While there are many books that cover various aspects of Judo history, they always seem to me to be incomplete, maybe even superficial. That all changed when I read A History of Judo by 1964 British Olympian Syd Hoare, 8th Dan. Finally, this was the book that I had been looking for. A History of Judo was so informative and transformative that I bought out Amazon’s stock twice in order to offer the book to my assistant coaches.
If you’ve followed my blog you know that I take notes from every book I read. I’m anal about not marking up the books I read. Instead, I note the sections I want to remember, then I type them out on my computer for easy reference later on. It’s time consuming but well worth the effort. Usually, notes for an enlightening book might result in 2-4 pages. A History of Judo came in at eight pages! A record.
In the foreword of the book the author states:
Judo still has unresolved problems such as the balance of standing work (throws) and groundwork (restraints and submission techniques). It is useful to know about Japan’s past experience especially when trying new solutions for these old problems.
Or to paraphrase George Santayana, those who can’t remember or never knew the past history of Judo are bound to repeat it.
Thus, A History of Judo sets out to cover Kano’s battles to make Judo supreme, his take on why Judo should be primarily a standing art, the Kodokan’s efforts to become more groundwork competent, the march toward rule changes, the technical make-up of several of the jujitsu styles and early Kodokan, and how a redesigned gi transformed Judo’s inventory of techniques.
Here are some interesting facts in A History of Judo:
- Why Kano thought the real battle was not against the various jujitsu styles but against the Butokukai, a national martial arts umbrella group
- Kano’s invention of the black belt
- Initial Butokukai and Kodokan rules required two ippons to win a match
- That a second waza ari didn’t instantly add up to a full ippon and how this approached the logic of the koka (3 points), yuko (5 points), waza-ari (7 points), and ippon (10 points) scoring system introduced by the International Judo Federation in 1967
- Why Kano was against atemi waza in randori and shiai
- Why Kano adopted the face-up pin and throw while most jujitsu systems had face-down holding and throwing techniques
- There were many different sets of rules besides the Butokukai and Kodokan rules
- Most jujitsu styles had only one good throw per school
- How Kodokan Judo went from small throws to big throws
- Why kinsa was put on the scoreboard
- Kano’s “broad church” view of Judo
In closing A History of Judo, the author suggests that because of the rules a gap is emerging between the competitor and the dojo judoka, and that Judo is being led and changed by a minority- the competitors. I think he has that almost right. His only error is that the minority in question is not the competitors but the bureaucrats of the IJF and any national or continental organization that seeks to control Judo competition.
The author also notes that Judo is slipping away. He suggests that rules need to be logical, well-written, and understood by the general public, which currently they are not. Furthermore, Judo has to ensure that it is regarded as an effective martial art, and that more time is allotted to ne waza. Unfortunately, we all know what the IJF thinks of that. Finally, a drive is needed:
to foster spectacular high throws. Every judoka knows that it is the big throw that excites the crowd, and yet nobody seems to use the rules to stimulate such spectacular action. Writing in height as one of the necessary ippon throw criteria might achieve that.
By height, the author means high amplitude, which is a criterion used in wrestling. This is something that I also have suggested. To achieve more high amplitude throws in competitions, give them higher scores than the ‘flop and drop’ throws, which are caused by the referees’ redefining ippon and awarding soft ippons. Eventually, a numerical scoring system will make this more feasible than our current one.
Lastly, the author encourages us to return to Kano’s three objectives of Judo: physical education, combat training, and moral training. Amen to that!
By understanding the trials and tribulations of Judo throughout its history, we can do a better job at fixing Judo’s modern problems. A History of Judo will undoubtedly fill in many blanks, and resolve many of the conflicts we have about our Judo.
Note: Syd Hoare’s website can be found at http://www.sydhoare.com/. In addition to A History of Judo, he has also written the very worthy A Slow Boat to Yokohama, which chronicles his time in Japan prior to the 1964 Olympics.