Journal of Combative Sport, Sept 2000

Judo and Its Masters

By Kyuzo Mifune

From Japan Times and Mail, December 11, 1933, 5.

[Mr. Mifune is one of the most accomplished Judoists in Japan, who has the fame of having never been defeated in the numberless tournaments he had in his life. He is a Judo master of the 8th grade, next only to the highest, and is particularly renowned for the wonderful feat he once displayed in one of his public contests by flinging down as many as seven rivals successively with his single arm.]

S. Fujita

Judo is as good an exercise for physical training as boxing and wrestling. But in its original nature, Judo is a military art for self-defence. Besides flinging, pressing and throttling, therefore, which serves the end of physical training, it kicks, thrusts and knocks whenever the exigency of the situation requires for defence. Its contest with boxing or wrestling would thus do no sufficient justice to itself. For in such tournaments Judo tricks are generally confined to those intended for physical training only.

Judo comprises all principles governing the feats of not only boxing and wrestling, but fencing and even swimming, and as such must be regarded as one of the best sports looking towards physical training.

Origin of Judo

The birth of Judo is to be traced as far back as prehistoric days. According to some historians, Judo in Japan was imported from China. It is believed that the art was brought into being first by a Chinese named Chen Yuan-pin, and that it was imported to this country by a physician called Akiyama. [EN1]

In reality, however, Japan had its own Judo from the days when swords were first used. In ancient days warriors used to come to fist-fighting whenever they could not settle the day after fighting with swords. The art of such fist-fighting was nothing but Japan's Judo in its embryonic stage of development.

It was since the advent of the Meiji era [after 1882, to be exact], however, that Judo was systematized into what it is. And for such systematization Judo owes entirely to Mr. Jigoro Kano, who, on that account, is respected as the benefactor of Japanese Judo. He is a most celebrated Judo master himself and the President of the Japanese Judo Association.

Many an ancient warrior is known to have been famed for swordsmanship but none of them had the reputation of being Judo experts. This was by no means because they were poor Judoists but only because Judo was subordinated to swordsmanship as martial accomplishment. The former, however, was as essential as the latter to any really competent warriors. In other words the accomplished swordsmen were as a rule Judo experts.

Judo Masters

Like in any other arts, skill in Judo is attainable by practice. And the most effective form of such practice is a tournament.

The most spectacular tournament ever held in Japan by Judoists was the one which took place at the Seinen-kan Hall, in the Imperial Household Department in the presence of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales when he paid a visit to this country. [EN2]

In Japan there are now as many as 12 Judo masters inclusive of Mr. Kano. The holders of the 9th or highest grade are Messrs. [Shuichi] Nagaoka, [Yoshiaki] Yamashita, and [Hajime] Isogai. Others are of the 6th to 8th grades. The promotion of the grade is to be determined not periodically now but only occasionally whenever the circumstances require and by taking into consideration the proficiency revealed through public tournaments or other circumstances. The 12 masters are the senior instructors who have been instructing Judo for over forty years or who combine exceptionally excellent skill and personality. [EN3]

What are particularly essential to success as a Judoist are good sleep and proper nourishment so far as physical conditions are concerned. But Judo is an art as much spiritual as physical. It trains not only physical but moral capacity and quality. The more the Judoists advance in their physical accomplishment, the more refined their personality becomes. This is because art and moral code are one and the same thing in that they are both natural and proper. By studying and mastering the former, therefore, one can attain to the latter. Judo and moral code are two links in one chain.

Outrages are forbidden by law. But it is not everybody who can abide by the national statute. There are not a few foolish men and ruffians who make nothing of violences. With proper Judo accomplishment, one can naturally keep presence of mind under any circumstances. Judo is one of the most practical means of mental culture.

