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    Jigoro Kano about ground fighting

    Some time ago I read a book that collected some writings of Jigoro Kano on various journals:
    http://www.lunieditrice.com/FONDAMENTI-DEL-JUDO
    (in Italian).
    Based on one of these articles, I believed that Kano had a bad opinion on those who based their judo strategy on ground fighting, because he believed that they took the easy way instead of training correctly standing grappling, that Kano believed was the core of Judo. I also believe that this is the reason Kano introduced several limits on ground-fighting in judo matches.
    Recently I was reordering my comic book collection, and I found the book again. The article is less explicit than what I remembered, but I still think my interpretation is correct.
    Since many people on this site are interested in this argument, I’ll translate the part of the article that refers to a particular contest between two high schools where Kano explains his opinion.
    Please note that I’m translating from a translation, and that the writing is full of complex periods and with a choice of words that use a lot of shades, so I translated it at best of my skill but it’s probably still quite awkward.

    The article appeared on the “Judo” journal, issue of June 1918.
    The title of the whole article in Italian is “Orientamento sulla promozione dei gradi” [Orientation on grade promotion], but I translate only the last chapter of the article, titled “The contest between the Tokyo and Sendai schools”, from the pages60-62 of the Italian edition.



    Kano Jigoro
    Judo, june 1918

    THE CONTEST BETWEEN THE TOKIO AND SENDAI SCHOOLS

    Readers will understand the key points of the orientations and of the grading system in use at the Kodokan school. Still insisting on the theme of the previous chapters, I now want to dwell on a recent event: the contest between two high schools, that raised different interpretations in the public opinion.

    Some blame the behaviour and the approach of the Sendai students; others slander the Tokyo athletes, others again, on the basis of the fact that a Kodokan 3d dan lost a match again a lower dan, question whether the Kodokan promoted him without care. The thing is easily understood by Judo people, but to clear every uncertainty to the public, I want to expose my interpretation.

    A premise: as I didn't see the contest personally and as I have to rely on the relation of the referees for my judgement, some misunderstanding on my part is possible, even though I am convinced that I understood the main points without equivocations.

    The contest ended with a victory for Sendai and I believe with certainty that this victory is legit, and also that there is nothing to blame in the behaviour of the referees. The fact is that the Sendai school was superior both in skill and in enthusiasm.

    The Sendai students, determined to defeat their opponents, turned to a recognised Kodokan expert for training, and this expert (just so happened) was a ne-waza [ground fighting] student (the most efficient way to reach victory in gym contests).

    This instructor, strongly determined to take his students to victory, gave all his energy; the students answered from their part with the same commitment and seriousness. Meanwhile the Kodokan students also trained with passion but, as they were used to the Kodokan contests where the fighting make use both of nage [throwing] and of katame [submission], it seems that they didn't indulge that much on ne-waza [ground fighting] technique; another possible reason for their oversight might be that they were overconfident on the fact that the Tokyo school was in advantage on its opponents both in terms of quantity and of level of dan holders. But at the time of the match the Sendai students showed a surprising power, overwhelming the opponents both in physical strength and in enthusiasm, and this, probably, to some degree caused some passivity in the spirit of the Tokyo students.

    The Sendai school, then, defeated the Tokyo school notwithstanding, It must be accepted, the inferiority in the number of higher dan holders.
    But this doesn't mean that the Kodokan favoured the Tokyo students in terms of promotions. Personally I don't remember one students, examined at Tokyo, who was promoted for external merits such as seniority or social position, but all of them obtained their grade only because of their skill. Perhaps the Sendai students are more gifted? Were they unjustly neglected by the Kodokan commissions only because they don't live in Tokyo? Or perhaps their victory is just a fortuitous chance and they probably can't fight with tachi-waza [standing grappling] since, for what I know, their favoured strategy was that of ne-waza [ground grappling] (if this was true it certainly wouldn't be commendable, thinking to the true value that resides in judo training)?

    Finally, a word on the strategy on how to approach a contest.
    If both the schools were only trying to win that day's matches, the Sendai school certainly prevailed, and in an absolute way. But differently for the Tokyo school: supposing that it fought aiming to that great target that lies in the principle of Judo, then its tactic and its approach would also be laudable, even when they lost; because everyone without distinction who walks on the Judo path must keep in mind in their everyday exercise the great objective. The same goes for the fights in the gym that, even if they are subjected by the apposite norms, still should use the tactics of the real fighting in which wouldn't be licit, as we already said, to avoid tachi-waza [standing grappling].
    I hope that in future contests, and in school gyms, it will be possible to see matches that show the skills that everyone gained in everyday training, instead than see fights that only aim for a short term victory.
    Last edited by MisterMR; 10/17/2017 3:57am at . Reason: line breaks

  2. #2

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    A more charitable reading could be that he states that if you take Ju-DO (as in path of) seriously, you should not focus on only one aspect, even if it might give you an advantage in contest, but on perfection in all aspects and yourself. The point is not against the win in itself or Ne-Waza, but focusing merely on winning and avoiding the strengths of the opponent (showing the wrong spirit) rather than (self-)perfection.

