The Principles of Jiu-Jitsu

Journal of Combative Sport December 1999

Japan Times, March 30, 1913, pages 2 and 8; April 3, 1913, 6.

Ed. note: This article originally appeared in the New York Oriental Review, issue unknown, but the interview described took place during the winter of 1912-1913. On the way home from the United States, the ship Kano was on stopped in Honolulu, and it was then that he brushed the Shunyokan Dojo's famous signs. Annotation is by Joseph R. Svinth.

There is in Japan a Kano school of painting and there is a Kano school of jujutsu. Jigoro Kano, Director of the Higher Normal School in Tokyo, is the founder of the modern improved school of jujutsu, which he has renamed judo. Professor Kano, after twenty-seven years of patient study, and the constant expenditure of his private means, has as a result more than ten thousand actual pupils and hundreds of thousands of indirect ones now, including many who have studied with teachers trained by Kano himself. His central gymnasium in Tokyo, called Kodokan, was incorporated in 1909, and Kano himself endowed it with ten thousand yen [about US $4,300], so that this wonderful institution might be able to reconstruct, for that is what it really does, the moral and physical nature of the Japanese youth, without its founder's personal attention.

As a young student, Jigoro Kano was delicate in health, with a pale face and flabby muscles. He had, however, an indomitable spirit. His physical condition prompted him to take lessons from a jujutsu master at a time when everything Japanese was tabooed as out-of-date, and other young men were busy learning European games and gymnastics. His first master belonged to the Tenjin Shinyo school of jujutsu, the chief object of which was to teach policemen how to arrest criminals without injuring them. He sought later another master, of the Kito school, which specialized in the control of men in heavy armor. After acquiring a degree of proficiency in these two extreme forms of jujutsu, Kano began to investigate several other schools and methods, either with the few survivors of the feudal age of military accomplishments, or through documents handed down from generation to generation in the families of the great masters. In the midst of this exhaustive study, his own private gymnasium was established in June, 1882, in a Buddhist temple at Shitaya, Tokyo. Through theoretical investigation and practical experience, the fundamental principle of higher and more scientific jujutsu were now evolved in his mind. In brief these are: (1) to build up physical strength and endurance; (2) to attain intellectual alertness; (3) 'to acquire certain moral habits on the psycho-physiological basis of the constant practice of exercising mind and body simultaneously.' An old military art was thus recast into a mode of physical and moral training, with the retention, however, of the historical ideal of controlling brute strength with pliancy; of conquering an opponent by yielding to his superior strength. As a method of self-defense, Professor Kano's judo had a very great attraction to the Japanese people who had but recently witnessed their samurai orders relinquish their two swords. As a form of bodily culture, judo exercises and develops all parts of the human body evenly, and this with the least possible expenditure of time and money. The upbuilding of moral character -- slow deliberation and quick action; the idea of fair play; the idea of doing one's best always; an aesthetic conception of being, as for instance preferring to be beaten gracefully rather than to win by violence -- these are a few of the many things which the practice of judo brings.

The Kodokan gymnasium of Tokyo has been moved several times, its scope being enlarged at each removal to accommodate the ever-increasing number of pupils. For the first few years, the annual enrollment did not exceed ten students; but in 1886 ninety-eight registered, and 293 in the following year; while in 1890 there were 528 new pupils. Judo gymnasiums have been rapidly established in different schools throughout Japan, in the Naval College at Etajima, the Fifth Higher Middle School of Kumamoto, the Imperial Universities at Tokyo and Kyoto, the Peers' School of Tokyo, and others, so that today there is hardly a school of standing in Japan which does not teach judo; and the police and prison officials of Japan are also trained in judo, or in some form of jujutsu. Do not get the impression that Kano is in any sense a professional athlete: he is not, but is one of the leading educationists of his country. Upon graduating from the Tokyo Imperial University in 1882, he became a professor in the Peers' School; later he was councilor in the Department of Education then Director of the Kumamoto Higher Middle School, and now is Director of the Tokyo Higher Normal School. In 1885 Dr. F. W. Eastlake became his first foreign pupil, and in this curious way. This American teacher of English was a heavyweight wrestler, and assured Kano of his ability to manage three Japanese of the ordinary size without difficulty. The latter suggested a match with one of the smallest of his pupils, on the condition that the American should become his pupil in judo, if defeated. The terms were agreed upon, and the American Goliath met the Japanese David on the gymnasium mats at Tokyo. The stalwart American naturally seized the small Japanese by the arms and shoulders. In a few seconds, however, the clasping hands became tired, and more tired, and the left arm of the little David was shaken loose, and put about the waist of his opponent. Then, in an instant, the American was thrown flat.

