This is part two in a four part series shining a gas light on the forgotten golden age of mixed martial arts that existed during the Belle Époque. For the previous installment in the series, check out Part 1: The Golden Age of Wrestling and the Lost Art of American Catch-as-Catch-can. And for the history of the origins and early development of MMA, read James Figg: The Lost Origins of the Sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
The two disparate martial arts of wrestling and jujutsu, which over the years have proven to be the two most successful disciplines in the sport of mixed martial arts, both saw their greatest achievements accomplished during the age known as the Belle Époque. During this time, as wrestling was reaching its zenith in Europe and the United States, on the other side of the world jujutsu was following a parallel path towards its own golden age. What makes the story of jujutsu’s success more remarkable than that of its long-time rival is that it entered this period on the brink of extinction, and yet, would somehow not only survive, but prosper. Within a few short years, it would be spread to the four corners of the globe and simultaneously give birth to countless offshoots. What is even more remarkable is that almost all this success can be attributed to the work and vision of one man: Kanō Jigorō.
"If there is effort, there is always accomplishment."
- Kanō Jigorō
Kanō Jigorō was born in 1860, into a Japan that was going through cataclysmic changes. For the previous 200 years, the ruling Tokugawa shogunate had attempted to prevent any upheaval in the social order by instituting a policy of isolation known as sakoku. The sakoku, or "locked country", edicts severely restricted contact with the outside world, prescribing death to any foreigner who entered or any Japanese who attempted to leave, resulting in a stagnant nation governed by a feudal caste system. This seclusion ended abruptly in 1853 when American Commodore Matthew Perry and his "black boat fleet" steamed into Edo bay, and with cannon barrels pointed, demanded that Japan open up to the outside world. This forced "opening" revealed to the populace how far the nation had fallen behind the rest of the world under the misrule of the Tokugawa Family, triggering a period of rebellions and war, which climaxed with the abolishment of the bakumatsu (shogunate) and the restoration of the Emperor Meiji in 1868.
Kanō grew up in the midst of these tumultuous times, raised by a father who was a firm believer in the power of education and a proponent of modernization. He saw to it that young Kanō attended a private European school, which offered instructions in both classical Japanese studies and yogaku, or western learning. Kanō excelled in academics, showing a keen interest in education, but being of small stature - at 14 he was not much more than 5’ tall and still under 100 lbs – he found himself unable to stop his fellow students from bullying him. A friend of the family, upon hearing his dilemma, recommended jujutsu. Kanō immediately seized upon this as his solution; the only problem was from whom could he learn.
During the Edo period, only samurai were legally allowed to train in armed or unarmed combat, but the caste was effectively banned by Imperial ordinance in 1871, which abolished all of the samurai’s privileges – including the right to carry a katana in public or cut down a commoner who didn’t show proper respect (Kiri sute gomen). This also meant that jujutsu, once the sole privilege of the samurai, had fallen into disuse and was under threat of extinction from a public uninterested with its past. The German Dr. Erwin Von Baelz, who was living in Japan as a professor of medicine and Privy Counselor to the emperor, observed this phenomenon first-hand:
"In the 1870s at the outset of the modern era, Japan went through a strange period in which she felt a contempt for all native achievements. Their own history, their own religion, their own art, did not seem to Japanese worth talking about, and or even regarded as matters to be ashamed of."
Kanō soon learned for himself the truth of Baelz’s statement when, after enrolling in Tokyo University at age 17, he began searching for an instructor in earnest. It proved difficult, for, as Kanō himself described it, jujutsu at that time was "out of vogue as being stale and awkward and by the celebrated masters only were they kept." Eventually, in desperation, he turned to a local bone doctor, having heard that many osteopaths (or bone-setters) were former jujutsukas, having learned their skills from the number of bones that had to be reset due to rough drilling. This proved to be true, and an osteopath introduced him to Hachinosuke Fukuda, a master of Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū Jujutsu.
Kanō enrolled with Fukuda immediately, and due to his enthusiasm and effort, he surpassed the senior pupils gaining the title of Shihan-Dal, meaning, "representing the Master". In August of 1879, he did indeed represent Fukada and his dojo during a jujutsu demonstration for Ulysses S. Grant, during the former President of the United States visit to Japan.