    Anyway, thank you for the effort, that's a quite important piece of history regarding the development of Judo and BJJ. And historically speaking, the latter actually did focus on winning in contest, whereas for Kano, the success of Judo in contest was a nice by-product, but not the core of Judo. So it is the division of different mind sets.
    Last edited by Falenay; 10/17/2017 6:16am at .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Falenay View Post
    A more charitable reading could be that he states that if you take Ju-DO (as in path of) seriously, you should not focus on only one aspect, even if it might give you an advantage in contest, but on perfection in all aspects and yourself. The point is not against the win in itself or Ne-Waza, but focusing merely on winning and avoiding the strengths of the opponent (showing the wrong spirit) rather than (self-)perfection.

    Anyway, thank you for the effort, that's a quite important piece of history regarding the development of Judo and BJJ. And historically speaking, the latter actually did focus on winning in contest, whereas for Kano, the success of Judo in contest was a nice by-product, but not the core of Judo. So it is the division of different mind sets.
    My interpretation is pretty much aligned with yours regarding the excerpt.

    There was certainly a lot of tension early on in Judo, especially after it spread into the school system, between Judo as sport (winning being main objective), versus the idealized practice of Judo as envisioned by Kano.

    I think that is reflected pretty clearly in the article kindly provided by the OP.

    I remember a discussion over on the old Judo Forum regarding the very competition Kano references. It was in the context of the larger "sport" vs "art/way/path" "controversy".

    It's interesting that Kano did not mention any specific names, particularly of the Kodokan expert who was coaching the Sendai team. I can't remember his name, however, in the Judo Forum discussion, he was named explicitly.

    And there was quite the debate back then regarding training to win versus training to train. The coach of the Sendai team was on the "train to win" side of the debate.

    Personally, I do not find the two to be in substantial conflict.

    Kano had also explicitly stated that he thought learning tachi/nage waza first was best from an overall physical education point of view, and, obviously, from point of view of " real fighting".
    Falling for Judo since 1980

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    So I've been trying to find references regarding the "combat sport" (training to win) versus "way of life" tension back in the day in Judo, relationship to ne/katame waza, and the incident of a Sendai school beating Kodokan/Tokyo school by using only groundwork.

    I think I'm getting closer. I suspect, as I did not mention before, that the instructor in question was Oda Join (Tsunetane, some argument over his given name, or whatever he called himself).
    Some support for that here. Mention of a shiai with similar circumstances, plus interesting that Kano was not against ne/katame waza, really.
    http://judoinfo.com/oda/
    [h=Early History]3[/h] Master Oda was born in 1892 in the part near the center of the island of Honshu. The exact place of his birth was Yamanashi Ken, a relatively small prefecture. It is in one of the forests near Mt. Fuji. At the age of 17 in 1909, Master Oda began to practice Judo while attending the Advanced School in Numazu. The next year he entered the Kodokan, where his extraordinary abilities in Judo were revealed. In 1911 he had already obtained the rank of 1st Dan.
    In those days the Kodokan practice of Katame Waza, the techniques of controlling a fight on the ground, was not emphasized. Many Katame Waza techniques were considered minor and of less importance. The love of scoring an Ippon (full point victory) by a Nage Waza, a throwing technique, has always been at the core of Judo. Generally it was impractical to practice Katame Waza because most Dojos were small and crowded. More often today Ne Waza is the common term used to describe grappling techniques or groundwork.


    Master Oda clearly took a contrary approach. Although his Nage Waza was of the highest level, it was his concentration on Katame Waza that he became known for. As one of the more promising students of Jigoro Kano, Master Oda gradually changed Kano’s view of the importance of Katame Waza. Master Oda felt that Katame Waza should be fifty-percent of judo since all fighting starts standing and ends on the ground.

    Kano granted him permission to carry on his research on this subject which subsequently became the Katame Waza of Judo as we know it today. Kano who held Master Oda in high esteem sent him to teach at several schools and universities in Japan. What Master Oda taught his students has endured in terms of the effectiveness of his techniques.
    One memorable incident happened around 1930. Master Oda was sent to teach at the Advanced School in Tokyo which is today Tokyo University. After his arrival at the school, his students soon excelled at Katame Waza. At a team competition against another university, his students who were not black belts defeated the other team who were all black belts. This showed the value of Katame Waza to the judo community. Oda’s system was nicknamed “Joine-Ryu Ne Waza”.

    And this brief exchange here at bs.net...
    http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=88670
    Falling for Judo since 1980

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  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by BKR View Post
    One memorable incident happened around 1930. Master Oda was sent to teach at the Advanced School in Tokyo which is today Tokyo University. After his arrival at the school, his students soon excelled at Katame Waza.
    The article in the OP is from 1918 so I think this is a different incident.

    On the general argument of Kano's ideas about ne-waza, I understand that he was mostly interested in the educative value of Judo than in contest winning (as an amateur I strongly share this opinion), however:
    1) Kano just assumed that standing grappling was more educative than submission grappling;
    2) Kano just assumed that standing grappling was closer to "real" combat than submission grappling.

