Judo's Root Arts

A Brief Look at the "Root Arts" of Judo*

Photo of Jigoro Kano (center) with jujutsu masters circa 1921


Steven R. Cunningham, Ph.D.

6th dan Judo, 7th dan Jujutsu, 6th dan Karate

Copyright © 1996 Steven R. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved

Reprinted by permission of the author

After watching a Judo tournament, Kano reportedly gathered the participants together and told them:

You fought like young bulls locking horns; there was nothing refined or dignified about any of the techniques I witnessed today. I never taught anyone to do Kodokan Judo like that. If all you can think about is winning through brute strength, that will be the end of Kodokan Judo

Popular information on Judo is rife with misconceptions, many the result of casual observations of modern sport judoists. Of course the Judo originally conceptualized and popularized by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, is quite different than the modern sport version. One of Kano's key motives in creating his Judo was to preserve the ancient martial arts schools or ryuha, their long legacies and lessons gleaned from centuries of battlefield experience, and the vehicle they provide for the perfection of the individual and therefore the human race.

We often hear people suggest that Judo is a subset of Jujutsu, that Kano removed the dangerous techniques and practices, and selectively composed his art from his experience with one or two of the ancient ryu. It would seem that this is at odds with Kano's desire to preserve the ancient arts. Is something amiss here? Indeed, and more than a little bit.

Kano was more than a martial artist. He was a certifiable genius. His particular talent in martial art was his ability to sort out very quickly the central elements and principles that make techniques (waza), sequences or formalized methods (kata), and arts (jutsu) successful. This enabled him to grasp the teachings of the various Jujutsu schools very quickly, as well as teach his own students more in a shorter period of time.

Thus this genius became clear to the other Jujutsu grandmasters (soke), and they began to seek him out and share their knowledge with him. Soke-ships and scrolls of secret techniques (makimono) were bestowed upon Kano, and, in return, Kano turned to these elder masters of koryu whenever he made decisions regarding the syllabus and kata to be taught at his school, the Kodokan.

An enormous breadth of knowledge was brought to focus through Kano, enabling him to achieve the objective of preserving the koryu at the Kodokan. Not only was Kano's early training incorporated into the formation of his syllabus and kata, but the secret arts of other masters who, after exchanging teachings with Kano over extended periods, either joined with the Kodokan or became contributors to its knowledge base (so that they could be assured that their arts would be preserved).

It would be no small feat here to list all of the roots of Judo. What I can do is list some of these, based upon oral and other transmissions from my teachers. I will attempt to spell phonetically according to the way I heard the words spoken, and give notes were they might be useful.

(1) Kano's first teachers were Ryuji Karagiri and, separately, Heinosuke Yagi. While their schools are unknown, Yagi may be Yagyu which would place him most likely in the Yagyu Ryu. Kano also studied Seigo Ryu under a teacher whose name is not given.

(2) Yoshin Ryu. Kano's closest student (uchideshi), assistant, and demonstration partner was Yoshiaki Yamashita, who was a master of the Yoshin Ryu and the Tenshin Shin Yo Ryu. It was Yamashita, Yokoyama, and Nagaoka who put together the first Kodokan syllabus of instruction.

Yoshin-Ryu Jujutsu (Yo, meaning "willow," and Shin, meaning "heart or spirit") was devised by a doctor from Nagasaki named Shirobei Yoshitoki Akiyama. Akiyama had studied battlefield and healing arts (they are the same) in Japan, and is thought to have been accomplished in Jujutsu as well as the ancient Koppo-jutsu and other arts. Wishing to extend his knowledge, Akiyama went to China to study in the 1600s. There he studied medicine, katsu, various martial arts, especially striking arts and their use as applied to vital areas (Kyusho-jutsu). He also studied Taoism, Taoist healing and martial arts, and acupuncture. The centerpiece of the art he created by incorporating his training in China with Japanese methods was a syllabus of 300 techniques.

(3) Tenshin Shin Yo Ryu. It is well known that Kano studied with Hachinosuke Fukuda and Masatomo Iso. Tenshin Shin Yo Ryu Jujutsu includes four major classifications of techniques. The first of these is the Go Waza (Hard Techniques), and includes striking, kicking, throwing, holding, choking, and escaping. The second is Ju Waza (Soft Techniques) and includes joint locks and aiki movements. The third is Katsu or Healing Arts. Thus students' training was balanced and they could exercise sakatsu jizai (the freedom to kill and the freedom to restore life). Finally, the training includes Bugei Ju-Happan, extensive training with eighteen battlefield weapons.