Judo, a Philosophy

Judo is, in a sense, even something more than spiritual culture. It is a philosophy. Its trick is paradoxical as it is at once countless and single. When your contestant tries to catch you in his trick, you can counteract it with your counter-trick. Another new trick on his part must be met with another counter-feat on your part, and so forth, until the more resourceful wins. Viewed in this light, Judo tricks are unlimitedly various. And yet each trick available under each circumstance. Either of the contestants who is quicker to operate that one best trick in a given condition will win. This somewhat philosophical principle it is that governs the art of Judo.

That one best trick to be operated in one phase of the situation is a trick, after all, to perform the double art of escaping from your contestant's offensive stroke and of arresting his further act at the same time.

If Judo were an art based on physical strength, you could not always be sure of your Judo for self-defence. For even if you have a strong physical power, you would always be defeated when confronted by the stronger. But in reality, Judo is an art, armed with which you could never be defeated even by the stronger. For however strong your enemy or contestant may be, your Judo enables you to escape his attack, the moment it descends upon you, and as you escape, to arrest his further action.

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Art of Self-Defence

With sufficient proficiency in Judo, therefore, you need never be afraid of your rival's strength or weapon be it club or revolver. Herein lies the infinite merit of Judo. Judo is an art, after all, that makes for your defence the best of the power and energies that are in both yourself and your contestant.

Judo is preeminently for self-defence. It is not what the real Judoist does to attack the enemy without or before being attacked. It is always shown Judo men who, oblivious or ignorant of the above fundamental principle of Judo, take the initiative against burglars as the latter break in, and more often than not get stabbed.

Judo is now pretty popular abroad. Many a Japanese Judo expert is in foreign countries as Judo instructor, and it cannot be altogether an idle aspiration that the world's peace may be promoted through Judo as well.

The Japanese word "Ju" in Judo means "mild" and "natural" and "do" means "art" and "way." Judo therefore denotes "way to peace". [EN4] If the world peoples learn Judo together with its moral significance, they will surely find themselves on the fastest way to real peace.

Judo, a Safe Exercise

One can never be too young or too old to start learning Judo. It may as well be learned at the elementary school age as at the declining age.

It was in his 56th year that Mr. Stewart, the Mining King, commenced to learn Judo upon his visit to our shores. He soon attained to the first grade. Mr. Katsutakei Shida, Director of the Mitsui Interest in Otaru, Hokkaido, started Judo when he was near 50 years of age. There are many other foreigners and Japanese who mastered Judo after starting its study at their comparatively advanced age. It is a gross mistake to think, as some people do, as if Judo were a very dangerous sort of exercise. Judo is an art that is by no means to court, but on the contrary to avoid hurt and danger. If anyone ever gets hurt in any way from Judo practice, it is only because of the wrong manner in which the art is learned. [Emphasis added, as this advice is no longer much heeded in competitive judo.]

Editor's Notes

EN1. The Chinese potter Ch’en Yüan-pin died in Nagoya in 1671, and according to Jigoro Kano his discussions with three Japanese (Hichiroemon Fukuno, Jirozaemon Isogai, and Yojiemon Miura) had significant impact on the development of jujutsu and related Japanese martial arts. See, for example, Thomas Lindsay and Jigoro Kano, "The Old Samurai Art of Fighting Without Weapons," Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, XVI, Pt II, 202-217. Reprinted 1915.

EN2. The visit was in 1922; if Japan Times is correct, the tournament was probably April 24.

EN3. There is probably some subjectivity in this listing, as in Japans Sport in Bild und Wort (Berlin: Wilhelm Limpert-Verlag, 1937), Arthur Grix noted that there were 66,994 judo yudansha, or grade holders, in Japan. Of these, 39,660 were first-dan, 15,060 were second-dan, 6,600 were third-dan, 3,661 were fourth-dan, 1,615 were fifth-dan, 346 were sixth-dan, 44 were seventh-dan, five were eighth-dan, two were ninth-dan (Yamashita had died), and one (Jigoro Kano himself) tenth-dan.

EN4. Judo is usually translated as "the gentle way" or "the flexible way".

JCS Sept 2000