Skip to content

A New Yorker visits Jigoro Kano’s Academy in Tokyo, 1914

November 20, 2014

“It was an inspiring sight…”

 

Above: Jigoro Kano demonstrates a technique. Source: http://www.judo-educazione.it/video/koshiki_en.html

Above: Jigoro Kano demonstrates a technique. Source: http://www.judo-educazione.it/video/koshiki_en.html

Perhaps few individuals have had more impact on the modern history of grappling than Jigorō Kanō (1860-1938). The founder of Judo, Kano had also studied, gathered, codified, and taught traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which would be brought to both America and Brazil by his own students. According to the Gracie family website,

“Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (practiced as Judo) was introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil around 1914 by Esai Maeda, who was also known as Conde Koma. Maeda was a champion of Jiu-Jitsu and a direct student of Kano, at the Kodokan in Japan. He was born in 1878, and became a student of Judo (Kano’s Jiu-Jitsu) in 1897.”

Kano’s legacy can therefore be said to have had an immense impact on everything from Judo to Jiujitsu, from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

The following article, as such, may be of interest to enthusiasts of the aforementioned martial arts.

The visitor to Kano’s academy was Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke (1846 – 1927), an Irish American newspaperman, playwright, writer and Irish nationalist. He wrote extensively for the New York Herald, and was editor of the New York Morning Journal and the Criterion. He was also a member of the revolutionary group, the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Above: Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke. Source: http://thewildgeese.com/

Above: Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke. Source: http://thewildgeese.com/

Clarke traveled to Japan in 1914, during which time he visited Kano’s school. On Sept. 27, 1914, the New York Sun published the following article by Clarke, giving a detailed account and impression of his experience.

“MEN OF MIGHT ARE THE WRESTLERS OF JAPAN.”

 

Kano_NYSun_1914_PtA 3

“Judo is altogether different, not only in action and purpose but in its votaries. We have heard much of it in the United States for the last dozen years, but you must see it at Prof. Kano’s academy at Tokyo to witness it in its glory. The professor has been teaching it for 30 years. It was he who at that early day took the three styles of Judo and made one comprehensive system of them all. Let it be said, first of all, that it is a system of defense or offense in wrestling by which skill takes advantage of an opponent’s strength in attack to defeat him.

“Prof. Kano’s system must be seen in action to be appreciated.”

It rests primarily, according to Prof Kano, who was most courteous and painstaking in his explanations to me, on the simple proposition that when equilibrium is destroyed a man falls or may be thrown easily. This was the Samurai system, used by those rough and polished soldiers of the old regime. One of their feats was to throw a man in armor in such a way as to break his neck. Then there was the judo of the criminal classes that aimed at choking or breaking the limbs, even taking the life of a victim. Lastly, there was the police judo, aimed equally at subduing an opponent by choking or otherwise for the purpose of making arrests, yet stopping short of homicide. Prof. Kano’s system must be seen in action to be appreciated.

Visiting his academy one afternoon we saw 50 to 6O couples of young men, from 17 to 25, engaged in practice. They wear short white drawers and thick linen Jackets, buttonless in front and showing the bare breasts.

Above: Photograph of Kano's academy that accompanied Clarke's article.

Above: A photograph of Kano’s academy that accompanied Clarke’s article.

“Loss of temper, even the slightest exhibition of it, is against all the rules.”

It was an inspiring sight. Each couple fought, according to the rules, with a vigor and dash that left nothing to be desired. Not a word was said. The floor was thickly matted. The men were barefooted. Each grasped his opponent’s coat lapel. They pulled, tripped, recovered, strained and presently down went one with a crash. Up again and at it again. Crash, crash, down they were going all over the place. It was a continual slap, bang, fall and rise. Sometimes one on the floor struggled with another on top of him with a strangle hold. They writhed, puffed, sweated, but it went on until one was so overcome that he tapped the floor with hand or foot, or else both were utterly fatigued and blown. When the struggles reached their limit, the men simply rose, bowed to each other, smiled and stood aside for a very few minutes’ rest. Loss of temper, even the slightest exhibition of it, is against all the rules.

“In the winter time the academy is opened long before dawn, and the men come in crowds to practice and harden themselves working in the cold.”

There are nine grades, and it takes about three years’ hard work to reach the third grade. Few get much higher, and there are some who never attain even the first grade. In the winter time the academy is opened long before dawn, and the men come in crowds to practice and harden themselves working in the cold.

Later on I attended an exhibition contest in the same hall and witnessed 20 couples take falls from each other in rapid succession. The bouts lasted four minutes at the most. At the end of three minutes a bell was rung in warning, so that they finished up or made a draw. There were naturally some fine exhibitions, and the fortunes of the two sides fluctuated all the afternoon under the critical eyes of an audience of judo enthusiasts. For me, however, the afternoon of practice was more attractive. The contestants were nearly all university men, high commercial school men, artists, government officials, fine open-faced, clean-limbed young fellows to a man.

Above: Photo of Jigoro Kano, taken about the time of Clarke's visit. Source: http://www.judobalwyn.org.au/judo/judohistory.htm

Above: Photo of Jigoro Kano, taken about the time of Clarke’s visit. Source: http://www.judobalwyn.org.au/judo/judohistory.htm

“In the hall I met Prof. Yamashita, who taught Judo to Theodore Roosevelt at the White House three times a week for three years.”

Prof. Kano, a most agreeable, gentlemanly man with a black mustache, sat at a table and explained much of the system to me and its effect in making for true manliness of character. In the hall I met Prof. Yamashita, who taught Judo to Theodore Roosevelt at the White House three times a week for three years. Theodore, he said, was his best pupil; that, however, he was very heavy and very impetuous, and it had cost the poor professor many bruisings, much worry and infinite pains during Theodore’s rushes to avoid laming the President of the United States. He had also taught the Roosevelt boys, Mrs. Robinson, the President’s sister, and Gifford Pinchot. He liked Washington and America…

Above: Professor Yoshitsugu Yamashita

Above: Professor Yoshitsugu Yamashita

Young Japan is surely full of vim, and his sports are vehicles of mental struggle and nervous skill as well as brute force.”

Above: This photo combination was printed in Clarke's book, "Japan at First Hand." The caption reads: "Judo class at practice before dawn in winter time."

Above: This photo combination was reprinted in Clarke’s book, “Japan at First Hand,” pub. 1918. The caption reads: “Judo class at practice before dawn in winter time.”

Clarke’s article also included accounts of Sumo wrestling and Kenjutsu, which is not included here.

If you liked this article, you might also be interested in:

“How the President is Taught Jiu Jitsu”

 

 

 

Advertisements

From → Articles

3 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Kenin Kan Oakland Judo and commented:
    A very cool English language account of an Irish-American’s visit to the Kodokan in 1914.

    Like

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. “How the President is Taught Jiu Jitsu” | Martial Arts New York

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: