Copyright © 2010 by Linda Yiannakis
Traditional Judo is that practice of judo which reflects and adheres to the aims and principles of the art as Jigoro Kano presented them in his teachings and writings. This presents a problem for 21st century judoka who wish to practice in the old way. Judo has gone through many dramatic changes over the years since its introduction in 1882 and is now largely practiced as a sport. It is difficult to find a teacher, in the United States at least, who has received the core instruction of Kano's original judo to pass on to today's students. This dearth of specific instruction has given rise over time to various forms of what is called Classical Judo in this country, in which ideas of traditional judo are often based upon much practice of omote kata (demonstration form) and the avoidance of competition. Neither of these notions reflects the program of Traditional Judo or serves to address in a complete way Kano's oft-stated intentions for his art. While there is no one program that we can point to and call "traditional judo", it is a useful term to differentiate this type of practice from a purely sport orientation.
Kano's judo was conceived as a three-part, interrelated educational system. He established rentai-ho for development of the body through training, shobu-ho for the development of contest skills, and shushin-ho for mental and moral development. (Draeger, 1997: 118)
The cultivation of a strong physical body (through rentai-ho) and the development of contest skills (through shobu-ho) together resulted in kyogi judo, or judo in the narrow sense. Kano intended that judo practitioners were to also go on to achieve a higher level of self-actualization through shushin-ho and thus achieve kogi judo, or judo in the wide sense. The cultivation of the self and spirit were to put practitioners on the road to Kano's ultimate aim of judo: the perfection of character for self and others. "The ultimate object of studying judo is to train and cultivate body and mind through practice in attack and defense, and by thus mastering the essentials of the art, to attain perfection of oneself and bring benefits to the world."(Watson, 2008: xvi)
In contrast to the sport model which focuses primarily on striving in the competitive arena, the quest itself is the purpose behind the practice of Traditional Judo.
Kano's ideals of judo are encapsulated in the 3 maxims of Judo: Seiryoku zenyo (best use of energy); Jita kyoei (prospering together); Jiko no kansei (perfect yourself.)
How are these aims and ideals to be attained through the practice of a throwing art? The complete answer is beyond the scope of this article to address in full. However, the brief discussion here may convey an idea of the concepts of practice of Traditional Judo. Problems in translation, changes in language over time, and cultural differences lead to distortions and misinterpretations of original intent in any situation. Thus, Traditional Judo places a great deal of emphasis on understanding concepts and principles in terms of the cultural context from which they arose.
Kano's judo emphasizes principles: both the teaching of and the teaching by principles. When teaching by principles, techniques are seen as expression of principles. As such, a variety of disparate techniques may be presented in one lesson as a study in the same underlying principle. The focus is on the principle that they share and the way in which this manifests through different techniques. In this way, students are exposed to the connections and relationships among techniques through understanding of the principles that drive them. (Cunningham, S.R.: 1996)
The physical expression of the principles is the first lesson on the path to kogi judo. Kano's approach to teaching principles begins with the experience of hands-on practice of a principle in its most basic and visceral form - the physical operation of principle in technique execution. The kinesthetic understanding of the principle forms the basis for insight into higher (non-physical) applications of the principle, both in and out of the dojo.
As an example, one may learn the meaning of ju as that of yielding and redirecting. Ju contains within it the concept of avoidance of a direct clash of force or wills in favor of the redirection of incoming energy to one's own purpose. Thus ju may be applied in situations both in and out of the dojo as a means of reducing contention without sacrificing one's position.
The Gokyo no Waza plays a central role in the road to kogi judo, especially through its illustrations of seiryoku zenyo and its greater applications to everyday life. Seiryoku zenyo was identified by Kano as the governing principle of his art. Traditional Judo emphasizes bridging the operation of principles from the physical level to the wider context of philosophical application.
Similarly, the practice of kata in Traditional Judo serves to illustrate and expand underlying principles. Kata is seen as a vehicle for the preservation of essential knowledge and as a resource, guide and source of extended application of principles. Lessons drawn from kata may be integrated into any appropriate teaching situation in the dojo. Kata is not to be presented as a set of forms peripheral to the real lessons of the randori waza. It is to be addressed and practiced as part of mastering the techniques and their applications. Examples from kata illustrate uses, applications and strategies for techniques and so form living parts of lessons in the dojo. Kata is also referred to for its ura - its "underside" - the whole set of associated variants and applications which are connected to the omote, the demonstration form that we tend to think of as the kata.
In the same way, the goshin waza of Traditional Judo are not reserved for practice in kata only, but are brought into lessons as applications drawn from the kata and integrated with various randori waza as appropriate. The program remains internally consistent due to the coherence of the underlying principles in randori and goshin waza. Clearly, distinctions are still made between techniques permitted in randori or contest situations, and those reserved for other dojo practice, but all may be practiced together in a Traditional Judo dojo.
Thus, Traditional Judo is a practice whose primary aim is self-actualization for the benefit of society through the internalization of principles expressed and learned first through the physical art and then applied in daily life for the betterment of self and the benefit of others.
Cunningham, S.R. (1996, November 26). Re: Gokyo no Waza. Message posted to
UNM Institute of Traditional Martial Arts