Jim Robinson was born in 1902 in the north of England and is now a resident of Sydney, Australia and his first exposure to the art of Judo was as early as 1912. One day while on his way to school he spotted a copy of S. K. Uyerzishi’s, “The Text-book of Ju-Jutsu as Practised in a sports store window. It cost 2/6d; expensive when considering his weekly pocket money was only 6d. To earn the extra money he soon found a job peeling potatoes in a local fish and chip shop from 5pm to 10pm. After buying the book, he earnestly applied himself to the practice of Seoi-nage (shoulder throw), Koshi-nage (hip throw), O soto-gari (outer reap throw) and O goshi. He concentrated on O goshi more because it matched the hip throw that was common to wrestling of the north and this proved beneficial to him as he recalls he was able to “bring off quite a few O goshi to the consternation of his opponents” in schoolyard fights. In 1925 he successfully completed the British Civil Service examination and a month later he was posted to Shanghai. After arriving and finding the presence of some 30,000 Japanese living there, he not about to pass up this golden opportunity of starting formal Judo practice, He began a search for a dojo and eventually was told of one in the Han Kew district of the city, behind the Japanese Club in Boone Road. Robinson describes his search, “That night I took a Rickshaw to Boone Road and entered a long, dark alley way, which led to the rear of the club, where the dojo was situated. Nearing the end of the alley I heard a noise of bump-bump-bump, of people being thrown. After 12,000 miles I knew I had arrived.”
The training at the Budo-kai, as the dojo was called in Japanese, was from 7pm to 9pm, six nights a week, and as can be expected training was hard. Six months after starting he remembers his Judo had improved, “...especially break falling, which I had plenty of.”
One night some students from the Tung Wen College Judo Club came to practice and seeing Robinson there invited him to their dojo to train. Robinson agreed making a date for the following Saturday. The college located about 10 miles to the north of Shanghai was affiliated with Kyoto University in Japan, and the students were very proud of their training in only newaza saying that standing techniques were “too sissy.”
Robinson arrived at 2pm on the appointed day. Practice began with warm-up exercises, which lasted 15 minutes. He thought the Judo practice would then start. But this was not the case. Without pausing they did 40 “scoop—type” push-ups, of which Robinson could only manage 30, then, onto their backs with legs extended out and raised 6 inches off the mats, they vigorously kicked out some 400 times. Robinson remembers, “the stomach muscles seemed to be gripped by a giant hand, a most peculiar feeling, you are afraid to stop as then you get the spasms in reverse. By this time we were wet through with sweat and you feel you have had enough, but this was only the beginning for you, then commenced two hours hard newaza.”
The newaza that were most popular there included the Sankaku-jime (triangle choke) and Juji jime (cross collar choke). It must be remembered that in southern Japan at this time it was not uncommon for Judo tournaments to be held allowing only newaza. These contests began from a grounded position.
After a few years Robinson’s Judo had improved. His best throw was osoto maki komi and his method of executing this technique by coming down on the opponent with the throw was not generally popular. However, as practice in the junior ranks was very rough, no one seemed to really care. The newaza was also practiced with great enthusiasm, “... you got your man on the ground and tried to pull his head off if he didn’t tap, “they usually tapped”, after all, you can’t prepare for war by playing noughts and crosses.”
It was not long after that he started thinking about going to Japan. He had heard so much of its natural beauty and about Judo. After three years training, the last six months of which was a self-imposed period of hard training never missing a session and with four weeks annual leave, he left for the island of Kyushu in southern Japan during the spring of 1927.
He arrived at Nagasaki, checking into a hotel and quickly began chasing up a dojo. He found one a few streets from his hotel called the Bushu—Kan located in an old temple that practiced from 6pm to 9pm. It was on this first day and undoubtedly the many that followed, that he was grateful for the time he had devoted to learning Japanese, as English was of little use in that part of Japan. He arrived at the Bushu—Kan at 6pm ready for practice. Almost immediately he was surprised to see a brown-belt called Kobayashi whom he had seen in a tournament in Shanghai. Kobayashi introduced Robinson, as being in the same tournament as himself and that he was very strong in newaza. This of course embarrassed the young Englishman who thought this was not the right way to start his Judo career in Japan. Not giving it another thought, he applied himself to training. His first bout was with Kobayashi who threw him with a couple of good foot sweeps. Robinson responded by taking him down in newaza and holding him. Afterwards everyone in the dojo wanted to challenge Robinson. He was thrown quite a few times but his Shanghai Judo experience had prepared him well. Of course when he did throw some of the players he would naturally follow through by landing on top of them much the same way he had done in Shanghai which seemed to take the enthusiasm out of a few. This was his very first workout in Japan and Robinson thoroughly enjoyed himself. After training finished everyone enjoyed a bath Japanese style, an experience that Robinson continuously records, followed by dinner of grilled eels, a Japanese delicacy.
His next practice was in a dojo located at the side of a local police station. There were about ten young policemen, most of them white belts mixed with two brown belts and one black belt. He was invited to train, and the ease with which he handled dojo etiquette surprised the Japanese He trained with the white belts first and then with a brown belt, who kept throwing him. Robinson amusingly recalls, “During my practice with the white belts, I tried uchimata which I thought I could do because my opponent had adopted a defensive stance, and I thought it might come off but instead my leg slipped up a little high and I got him where I shouldn’t have done with my leg. He gave a howl and grabbed his private parts and all the others broke into a loud laugh, and there was much laughter in the place including the villagers who sat outside. But anyway, he took it in good part and sat down, but the black belt said to me this is how you uchimata, and turned in with a devastating one and up in the air I went and down.’