He clapped his hands in admiration, even in the midst of his consternation, and learned judo. An interesting story about Kano is this -- when once he was on a voyage to Europe via the Indian Ocean, there was a huge, muscular Russian on board the steamer who challenged anybody to a wrestling match. [This was probably during his 1889 trip to Europe. If so, then Kano left Yokohama aboard the SS Caledonian on September 13, 1889. He changed to the SS Irrawaddy at Shanghai and arrived at Marseilles on October 15.] Kano was the only one who accepted the challenge, but taking compassion on his size, the Muscovite admonished the Japanese not to hurt himself by a useless display of mere courage. Some of the bystanders knew the secret, and encouraged them to go on. A temporary gymnasium was set up on the deck; passengers gathered about and without much ado, the big man was raised on the back of the small, and thrown over his shoulders, landing on the deck with a thud, but with the arm of the victor under his head to minimize the shock. The defeated man was disconsolate, and would not speak to his conqueror for several days; but they became good friends afterwards.

Of course, neither jujutsu nor judo can work miracles, for we cannot escape from our physical and moral limitations. But within these limitations, it is wonderful what the judo school of Kano has accomplished.

What Is Judo?


In an interview with Professor Kano while he was in New York, many questions were asked him by a representative of the [Oriental] Review concerning the essential principles of the jujutsu of his own school, and also as to the way in which the art is studied by foreigners in Japan and Europe. Pressed as he was for time, Mr. Kano was kind enough to give such answers that even the Western people who happen not to know anything about jujutsu can gather a pretty good idea of this unique athletic art of Japan from them.

"From my own observations in Europe," said Professor Kano, "it seems to me that the real essence of spirit of jujutsu is not, so far, fully understood in Western countries. I am not, however, surprised at this fact, for the task of endeavoring to make Western people understand what jujutsu really is in any satisfactory manner requires a man of several qualifications. He must certainly possess three distinctive qualifications -- (1) a thorough understanding of the practical side of the art, (2) a full grasp of its theory, and (3) a competent knowledge of a foreign language. Now I don't think I at present know anyone who can satisfy these three qualifications. For instance, some satisfy the first two qualifications, but their knowledge of a foreign language is not sufficient to impart their ideas to foreigners, and others may be well qualified in the last two points, but they lack in the practical side of the art. Such being the case, it is really difficult to find a competent teacher for foreigners. It may be said, therefore, that primarily owing to the lack of competent teachers, Western people do not, so far, understand what jujutsu really is."

"If circumstances permitted, I would be glad to give lectures to foreigners with an exhibition of the practical side of the art. I am not in a position to do so now. If I were asked to express the principles of jujutsu in a single sentence, I would say that it is an art which makes use of both the mind and body to the best possible advantage."

Foreign Students in Japan


"Who was the first foreigner to study judo at my gymnasium in Tokyo? Well, so far as I can recollect now, I think the late Mr. Eastlake -- professor of English, you know -- was the first foreigner who asked me to teach him judo. It was I think in 1885. Then a retired British Major, named Hughes, came to study at my gymnasium. As for their work, they studied the principles rather than the practical side of the art."

"At present, there are three foreign students in my institution who come regularly to practice. They are Mr. [David T.] Weed, an English gentleman [sic; his father was American and his mother was Japanese]; Mr. [Ernest J.] Harrison of the Japan Advertiser; and Mr. [W. E.] Steers, an English gentleman. Perhaps Mr. Steers is the most earnest foreign student I ever had. What a keen interest he takes in judo may be gathered from this story: It seems that he had started to study judo at home, but he soon found that he could not obtain such knowledge of the art as he wanted in his own country. Then he decided to go to Japan in order to satisfy his desire for the study. To be entirely free to apply himself, he had sold his house and disposed of all his family affairs, and then he started for the country where the subject of his study lay. So he came to Japan for the sole purpose of studying judo. In consideration of his adventure and sincerity, I have been conducting his training myself. When I left Japan for my present European trip last summer, I entrusted his training to one of my best assistant teachers." [FN1]

"You ask me what advantages and disadvantages foreigners have in studying judo as compared with Japanese. Generally speaking, foreigners are stronger than Japanese in the upper part of the body, but they are weak in the lower part of the body, especially the strength of their waists is poor. As may be expected from the fine physique of Western people, their sheer physical force is by far superior to that of Japanese. One thing which I notice in almost all foreign students is that they seem to have taken up their study and practice of judo rather out of curiosity, without any conviction. On the other hand, all Japanese students who come to me are sincere in their work.[FN2] We must admit, however, that the real merits of judo, as I have mentioned before, are not yet fully known to Western people, and that those who try to study it are not moved by any considerable amount of conviction. I hope the time will come when foreigners shall appreciate the true merits of our judo and study and practice it with sincerity."