To understand what skills and knowledge Kano took from the Tenshin Shin Yo Ryu school, it is helpful to understand that the Tenshin Shin Yo Ryu is a fusion of Yoshin-Ryu and Shin No Shindo Ryu Jujutsu.

We have already discussed the origins of the Yoshin Ryu. The other "half" of the Tenshin Shin Yo Ryu school is Shin No Shindo Ryu Jujutsu. Shin No Shindo Ryu is a derivative of the Takeuchi Ryu, and was created by an Osaka Policeman named Tamizaemon Yamamoto who specialized in striking techniques and in techniques that involved "immobilizing or paralyzing with a grip or hold" (for obvious reasons). Shin No Shindo Ryu is also the school of Otsuka, later of the Wado Ryu karate-do fame. Otsuka met Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Japanese Shotokan Karate, when Otsuka gave a Jujutsu exhibition in his presence. Reportedly, Funakoshi ran out onto the floor saying "Surely you have studied Tode (karate) in Okinawa!"

These two lines were married to form the Tenshin Shin Yo Ryu by Master Sekisai Minamoto Masatari Yanagi, later referred to as Mataemon Iso. Yanagi studied Yoshin Ryu, Miura Ryu, and Ryoi Shinto Ryu before opening his school in the city of Edo (old Tokyo). This legendary figure has many stories told about him. One of them involves him and his best student defeating a large band of outlaws who were terrorizing Edo in a battle that is always referred to as "savage" and "bloody."

(4) Kito Ryu. Kano studied the system of ran of Kito Ryu under Tsunetoshi Iikubo. Hidekazu Nagaoka gained full entry into the Kodokan after mastering Kito Ryu, and later became one of the only three men to gain Judan (10th dan) under Kano. Kito Ryu emphasizes many esoteric elements, including aiki. Aiki is the joining of internal or life energies. Kito teaches that there are three types of energy:

a. Riki, Ryoku, or Chikara: physical force, power, strength

b. Ki: internal energy

c. Shin: intention or will; basic life force.

The ki in aiki refers to the second of these. Kito teaches that "When two minds are united, the stronger controls the weaker..."

Kito is also based upon the principles of wa (harmony, accord, fluidity) and ju (suppleness, softness, gentleness). In application on the battlefield, the system incorporates a complex amalgam of strategies, many calling back to the Chinese master strategist Sun Tzu. Kito addresses the pursuit of loftier ideals, including spiritual and self-actualization interests, in a similar way, teaching that one should harmonize the Self with the Universe. It is so complex in terms of its theory as to be nearly impenetrable to analysis from the "outside." Chinese Taoist elements have been imported wholesale. This should not be surprising given the origins of the art. The pivotal point in the formalization of Kito Ryu is the arrival of an almost legendary Chinese figure, Master Chen Yuan-Ping (also known variously as Chen Tsu U, Gin Chin Pin, and Gempin by the Japanese). Master Chen came to Japan first in 1621, and came back to stay in 1638. He was a scholar who had apparently held some positions in the Chinese court. He taught Taoism's Lao Tzu and T'ung K'ao, and a Chinese martial art based upon ju. Three wandering, masterless samurai (ronin) found him at Kokusei Monastery, where he taught them "secret arts." The names of these samurai were Fukuno, Isogai, and Miura. Fukuno, after going on to master Yagyu Shingan Ryu, met a samurai named Terada. Fukuno and Terada founded Kito Ryu, and passed the art on to Yoshimura and Takenada.

The techniques of Kito Ryu are fast, fluid, subtle, and direct. The techniques exploit centered action and the projection of internal energies. Kito emphasizes projective throwing methods, and kokyu (kuki) techniques, and is considered a form of aiki-jujutsu.

(5) Takeuchi Ryu. Takano, Yano, Kotaro Imei, and Hikasuburo Ohshima were all close colleagues of Kano, and participated in the construction of the Kodokan syllabus and kata. Takeuchi Ryu is a comprehensive combat art, but is particularly well-known for bokken (wooden sword), jo (staff), and osae (immobilization) techniques.

The school derives from the Daito Ryu line, and was founded in June of 1532. Chumutaki Hisamori Diasuke Takeuchi was a prince who lived in Okayama, and studied Daito-Ryu. He met an ancient warrior named Takagi (in a dream) who emphasized certain principles that were to underlie Takeuchi-Ryu. The school became known as the "Hinoshito Torido Kaizan Ryu," or "school of the supreme and unsurpassed art of combat."