    On the second point, well it was just his opinion, it's an intuitive opinion, and he might well be correct for what I know (though MMA seem to show that submission is more important than throwing, I think the average Judo shodan knows more than enough ground fighting for self defense purposes).

    But, the first point is weird, unless (a) it is better as physical exercise (b) it is supposed to be better for some ethical/cultural reason (c) you think that the athletes who use katame-waza use it as a shortcut to ignore nage-waza.
    Kano strongly alludes to the (c) point in the article; furthermore under Judo rules it's perfectly possible to win without using katame-waza (in fact it's a cleaner victory) and I don't think that Kano ever lamented that people who are good at nage are somehow neglecting katame.

    Kano is in my opinion the most important figure in the history of martial arts (I'm ignoring legendary characters here), perhaps together with the guy who had the idea of gloves for boxe, but this doesn't mean that he was never wrong.

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    Basically I think that if you have a combat sport like Judo, that is based on throwing people on the ground, and don't have a rule that stops the fight immediately once on the ground, it is a natural evolution that people will develop ground-fighting skills.
    However, this happened after Kano created Judo so he was personally surprised from this and saw this as an involution.

    So every time Judo rules are relaxed to leave more time for ground fighting, someone will specialize in ground fighting and "invent" more or less the same set of techniques, since the human body is always the same.

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    Ah yes, all arts fall to the false dichotomy debate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by It is Fake View Post
    Ah yes, all arts fall to the false dichotomy debate.
    Indeed...
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    Kano meant real fighting, as in combat, weapons, etc.

    But lets face it Kano was not speaking from real life experience in that regard, as smart as he was.
    Falling for Judo since 1980

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    Quote Originally Posted by MisterMR View Post
    Basically I think that if you have a combat sport like Judo, that is based on throwing people on the ground, and don't have a rule that stops the fight immediately once on the ground, it is a natural evolution that people will develop ground-fighting skills.
    However, this happened after Kano created Judo so he was personally surprised from this and saw this as an involution.

    So every time Judo rules are relaxed to leave more time for ground fighting, someone will specialize in ground fighting and "invent" more or less the same set of techniques, since the human body is always the same.
    I think that all of this goes to show how having rules (making a combat sport, essentially) out of what were nominally "martial arts" (the various and mostly related 18th century ju jutsu ryu) changes strategy/tactics in individual matches.

    Because that is what was happening in Japan as it modernized. The same thing happened with Kendo/jutsu to some degree. Sportification and commercialization...

    The whole Fusen Ryu (one guy, one branch of it) that developed stronger ne waza (as in ground grappling) to do better in taryu shiai/shobu, and eventually to win matches against Kodokan judoka using a particualr ne waza strategy, is IMO an expression of that trend...change of martial art/way to combat sport, due to the cultural and political changes in Japan in 18th/19th/ centuries.

    And guess what, Kano absorbed that in to Kodokan Judo...

    Kano was pretty clear that he thought that ne waza/katame waza were valuable parts of grappling, and Judo in particular.

    However, he also thought, rightly or wrongly, that tachi waza, particularly nage waza, were more effective as physical education, particularly to learn at first. So he acknowledged the effectiveness of ground fighting, I think particularly in terms of "combat sport" or shiai (shiai being "trial match", essentially a one-on-one contest with rules to determine a "winner").

    No doubt, he was highly influenced by Kito Ryu, the one classical bujutsu/budo in which he had most hand-on experience, and menkyo kaiden, which is pretty much all tachi/nage waza with strong influcence of yin/yang (yep, "ki"). And has a strong philosophical background.

    The flow between ne waza and tachi waza is somewhat interrupted by contest rules of Judo, ostensibly for safety reasons (for example, no Daki Age allowed, no lower body submissions, even reletively safe ones, even to the point of a slight lift from the ground in some cases). However, in BJJ I've found that to be not true. Part of that depends on ones instructor and his/her philosophy of grappling, I think. Or even more dependent on the individual tactic/strategy used by specific person. Where I train, the main tactic is to "get on top and stay on top", and that often involves abandoning being on bottom for a scramble or even stand up again.

    As far as judo rules for ne waza relaxing, in reality, it's not the rules regarding ne waza that have changed so much (since what, 1920-ish?), but interpretation of the rules and how they are applied in contest.

    The "rule" in Judo ne waza is still "progress", but how the interpretation of progress has been given to referees from on high (the IJF) to make Judo "more exciting" to the masses (profit motive, sports-entertainment business model of the Olympics).

    So, TLDR, Kano thought tachi waza versus ne waza/katame waza was a more effective way to inculcate his physical and cultural principles into students of Kodokan Judo, for the betterment of the individual, and hence society as a whole, for reasons. With the advent of using the then-lax rule-set to avoid losing right away by Ippon) to win matches in shiai, Kano saw his precious Judo getting ugly (to his eyes), and changed the ruleset to require engagement standing, with "skillful" direct entry to ne waza required.

    Frankly, that is not such a restrictive rule, as there are lots of marginally "skillful" ways to enter ne waza even in modern Judo (IJF) rules that are allowed. It's the classic "butt-flop" that I believe Kano wanted to avoid.
    Falling for Judo since 1980

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