaired eyesight from his advanced age, he was still working on his next book during his final days.
Leggett died of a stroke in the early morning on 2 August 2000 at St Mary's Hospital, London. His funeral was held on the morning of 11 August 2000 at the Mortlake Crematorium. One of his Japanese friends once described him as "more Japanese than the Japanese"—his adherence to Japanese culture extended even to wearing the fundoshi, the loincloth worn only by the most traditional Japanese men. Hoare (2000) wrote: "It is no exaggeration to say that one of the great figures of world judo has passed away."