The techniques of Takeuchi Ryu are divided into five kyo (teachings or principles), related to Takeda's Five Principles-ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, and gokyo.

(6) Sosuishi Ryu. Aoyagi was involved in the construction of the Kodokan syllabus and kata.

Kano writes:

Nothing under heaven is more important than teaching. The teaching of one virtuous person can influence many; that which has been learned well by one generation can be passed on to a hundred.

(7) Yoshin Ryu. Yoshiaki Yamashita and Isogai (later 10th dans) were also masters of Yoshin and Ten Shin Shin Yo, I am told. Katsuta Hiratsuka, Hidemi Totsuka, and Takayoshi Katayama even participated in the construction of the Kodokan kata and syllabus. Totsuka (Totsuka-ha Yoshin) is of the school that the Kodokan defeated in the 1886 match.

(8) Daito Ryu. Kano had connections with the Takeda family who later led the school. Shiro Saigo was an adopted son of Tonomo Saigo, soke of this school before Takeda. Shiro Saigo came to Tokyo at the age of 14 to seek Jujutsu instruction and pursued Kano because of his reputation. Later, he quit both the Kodokan and Daito Ryu when his conflicting obligations to the two masters led him to an impasse.

Kano, always concerned that some important knowledge might be lost, engineered an obligation of Sokaku Takeda, Tonomo Saigo's successor, so that Takeda had to teach and reveal the inner secrets (okuden) of the ryu to Mochizuki, an uchideshi of Kyuzo Mifune, so that these secrets could be brought back to the Kodokan. This angered Takeda who attempted to disparage the Kodokan at every opportunity. Takeda claimed he knew 3,000 techniques, probably because he always charged for instruction, and did so at a fixed price per technique. Mochizuki eventually made Judan (10th dan) in this art. Later, Kenji Tomiki was sent to Morihei Ueshiba, who was obligated to accept the student, and eventually awarded him Kudan (9th dan). Ueshiba formed his art (Aikido) from Daito Ryu and Yagyu Ryu.

Daito Ryu does have a large number of techniques, and includes sword, staff, and body arts. It is an Aiki Jujutsu, focusing on internal methods.

(9) Fusen Ryu. Mataemon Tanabe was persuaded to reveal the core of his syllabus to Kano after the disastrous match between the schools in 1900. The Kodokan got stomped. The Fusen people had great wrestling-style ne-waza, and the rules prohibited deadly techniques. The Fusen school might have won anyway, that is not the point. The point is that Kano realized the need for good ne-waza.

(10) Jikishin Ryu. My teacher said that the Kodokan was still reeling from the Fusen Ryu loss when he arrived, and later the Jikishin people were courted and eventually won over as part of the effort to "fill out" the syllabus so that the weakness that caused the Fusen loss would never be repeated.

(11) Sekiguchi Ryu. Jushin Sekiguchi and Mogichi Tsumizu were teachers of Kano and were instrumental in the construction of the full syllabus and kata. Sekiguchi Ryu is a broad-based art, but is particularly well-known for its weapons training.

(12) Kyushin Ryu. Eguchi of Kyushin was involved in Kodokan kata and syllabus construction.

(13) Shiten Ryu. Hoshino was involved in Kodokan kata and syllabus construction.

(14) Miura Ryu. Inazu was involved in Kodokan kata and syllabus construction.

(15) Kukishin Ryu. Kukishin is particularly well-known for its techniques involving staves of various lengths. Kano was a weapons expert, so it is not surprising that Takamatsu and Kano were relatively close friends and colleagues. Takamatsu's favorite empty-hand technique was a technique that most of us would recognize as hiza-guruma. It is from Takamatsu that Judo's hiza-guruma comes.

In any case, it is evident that the Kodokan was a lively place in those early years. Kano was clearly at the center of the martial arts world in Japan, and masters flocked to the Kodokan for good reason. The original Judo of Kano was a rich composition of the major ryuha of battlefield arts. The preservation of these ancient methods meant that Judo would have to keep everything and find some controlling principle that allowed for this.

This is the reason for Kano's Seiryoku Zen Yo, or Maximum Efficiency, as a guiding principle for the physical art. Kano argued that the principles of all of these arts had value, each in its own context, according to conditions and opportunities. So Kano built a coherent, consistent framework designed to incorporate the knowledge of all of the ryuha to which he had been exposed. This framework, and all of the knowledge it advances, is Judo.

*Most of this is from oral transmissions (kuden), personal notes, and so on. In some cases, my ear may not have been able to properly discriminate the Japanese sounds, so I apologize for any errors. Undoubtedly, there are also omissions.

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