He spent a week at Shimoburra and was able to pursue Judo at the dojo of a 5-dan. Here he found he was able to give the black belts “quite a battle” especially when it came to newaza, but he did have a lot of respect for the Tomoe—nage and Seoi-nage that were specialities of the old teacher. He took a ferry along the inland sea to Kobe. Here he asked a policeman where he could find a hotel and a dojo, which was very surprised to meet a Japanese-speaking foreigner looking for of all places a Judo dojo. One was located a mile away in a temple that had once belonged to the Zen sect of Buddhism. Training was from 2pm to 5pm and the teacher Kato, was very strong in newaza. He spent a week here training and enjoying the town of Kobe. He found that his defence was getting stronger and reactions becoming quicker. Others must have noticed this improvement because on the Saturday he was asked to come along the next day at l0am for a special temple celebration. Little did Robinson know that he was being lined up to represent Kobe in a tournament against another prefecture. He arrived on Sunday morning at l0am and was very surprised to see hundreds of people milling about the temple. Just as he was wondering how in heaven he could see anyone he knew, a waiting member of the dojo took his arm and he was led in to the middle of the temple. Here he immediately noticed two twelve-man Judo teams lined up. Robinson was then urged to get changed, which he did off the mats and in front of the waiting crowd before he realised that he was representing Kobe as twelfth man on its team.
The scene was very noisy as the spectators crowded into the dojo. The Judo men too gave it their best kiai when each was called up to fight. Robinson remained calm. His opponent was very strong and as he found out later lived in the mountains. They were very evenly matched and nothing exciting was happening until Robinson went in for Harai goshi, and just as he thought he had the mountain man over, he collapsed under him. Immediately his opponent took a sidelong hold from which Robinson was able to turn out of it and managed to take Kesa gatame. The referee called Osae komi and the uproar from the crowd was deafening. As the seconds ticked away his opponent frantically threw a leg over Robinson’s rear leg and broke the hold. The matched ended in a draw but that was enough to give Kobe the tournament. His achievement was loudly acknowledged by most there and many came to pat him on the back and to congratulate him with “very good” in English.
From Kobe he took a leisurely passage on a ship back to Shanghai instilled with a fire for more Judo and a deep inner self—promise to make it to the Kodokan next year. He threw himself into hard practice and never missed the monthly Budo-kai tournaments. He wanted to improve and to improve quickly he knew what was needed. At this time he was still a white belt, and from the way he describes the ranking situation common at that time, with many white belts being equal in skill to the black belts, but refusing to take promotions, it would seem that being a white belt was considered more desirable. In 1928 he took his annual leave in Tokyo, at the Kodokan, the Mecca of Judo. He arrived by ship at Yokohama, went by train to Tokyo where he booked into the Kanda YMCA. Training at the Kodokan was from 2pm to 6cm and it was conveniently located within walking distance.
He arrived at the Kodokan to find a 5-dan guarding the entrance and checking who came in. Robinson explained it was his first time, and after paying 5 (a considerable sum when the monthly salary of a schoolteacher was 35) was allowed to enter. There were between 100 and 150 people all doing Randori, many of them were 2-dan and 3-dan from Meiji University.
He quickly changed and asked the man nearest to him to play. He explains, “I hardly had taken hold of him and I hit the mat. Robinson thinks the technique may have been Seoi-nage, a throw commonly used by Japanese on foreigners at that time. As he got up he took hold of his opponent’s collar high up and when he turned to throw again, Robinson’s right arm went across his opponent’s throat and he quickly inserted his left hand inside and under the armpit and grabbed his opponent’s lapel and wrapped his legs around him for Okuri Eri—jime, a rear strangle. The Japanese did not want to give up to a white belt and they rolled around the floor, but he soon tapped out. One of the instructors, who had been watching the fight, came along and gave Robinson’s opponent a loud lecture so that everyone could hear. This embarrassed the Japanese who eventually bowed out and walked off. Revenge was taken on Robinson by the following five or six opponents who threw him with everything except Seoi nage.
At the end of training while wiping himself of sweat he noticed an oldish man leaning against a wall watching him. Robinson decided to ask the man for a fight thinking that he would a bit easier than the young bulls he had just finished with. He went over and asked politely. Robinson recalls the rest, “He looked at me, smiled, stood up straight. He was nearly my height and slightly broader shouldered. I thought he must be a teacher. We went on the floor and I always seemed to be off balance. I was thrown with Uki-otoshi, Sumi—otoshi and various Kokuyu-nage in every direction. I always seemed to be off balance. I thought this fellow knows his stuff, so I asked him in my best Japanese what grade are you because I thought there was something queer about this bloke. He only smiled and said in perfect English ‘Never you mind but keep on trying’. After a while I got tired of floating around the air and as I said thank you very much I noticed his English was nearly perfect.”
Afterwards a Japanese came to Robinson to ask him if he knew who the oldish man was. When he said no it was revealed to him that he had just challenged Mr Mifune, champion of all Japan. On the faces of all those watching was a big smile for they knew that the joke was on him.