Self Mastery Through Judo
When we think of Jigoro Kano establishing Kodokan Judo in the 1880’s it would be very tempting to use the phrase “old school”.
Surely we can’t get much more old school than a country that had only just opened its borders to foreign countries and had a martial tradition that went back many centuries. Right?
Well, the reality of Jigoro Kano’s approach was that he was a huge innovator, and a conservative modernist. Kano sought to retain the best of the history and tradition of both Japan’s cultural and martial lineages, but he also sought to implement a pioneering approach to self cultivation grounded in evidence and rigorous application.
Kano was a remarkable individual, who by his early 20’s had studied numerous schools of Jujutsu (as it was then called) and had integrated and adapted them to such an extent that he could set up his own school, or ryu, namely the Kodokan.
One of the major differences between traditional Jujutsu and Judo was the emphasis on randori, or live, full effort sparring against another resisting opponent.
Traditional Jujutsu couldn’t really employ full contact sparring in the same manner as Judo because it was grounded in a past that included battlefield combat. In other words traditional jujutsu valued combat that took place without rules and had crippling injury or death as the final result.
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Due to its brutal roots many such traditional Jujutsu schools contained many techniques that simply could not be practised safely at full intensity, and were therefore taught in either kata (individual stylised sequences of movement practiced solo) or in kumi kata (sequences of movement practiced with a partner that still contained no contact).
While the kata system obviously had some value when taught to professional soldiers this type of approach has a very real danger of becoming ossified without the pressures of real combat to keep practitioners alive and responsive to a world that often doesn’t behave how we’d like it to.
This is largely the condition Jigoro Kano found many traditional Jujutsu schools in. They’d become deadened by lack of real and dynamic testing.
This was one of the problems Kano sought to solve in founding Kodokan Judo.
Judo translates to Gentle Way and one of the reasons for this is that unlike the traditional Jujutsu practitioners the Judoka (Judo practitioner) could practice and apply their waza (technique) with full intention and force without injuring their training partners.
Indeed many early teachers thought it was a sign of disrespect to their training partner if they did not apply their waza with full force.
Randori translates literally as “taking chaos” and for anyone who has engaged in trying to throw someone to the ground against their will it is easy to see why. Things do not go as smoothly as in traditional kata, to say the least. Things are chaotic. Unexpected things happen. We may feel confident in a particular technique one day, only to have that technique completely fail us the next day.
Randori teaches us to adapt to differing opponents on a moment to moment basis and incentivizes us to perfect our waza as we understand how difficult it can be to execute waza in a live, or free, sparring situation.
Randori and competition also teaches us, whether we are an adult or a child, a particular type of mentality when seeking to develop as an individual. For this its best to see what Kano himself said:
“In your everyday practice as well as in competition, an upcoming contest is often emphasised, while the essential spirit of judo is neglected. While it may be a proud moment, competition between schools is not the ultimate goal of the study and practice of judo. Students should practice judo not for the purpose of competition but rather to become able to use it to attain a greater purpose in life.
In competition or in fighting, feeling proud of yourself after winning by inconveniencing your opponent does not fulfill the spirit of judo. Insofar as possible, you should accommodate your opponent and compete in such a way as to allow him to use his waza on you freely.
If you do not win by using waza superior to those of your opponent or by turning his waza against him, this cannot be said to be a true victory. Particular attention to these matters is essential.”
The revolutionary aspect of judo, randori, emphasised total and full engagement with waza on a level that was often unheard of.
As we can see from Kano the emphasis was on having such mastery of the application of techniques against a fully resisting and competitive opponent that one could attain complete victory not through the use of tricks, but through allowing our opponent to fully apply their techniques against us, and still fail to beat us.
This type of mentality towards self mastery and mastery of a practical skill in the chaos of real life is a deeply beneficial life lesson for either adults or children, and can be gained within the practical lineage of Kodokan Judo.
Fortunately at Judo Fanatics we have tutors that have undertaken this journey at the highest levels of pressure and competition, and can help us guide us along the way so that we can further improve.