Jigoro KanoJudo – gentle ways – has enjoyed years of public exposure since its inclusion in the Olympics in 1964. Unfortunately, this ‘sporting association’ has resulted in Judo being viewed as merely a ‘sport’ rather than a martial art in it’s own right.

Just as there are clubs placing major emphasis on the competition side of Judo there are many other clubs which place just as much focus of Judo’s martial elements. Like Aikido, Judo has strong ties with ju-jitsu. Many of the throwing techniques used in Judo can still be found in many jujitsu curriculums, while the ground work common to both disciplines is separated only by Jujitsu’s more ‘brutal’ elements.

Jigoro KanoThe founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, was born in 1860. Apart from being the founder of judo, Kano was also a leading educationalist, pacifist and a prominent figure in the Japanese Olympic movement. When he began his study of ju-jitsu as a young man, the jujutsu masters were struggling to earn a living. Although they were keen to teach and pass on the skills handed down to them over many generations, there was little interest and with the demise of the samurai warrior class the need for martial instruction was even less desirable.

At the age of 18, Kano studied the ju-jitsu of the Tenshin Shinyo Ryu under Fukudo and Iso, Following Fukuda’s death, Kano remained briefly with master Iso before finishing his training with master Ilkubo. In 1883 Kano began teaching his newly formed art of judo. Although the techniques of Judo resembled the original techniques of Jujitsu, Kano concluded that the ultimate purpose of practice and training in Judo should be different from that of Ju-jitsu. Kano’s Judo held as its goal the training of body and spirit.

Judo techniques can be basically classified into three categories – throwing, grappling and striking. In 1885 the throwing techniques were categorized as Go Kyou No Waza. The striking techniques involving striking and kicking, were restricted in the form of Kata and Kano’s objective to keep the practice of Judo safe, thus highlighting the difference goals and overall philosophy of Kodokan Judo and the traditional more brutal aspects of Ju-jitsu.

Although judo is viewed by the general public as a sport, Kano never intended for this to happen and felt strongly that it was a personal art to train the body foremost with sport applications relegated to matters of less importance.

During the Japanese military build up of the thirties, Kano resisted attempts for Judo to be utilised for military purposes, this made him unpopular with the forces re-shaping Japanese society and ambitions. In the face of strenuous objections, Kano sought to have the Olympic Games held in Tokyo in 1940 – “Sportsmanship is above war,” he told one press conference.

He was successful. That he was so, during a period when Japanese colonization was at its zenith, is a tribute to the great respect held for Kano by the rest of the world. Even the US and the UK who were resolutely opposed Japanese policies in the far east supported Kano’s controversial bid.

In 1938, while travelling home aboard the Japanese ship Hikawa Maru he died, officially of pneumonia. Speculation has surrounded Kano’s demise ever since, undoubtedly his western and pacifist sympathies were an irritation to the imperialist aspirations of the Japanese military. Interestingly. Within weeks of his death, Japan cancelled the games and invaded China.

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In praise of discomfort …

Mats pounded soft from the limbs of ages,
you seek solace in the hope that this time, it will not hurt.
You watch, you listen.
Hands blur in motion while feet dance their rhythm,
and yet, as the twirling white mass flies, with graceful ease through air,
you miss something, small, but significant, simple but pure.
Your concentration shattered by the sound of palm crashing,
then drumming it’s relentless beat of submission.

Once, in ages past, straw became the comforter of pain, the soaker of blood,
as warriors, not yet hewn in battle sought knowledge and the way from those that
were sculpted, that were shaped, that were Samurai.

Now the battlefields are gone, but the battle lingers – in oneself!
All is still, silent, save for the amused bleatings of the young or the groans of older aching limbs too long bruised or bashed.
And yet the player endures, smiles, wipes the sweat from brow and flies again.

Blood rushes, punches stretch forth, legs kick out. Hair is grabbed, joints are locked, organs shake and points of pain are pressed home.

Why? You ask.
Why let this ritual of discomfort, pain and endurance persist?
Why battle when there is no war?
Why strike out when there is no threat?
Why land when there is no need to fall?

Words hard pressed against the tongue fail in their praise of the majesty of the art.
It is not about discomfort, sweat, tears, it is about the joy of the art itself, the flow from one poise to another, from grace to gracefull, from ploy to counter.

It is about watching young limbs trying trying to master the necessity of technique,
against the deception of failure.
It is about the timid stepping forth against the ragging voice of doubt.
To do or not do, that is the question.

But above all else it is knowing that while the body crashes and nerve ends mash, we live.
We breathe, and thus we honour the majesty of creation itself.

I pick myself up, dust myself down, wince, smile, ache and rejoice while tugging at dishevelled clothing and wonder,
…are there funny white pyjamas and crash mats in heaven?

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