Unfortunately, Kanō‘s time with Fukuda was brief, for shortly thereafter Fukuda took ill and died. Kanō ended up being taken in by another Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū instructor named Masatomo Iso. Kanō spent two years at the dojo, becoming a master of Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū Jujutsu by age 21, when Iso too suddenly fell ill and died, forcing Kanō to go in search of a new sensei. He would soon find Tsunetoshi Iikubo, who would instruct him in Kitō-ryū Jujutsu.
Kanō’s senseis’ misfortunes proved to be a godsend, for it allowed him to experience and compare the pedagogies of the three Grand Masters, while also exposing Kanō to a wide range of jujutsu. Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū, which Kanō first studied, was especially known for atemi-waza (striking) and katame-waza (grappling), while the Kitō-ryū excelled in nage-waza (throwing) techniques. In addition to these techniques, Kanō being inquisitive and open-minded thanks to his family and academic background, began to see ways to change and improve the methods he was learning, even if it meant looking beyond the Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū and Kitō-ryū Jujutsu. When he repeatedly lost to a larger student in his dojo, and needed a way to compensate for his smaller stature, he added Sumo and Western wrestling moves to his repertoire. He also began to develop his revolutionary concept of kuzushi or "off-balancing".
kano jigoro shihan (via freebudo)
In 1882, a 22-year-old Kanō took nine students and set up his own dojo, although he was still himself a student of Master likubo, who paid several visits a week to assist with instructions. Here, he began to teach his own version of jujutsu, offering a blend of many different ryū along with new techniques he had developed or taken from other disciplines, as well as kuzushi. He also began to focus on the pedagogy of jujutsu, reforming how it was practiced and taught. The effectiveness of Kanō’s reformed version of jujutsu was proven the day he defeated his master Tsunetoshi Iikubo during randori (free practice). Kanō had never been able to throw Iikubo, who was of the Kitō-ryū school and was very adept at throws, but that day, Kanō blocked every move he made, and then applied two of his techniques - ukewaza and sumiotoshi - to throw the Jujitsu master no less than three times. "I am afraid I have nothing more to teach you", Iikubo told Kanō afterwards.
Kanō was now his own master, but what would he be teaching? The answer would revolutionize jujutsu and martial arts, as he later explained, "by taking together all the good points I had learned of the various schools and adding thereto my own inventions and discoveries, I devised a new system for physical culture and moral training. This I call Kōdōkan Judo". Ju means "pliancy" and do means "the way", thus judo translates as "the way of pliancy" or "the gentle way". Since the name judo had been used 250 years before Kanō by the Jikishin-ryū, Kōdōkan – which means "a hall for studying the way" - was added to differentiate the two.
Kanō’s Judo was groundbreaking in its approach to jujutsu. First, it was a comprehensive style of jujutsu, combining the techniques of many schools, so that a judoka would not be limited to only one school of techniques, but would be knowledgeable in grappling, throws, and striking. Also, Kanō had retained from his school days an appreciation of empirical evidence, so judo was not beyond putting these techniques to the test, with those found lacking or impractical being removed from the curriculum so that practitioners could focus on what actually worked. Kanō’s motto was "the maximum efficiency with minimal effort."