Japan at the Olympic Games


"The result of the Japanese representation at the Olympic games held at Stockholm last summer [1912] was not very brilliant, as you all know, but according to your request, I shall give my own views. [FN3] First of all, it must be understood that what are called the Olympic games are not practiced in Japan, or perhaps I had better say, are not practiced in the way in which they are done in Europe and America. Another thing which must be taken into consideration is that the Olympic games are conducted on different principles from those prevailing in our country. Take the case of swimming. From olden times swimming has been much practiced in Japan, with the result that great achievement has been made in this line of sport. But Japanese representatives cannot show their full prowess at the Olympic games, for they must swim on entirely different principles [e.g., using different strokes] from those to which they are accustomed. As to the question whether there is any chance for Japan to hold her own at the Olympic games, I may answer that in certain lines she can 'cross swords' with other nations, provided that the principles which do not handicap Japanese representatives are adopted. Japan has, it seems to me, a very fair chance in the pole jump, for instance."

"The principal reason which induced Japan to seek representation at the Olympic games at Stockholm was that the participation in an international scheme might help to bring the East and West to a closer relationship. [FN4] Of course, we had in mind that the participation in international games would give an impetus to the athletic development of our nation. It is, however, our idea (at least it is my personal view) that we must have in view the general physical development of the whole nation rather than the creation of a selected number of good athletes."

Footnotes (hit your back button to return to the text)

FN1. Steers first went to Japan in 1903. There he met E.J. Harrison, and with Harrison he trained in jujutsu until returning to London in 1904. Once back home he quickly joined S.K. Uyenishi's judo club at Golden Square in Soho, and after Uyenishi left Europe the ever-enthusiastic Steers built a house that included a judo dojo. In 1911, Steers sold the house and went to Tokyo to enroll at the Kodokan, where he earned his 1-dan in 1912.

FN2. Some Japanese are also subject to this romantic tendency. As Masami Suga wrote in reference to the marriage of Crown Prince Naruhito and Masako Owada in June 1993:

"In a twelve-layer kimono, a Japanese woman can temporarily experience the timelessness of the Kozuku life, just as in a romance novel. It is fantasy, a convenient visual celebration of stardom. She has no intention of living her actual life in the Koshitsu, or go through a princess education course as Ms. Owada did prior to her marriage; all she needs to do is to buy a slice of exotic Japan, nicely pre-packaged and facilitated by the wedding industry. No training, practice, or rehearsal is required for the event, and the customer-friendly feature appeals to a generation who grew up with the television, for whom quick fun and an elaborate production have become a way of life. [Citation: W. Edwards, Modern Japan Through Its Weddings, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989, 135] The twelve-layer kimono, the national symbol of ancient Japan, is now available for sale. The modern Japanese can re-visit their past, re-discover their tradition, and re-define their Japanese ethnicity through the means they know the best -- buying."

Source: Masami Suga, "Exotic West to Exotic Japan: Revival of Japanese Tradition in Modern Japan," in Dress and Ethnicity, ed. by Joanne B. Eicher (Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, 1995), 114.

FN3. Kano, Hyozo Omori, and two runners (Tokyo Imperial University's Yahiko Mishima and Higher Normal College's Shizo Kanakuri) comprised the Japanese Olympic team that went to Stockholm in 1912. Neither Mishima nor Kanakuri won any medals or races, but everyone agreed that it was pleasant to see the world. Omori, by the way, was a graduate of the YMCA's Springfield College, and is best remembered today for having introduced basketball and volleyball into Japan in 1908. His wife also was involved in athletics, and was a leader of the Yurin-en, or Japanese playground movement.

FN4. Although this statement is an accurate recitation of then-current Olympic ideals, note that to obtain funding for the trip Kano had to tell the Japanese government that the Chinese were sending a team to Stockholm, and that it would be embarrassing if Europeans and Americans saw the Chinese doing something better than the Japanese.

JCS Dec 1999