CLASSICAL JUDO MYTH
What other sport & martial art offers so many variations on a theme? Judo presents a lifetime opportunity for challenge. Video tape, DVD, and even live stream competition to our computers, give us an opportunity only recently enjoyed. We think it is the window to the past, to the classical or traditional judo. However, consider this: Perhaps there never was a "classical judo".
When I started judo in the middle of the last century, The Sport of Judo, by Kobayashi & Sharp was the only and best text we could easily get our hands on. Inveterate collector and scrounger, Jon "Bucky" Straub, was able to get some 8mm film. It was the one with the matwork techniques shown through a transparent floor!
So, of course there then occurred a "right way" and a "wrong way", a classical versus non-classical way, and powerful love for all that mystical stuff that was coming to us from the mysterious Orient. After all, grasshoppers, that was part of the fun of it. No wonder we clung to it. Some of us rose through the ranks to prestige by teaching it. No wonder we cling to it.
It is rumored that Mikinosuke Kawaishi, the father of French Judo, was visited by some members of the Kodokan a few years after he had established himself in France. He was the Kodokan judo emissary to the French. After observing his students, they took him aside and in effect said, "This is all well and good, but you are not teaching judo as we do it at the Kodokan. This is not classical Kodokan judo." Kawaishi sensei gently pointed out to them that the Frenchmen were much longer legged and generally were not built the same as the average Japanese. Needless to say, the French did not suffer much from Kawaishi's initial influence, divergent as it might have been from the "classical".
Kano's judo is about the two principles of judo. It is not, nor never has been, about putting ones foot just so, or twisting ones wrist just so. To whatever degree such stringent applications are encouraged, they have more to do with that which conforms to the laws of physics. Whether that is part of the instructor's awareness or not is immaterial. It may lead to "It?s the classical way" arguments, and that too might best be considered immaterial.
I had the honor to "interview" Kano's son, Risei Kano, at the Salt Lake City World Judo Championships in 1967 for Judo Illustrated Magazine, and his grandson, Yukimitsu Kano at the Kodokan twenty years later in 1987. Both mentioned that they were concerned judo was moving away from Kano shihan's initial direction of being about the founding principles and toward the overwhelming interest in who wins a contest. Kano's judo is not simply about winning contests, in spite of the fact that it was in a contest against the Metropolitan Police team that judo gained its stripes. Kano was not against contest; he was simply not for putting it at the forefront of purpose. So to say that contest is the crucible for determining if a throw is being done the way it ought, is to vastly over simplify the issue and over value contest.
Consequently, these arguments about classical versus non-classical judo are "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Ju-jitsu sensei from many ryus came to the Kodokan to train, once Kano had established himself. Kano studied them as much as they studied him. Kano was the first to say, "Show me your way."
Of course, who wants to see judo competition be about diving for legs? For a while, some grappling form may bring a nuance to the arena, and many will follow it as a "new trick". But in the crucible of contest, such things must take substance from success, and only a few succeed. More often than not, the "new" techniques are discovered in some 19 - hundred and something tome on judo, or in an old 16 millimeter film. In other circumstances, they open the door for enhanced judo through modification and added dimension.
I was the one who a couple of years ago said, "If you'd have told people fifteen years ago that kata- guruma would become a significant shiai throw, they would have laughed you out of the dojo." I was betraying my ignorance that powerful shiai competitor Kyutaro Kanda was famous for it in the mid 19-thirties. Kanda also did long Morote gari, the double leg reap [grab], so leg picking was certainly shiai effective long ago, too. Kanda, by the way, lost the 1934 Ten-ran Shiai at the Imperial Palace to Akira Otani, who used his famously traditional seoi-nage. Also to be noted, kata-guruma was one of Kyuzo Mifune's favorite throws (back to the fifties!).
Few can successfully emulate Otani or Mifune. However, the individual's adaptation of techniques often has as much to do with the individual as it does with some mystical magic wand of change. Yoshitsugu Yamashita, the first tenth dan, awarded to him by Kano posthumously, is said to have invented hane-goshi as a result of a bad hip, which caused him to have to modify his uchi-mata.
Very few people, however, were able to duplicate Kazuo Shinohara's devastating tsurikomi goshi. He'd learned it his way because his father made him roller skate rather than do judo, until he was in his mid teens (the father did not believe, it is my understanding, in youth judo as a positive endeavor). At around 160 pounds, Shinohara's overall technique, and his unstoppable hip throw, won him the Captainship of the Meiji University judo team, and numerous significant shiai gold medals. Nobody successfully copied his tokui waza. Of note, its Technique of the Month explanation in an issue of the long gone Judo Illustrated Magazine is very kata-like in the method of entry.
Some like to bring up Koga's seoi-nage as an example of the success of the unorthodox. It certainly is, but I'd bet you can't do it. If you can, then you're World Champion material. Get busy. (I meant do it versus demo it.) It's not what I would recommend be shown to beginners as the way to do the throw. I'd be inclined toward having them emulate Otani first, then maybe Koga.
Perhaps there never was a "classical judo". Kano's view of his own creation was one of constant evolution. Read the enlightening article Run, Duck, Dodge, Hide and a Little Tai-Sabaki too! Kata or KP?, by Kenji Osugi (Note: This article was published in California Judo Magazine, May 2005). Or, try: Judo Kata.
Read how the entire second set of Nage-No-Kata is the evolution of uke-goshi, to harai-goshi (which Kano had personal experience creating and developing(, to tsurikomi-goshi. Kano's entire Nage-No-Kata speaks to his awareness of evolution, not classical rigidity.
It might even be ventured that those very people who espouse "non-traditional" techniques are, ironically enough, espousing Kano?s original and mislabeled "traditional" stance. They are their own classicists.
Mostly, folks are fighting over nothing. If attention were turned to the reason why Kano chose to name his school Kodokan, rather than "Kano's Judo Dojo", and why he regularly assembled his higher ranking black belts for after-practice sake and philosophical discussions of practical applications of "the way", we might get closer to finding our own way toward correcting U. S. Judo's abysmal situation. This is not a giant leap of logic.
Why do we keep saying that judo is the second most popular participant sport in the world? If soccer is number one, and it's a team sport, does that not make judo the NUMBER ONE individual participant sport in the world!?
We have been so busy arguing about humbug, and not just this classical technique issue stuff, that we haven't even noticed that we don't have to label ourselves as second best. If technique is as technique does, then likely the same holds true of all our judo efforts. Correspondingly, we are precisely where we ought to be in the United States market place as the result of our best use of our energies and our true application of mutual benefit and welfare. Whether one follows Kano's principles or Lao Tzu's ancient wisdom intentionally or not doesn't matter. We create our own throws and our own destinies. How well we do in this regard is always self-apparent. The way to do is to be.
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