Secondly, while still retaining randori and kata as the principle means of instruction, Kanō revised their use in judo. Kanō had long observed that randori, or free practice, was the more effective teaching method when compared to the mechanical drilling of katas. The problem with randori lied with the fact that students would get injured during the live drills since generally all techniques were permitted. The solution for Kanō was to go through all the techniques used in judo, and determine which ones were safe enough for use in randori, and which ones would be deemed too dangerous or risky and be relegated to be taught as a kata. This allowed kenkyu-sei (as judo students were known) to not only use more randori, thus learning and progressing faster without the injuries that kept other jujutsukas on the sidelines, but still retained the knowledge of the more "deadly" skills through kata. Kanō also introduced the kyu/dan system of rankings, borrowing it from the board game "Go", which allowed students to measure their own progress as well as served as motivation to reach the next ranking. The combination of being able to practice more often with randori and the added motivational incentive saw the kenkyu-sei of the Kōdōkan progress faster than their contemporaries in traditional jujutsu.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Kanō had made judo something more than a koryū bujutsu, or traditional martial art, incorporating aspects of philosophy and sport to become the first gendai budō, or modern martial art, of Japan. Kanō seems to have been influenced by the English concept of sport, where it was used for exercise, the imparting of ethical values, and a means of offering some class equality. These additions that Kanō borrowed paralleled the interests of the Japanese government, who in 1882, had decided that the four overriding principles of public education were: to form a strong constitution through physical exercise, to fill students’ hearts with loyalty and patriotism, to inculcate necessary knowledge, and to produce the strength necessary for military men. In this new Japan judo might find a receptive audience, all it would have to do is survive against the other schools of jujutsu.
Almost immediately, the Kōdōkan found itself under assault by other schools of jujutsu. These schools where led by former samurai, a number of which had been advocates of sonno joi (revere the emperor, expel the barbarian) and disliked Kanō’s Judo and its incorporation of "modern" and "foreign" ideas. Viewing jujutsu as their caste’s birthright, they were openly outraged at Kanō’s idea that judo would be open to everyone, including foreigners (with the first being the American Dr. F. W. Eastlake in 1885), and later, even women (while the first official female student of the Kōdōkan was Sueko Ashiya in 1893, Kanō had been instructing his wife and housekeepers in judo for years previous that date).
As soon as the Kōdōkan opened its doors, challengers from the other schools of jujutsu began to line up at their doorstep. Kanō later wrote in his memoirs about this period, "It seemed that the Kōdōkan had to take on the whole of Japan". One noteworthy incident was in 1883, when during the ceremony to award the first ever black belt grades to Shida Shiro (more well known as Saigo Shiro) and Tomita Tsunejiro (who also happened to hold the honor of being the very first student of the Kōdōkan), the celebration was interrupted by a jujutsuka named Yokoyama Sakujiro. Known as "Oni" or "Demon" for his fearsome size and fighting style, Sakujiro had come to challenge Kanō and prove Teshin Yōshin-ryū’s superiority to their gendai budō. Unfortunately for him, Kanō had recently withdrawn from participating in these challenges, so Shida Shiro was selected to represent the Kōdōkan. At the time, Saigo was only 17 and small in stature, like his master, but was fiercely loyal to the Kōdōkan, and had studied intently Oshiki-uchi, the secret fighting style of the Aizu-han, before taking up judo.
"[Shiro’s] skills were such that, as soon as he was touched by his opponent, his opponent seemed to lose all control over his balance and strength, and would be thrown with ease. How he accomplished this was hard to explain, even if one saw it with one’s own eyes." ["Arima Judo Kyohon"by Sumitomo Arima,1904]
The "Demon" was startled to find himself defeated by Shiro, but was so impressed with the techniques demonstrated by his opponent that he immediately pledged himself to Kanō and became a student of judo. Soon he, along with Shida Shiro, Tsunejiro Tomita, and Yamashita Yoshiaki, who would join them in August of 1884, became known as the "Kōdōkan Shiten'nō" or "Four Guardians of Kōdōkan" (although the literal translation is "Four Heavenly Kings of the Kōdōkan"). They would become renowned as defenders of judo during the numerous contests or shaia (derived from shi-ni-al; "to the death") they found themselves challenged to. And the "gentle-way" would needs such champions, for the stakes in these contests were most high, as Yokoyama Sakujiro later recalled:
"In those days, contests were extremely rough and frequently cost the participants their lives. Thus, whenever I sallied forth to take part in any of those affairs, I invariably bade farewell to my parents, since I had no assurance that I should ever return alive"
In 1886, the Tokyo Metroplitan Police Board saw fit to arrange a bujutsu taikai (a martial arts tournament or meet) between Kanō’s Kōdōkan and the Totsuka’s branch of the Yōshin-ryū. This was a major coup for the 4-year old judo club to be offered this opportunity, for not only was Tosuka’s ryū in Chiba the larger (with some 3,000 students as compared to Kanō’s few dozen) and more prestigious of the two, but only two years earlier these two schools had met in a shaia at Tokyo University on behalf of the administration, and the judokas had been easily bested. As Baelz stated at the time, the contest "made it clear how much training is needed to learn the art, for all the young men who had been working at it in Tokyo, not one, not even Kanō, could cope with the police officers who had been trained by Totsuka in Chiba."
After that first encounter, the judokas of the Kōdōkan rededicated themselves to their craft and saw a great measure of success, defeating most of the other major jujutsu ryū in the Tokyo area, until they, along with their rivals in Chiba, were recognized as the two best. This, in conjunction with the interest the Mombusho (Ministry of Education), showed in judo’s potential for educational purposes, led Mr. Mi-shima, the 5th Chief of the National Police Agency, to arrange a rematch for the purpose of determining who would teach unarmed defense techniques to their police officers.
For the taikai, each side selected ten men, with the representatives of the Yōshin-ryū Jujutsu being some of the most renowned jututsukas of the era. In comparison, the young men from the Kōdōkan seemed woefully inexperienced. As Kanō himself wrote when discussing their opponents:
"Totsuka Hikosuke was considered the strongest jujutsuka of the Bakumatsu. After Hikosuke, (his son) Eimi carried the name of the school, and he trained many outstanding jujutsuka...In truth, Totsuka's side had powerful fighters and were no blowhards . . . When you mentioned the name Totsuka, you meant the greatest jujutsu masters of that era. My own Tenshin Shinyo-ryu and Kito-ryu teachers were sorely pressed when they went up against Totsuka jujutsu masters at the shogunate's Komusho dojo..."
While many of the details of the bujutsu taikai have been lost, we do know how the Shiten'nō faired. In the case of Tomita Tsunejiro, while the name of his opponent is lost, the records show that he was victorious. Yamashita Yoshiaki, likewise, defeated Yōshin-ryū Totsuka-ha exponent and master Enchi Kotaro by throwing him with a seoi-nage.
The most anticipated match of the taikai was between Yokoyama Sakujiro and Nakamura Hansuke. Nakamura was not actually a student of Yōshin-ryū, but a sensei of Ryoi Shintō-ryū who had been asked by Totsuka to participate on his behalf. He was also called the toughest man in Japan, being a burly 176 cm tall and 94 kg, and famous for his ability to be hung by the neck from a tree without feeling any pain. The "Demon" Sakujiro, at 169 cm and 95 kg and having attained the rank of 4th dan in only his 3rd year, would prove to be more than a worthy opponent. The match itself was a brutal and grueling affair that lasted a full 55 minutes before finally being called a draw. In the end, the referee had to pry their fingers apart to get the two to release their vice-like grips.
The last match involved Shiro Shida and Terushima Taro and was destined to become the most famous in judo’s history. Few gave the then 20-year old Shiro much chance against the older (27) and larger (he was listed as being 83 kg to Shiro’s 58 kg) Terushima, who was known to be Hikokuro Totsuka’s favorite jujutsuka and chosen heir to head Yōshin-ryū. But after15 minutes, Terushima made a mistake and left himself open, and to the surprise of those in attendance, Shiro threw Taro with such force that he suffered a concussion and was forced to retire from the match. The technique used by him was called "yama-arashi" or mountain storm, and has since been lost to the ages. As many have said, "there is no yama-arashi before Saigo and no yama-arashi after Saigo".
With Shiro’s win, the finally tally was 9 wins and one draw in the Kōdōkan’s favor. It was an overwhelming victory for the Kōdōkan that not only made judo the martial art of the Tokyo Police Department, but confirmed its place in the future of Japan.
In 1888, another taiki was held, involving fifteen members of Kōdōkan. Opposing them an equal number of jujutsukas, including ten advocates of Yōshin-ryū Totsuka-ha bent on avenging their loss in honor of Tosuka Hikosuke (he passed away shortly after the Police Competition), along with five other masters from various schools. This time, Yamashita faced Terushima (who had taken over as leader of Yōshin-ryū Jujutsu), and Saigo was pitted against Enchi Kotaro, but the outcome was still the same; with the exception of two draws, the Kōdōkan swept their opponents.
With this final victory and Kōdōkan Judo on firm ground, Kanō began to focus more on his true career as an educator, eventually taking a position with the Ministry of Education, although he still played a major part in expanding judo to the Japanese populace and seeing his vision for a codification of jujutsu realized. Already many of the jujustu ryū began to reform their methods, incorporating many of Kanō Jigorō’s innovations after having witnessed their success firsthand. In 1895, the "Dai Nippon Butoku Kai" was established as a kind of governing body for jujutsu, with the intent of sanctioning and standardizing the disciplines throughout the country. Formulating the Butokukai competition rules jujutsu in 1899 , the Kōdōkan Judo Randori Shobu Shimpan-ho rules in 1900, and by 1905 they had come up with a uniform set of regulations for jujutsu-katas.
The era of shiai was passing, although there was still one major battle left to fight, one that saw judo ironically strengthened by losing. In 1900, Kōdōkan Judo experienced a massive shock when it lost a challenge match to the Fusen-ryū Jujutsu, a school that specialized in ne-waza or "ground work". To Kanō’s credit, he didn’t ignore his ideals of taking the best of jujutsu and incorporating it into judo. Recognizing the benefits of ne-waza, he gathered the Fusen-ryū masters and had them teach several of his judokas their jujutsu methods. These new ground fighting judokas would go on to instruct others while forming the foundation of Kosen Judo.
As Kanō focused more on his other responsiblities, he started leaving the running of the Kōdōkan to the Shiten'nō. At first, it would be Shiro, who had now taken the surname of his adopted father Aiki-jūjutsu master Saigo Tanomo, who would take up the mantle of Director of the Kōdōkan. This didn’t last long, for, in 1891, Saigo Shiro abruptly left.
The stories for his leaving are many. Many involve too much drink or fighting. One tells of Kanō being forced to banish him following a melee the police tried to break up only to end up either injured or thrown into the river by Shiro. Another involves a duel with a 200 cm, 140 kg sumo wrestler named Ara-umi, in which Shiro killed him with a blow to the chest. The most likely, and more poetic, was the conflict Shiro felt between Kanō’s and his first master and adopted father. When one pledged themselves to a sensai, it carried a strong obligation to serve, known as giri. Shiro had been raised and taught Oshikiuchi by Saigo Tanomo who had visions of him carrying on the family jujutsu. At the same time, he had dedicated himself to Kanō and his Kōdōkan Judo. He could not be dedicated to both and yet, he could not choose one without betraying the other.
Shiro’s solution was to move to Nagasaki and become a reporter, abandoning both Oshikiuchi and Judo in the process. Thus Shiro escaped having to break his giri to either of his two masters and never took up another hand-to-hand discipline, instead choosing to dedicate himself to Kyūdō, or the Way of the Bow and Arrow. Years later, Shiro would be immortalized as the title character in the novel Sanshiro Sugata, written by Tomita Tsunejiro’s son, Tsuneo Tomita, which would be released as a film in 1943 by Akira Kurosawa.
Shiro’s one time opponent, Sakujiro "Demon" Yokoyama, eventually became the Kōdōkan’s director as well as sensei to the future "God of Judo" Kyuzo Mifune. Once the most feared of the Shiten'nō, as Sakujiri aged, he grew more diplomatic, honoring Kanō’s unofficial ban on duels – to the best of his abilities. When a ruffian and his dozen cohorts tried to steal his jacket while dining with Mifune, the nearly 50-year old 7th dan was wise enough in his advance age to leave half for his dining guest, while he taught the others some manners.
In 1911, Yokoyama Sakujiro – who had interrupted that very first black belt ceremony - made a tally of those currently of dan rank or higher. In less than 30 years, the Kōdōkan’ had grown from less than a dozen students working towards their first dan, to now include 2 seventh dan (degree black belt) 3 sixth dan, 6 fifth dan, 30 fourth dan, 120 third dan, 300 second dan, and 750 first dan. That same year, an even greater triumph was recorded when judo was added to the Japanese national school curriculum. To understand how incredible the success of judo was, know that in the 1870s, as Dr. Baelz was espousing the benefits of physical education, he was told by the Governor of Chiba that jujutsu would make a splendid method of exercise, but regretted that it "should have gone so completely out of use". Now it was mandatory for school children to study.
The benefits and successes of the Gentle Way wouldn’t be limited to Japan, either. In 1903, Yamashita Yoshiaki set sail for America, arriving first in Seattle, where he gave a judo exhibition that inspired the local Japanese population to start their own judo club, the Seattle Dojo, which remains the oldest judo club in all America. Afterwards, Yamashita traveled eastward to Washington, where early the next year, he was introduced to President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, who was a wrestling and boxing enthusiast, became equally enraptured by judo, taking lessons from Yamasita. In fact, he was so impressed with the skills Yamashita demonstrated that he had him hired to teach at the U.S. Naval Academy. For two years, 1905 and 1906, Yamashita was the "wrestling" coach, before resigning to return to Japan (his replacement would be former American Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Tom Jenkins).
Yomashita was followed to the US by another one of the "Guardians", Tomita Tsunejiro, who arrived in New York City in December of 1904, accompanied by his pupil Mitsuyo Maeda. The two quickly set about giving exhibitions to the American public, where Tomita was quick to distinguish Judo from jujutsu: "Jiu-jitsu is an almost extinct art, and a savage one that were better extinct. The real art of self-defense is ju-do."
For the most part, they met with success, such as their visit to Princeton University, where they threw several members of the football team, although their demonstration to the cadets at West Point left something to be desired. The two would go on to establish a judo club in New York in 1905. Shortly thereafter, the two would part company. Tomita would stay in New York until 1910, when he returned to Japan to live out the rest of his days. Maeda, in turn, took up professional wrestling, which led him to travel across the Americas and Europe, taking on some of the top combatants of the era under the moniker "Conde Koma" or "Count Combat". Eventually, he would retire to Brazil, where he would teach a young man named Carlos Gracie the art of jujutsu...
Other judokas traveled to the West, often at the urging of Kanō who saw an opportunity to spread the philosophy of Judo. Gunji Koizumi, Sadakazu Uyenishi, Yukio Tani, Mikonosuke Kawaishi, Tokugoro Ito and many others would demonstrate jujutsu to the outside world, open schools across the Americas and Europe, or even partake in professional wrestling. Judo had not only conquered Japan, but was now looking at colonizing the world. Kanō's creation had far surpassed even his lofty goals.
Often it is easy to exaggerate the influence a single person can have on events or history, but in the case of Kanō Jigorō, it is almost impossible to do so. For, without Kanō, not only would we not have Kōdōkan Judo, but there is a strong possibility that jujutsu would have gone the way of catch-as-catch-can wrestling and become an obscure, almost forgotten discipline. In addition, without Kanō Jigorō there is a strong possibility here would be no Mitsuyo Maeda, W. E. Fairbairn, Vasil Oshchepkov, or Bill Underwood, and thus no Brazilian Jiujitsu, Defendu, SAMooborona Bez Oruzhiya, or Combato. And for these reasons, any period that produces a Kanō Jigorō must be labeled a "Golden Age".
Jigoro Kano (via martialwarrior540)
Special thanks to Cowboy, the Parisian connoisseur of Judo and Jeet Kun Do, who gave me some valuable input. For a partial list of some of the sources, besides those linked in the text, please reference the following:
Muromoto, Wayne. "Judo's Decisive Battle: The Great Tournament Between Kodokan Judo's Four Heavenly Lords and the Jujutsu Masters", Furyu: The Budo Journal, v. 3.
Kano, Jigoro and Lindsay, T., "Jujustsu and the Origins of Judo", Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Volume 15 (1887)
Syd Hoare, "A History of Judo", BPR Publishers (2009)
Kevin Casey, "Judo", Rourke Publishing Group (1994)
To be continued in The Forgotten Golden Age of Mixed Martial Arts – Part 3: Sherlock Holmes, Les Apaches, and the Gentlemanly Art of Self Defence.