An Analysis of Competition
By Donn F. Draeger
Judo, as a classical budo, or martial "way", of Japan, was intended by its founder, Jigoro Kano, to be less martial and to be rather a vehicle for the spiritual and physical development of man; it was deliberately designed as an educative system which gives built-in play man's ability to demonstrate perseverance in useful endeavor. By perseverance, regardless of the superficial achievements (rank, contest successes, prestige), every judoist can realize improvement of mental and physical self, and can be prepared, therefore, to make a better application of his mental and physical energies in his daily living. Idealistically, it was additionally hoped by Kano that such concomitants would bring about a more cooperatively-harmonious society, since it was composed of persons matured as responsible citizens by Judo.
Idealistic as this concept of Kano's is, none but the most uninformed will argue that it is an acceptable one, or that it is not worth striving for. But what is the direction of today's Judo training? Where is it leading to and what benefits does it produce? These are vital questions. Let us stop a moment and think intelligently about present-day Judo.
We must see it in comparison with original Kano Judo if we are to make a valid evaluation. Who, as among instructors of Judo today, has troubled to delve into the facts and circumstances surrounding original Judo? This is a natural beginning point, one from which honest analysis in comparison must them. Sources for this information, it is true, are hard to come by, for the decades have all but plowed them under and dimmed the light surrounding them. Yet, the instructor who makes today's Judo his life must be charged with the responsibility for obtaining the truth about original Judo.
It can be argued that even original Judo is not a budo form, for the founder, himself, painstakingly removed that which he considered objectionable martial tone from his teachings which, in the main, went to form Kodokan Judo. Just what constitutes a true budo form is beyond the orbit of this article, but modern-day Judo is even less within the budo sphere than was Kano's beloved Kodokan Judo.
It is patent that no budo can house a sport form and still be a budo form. Modern-day Judo, with its concentrations on sporting aspects of Judo, thus fails to qualify at this earliest juncture from the requirements of budo forms. The bad as it may, the deviation from budo principle is not a vital essence for our discussion, and we must turn to the direct issue at hand, that of the direction of modern-day Judo training as compared with its original intent and purpose as set by the founder, Jigoro Kano.
Make no mistake, today's Judo is not parallel to Kano's original product, not a mirror-image of it, and is more diverse from than congruent with it. Having stated a fact, there will be those who, though admitting that this is indeed true, defend the position of modern-day Judo.
The stance which they take wrest largely on the word "progress". What has taken place by way of modification, change, amendment, and so forth to the original Judo is charged to normal progress. These defenders of modern-day Judo trends plead the orderly evolutionary process which all substance must undergo. An entity such as Judo which undergoes constant handling by the multitudes is seen never to regress, but to get better by virtue of the "improvements" being made to it. Their stance is debatable, but functionally defensible as they point to other sports which reflect similar progress -- records improve as times, distances, and performances get better. How then came Judo go backwards by the same forces working in it, on it, and for it? To these defenders I mention the handling of pieces of art, foodstuffs, beverages, and host of other things involving mechanical dynamics. Handling becomes "mishandling" more often than not, and the net result is a deterioration of the product. And there are some sport entities which have gone "backwards" by mishandling. How does this apply to Judo?
For one thing, the Judo training system, as is in vogue in our modern-day society, is in reality a cruel system insofar as it is wanton to recognize the inexorable decline of a judoist's physical and mental powers as the judoist descends the chronological ladder, as each of us inevitably must. Modern-day Judo training manifests in this cruelty by insisting that, regardless of age or other bodily limitations, the proof of the judoist is in the contest. The judoist for advancement in rank, and once established as a yudansha comment is more often than not forced to pay himself physically against opponents far younger than knee; opponents whom he is expected to defeat if he is to gain the advancement or if used to continue his popularity via the route of respect to other judoists.
Such an attitude has no basis in fact, neither by Judo tradition nor by physiological exactness, and it may even be argued that Judo leaders in any sector of a national movement who cherish this attitude and enforcement are actually straying away from the intrinsic purpose of Judo training.
With respect to age-old traditional budo customs, from which Judo was designed, we find no lack of recognition of the limitations that increasing age brings upon technical skill. It is a well-known fact among budo expert teachers than a participant's technical life, his active value as a participant in any martial endeavor, is proportionate to the ma-ai necessary to that endeavor. Ma-ai is the interval between combatants or an engagement distance which permits each opponent to apply his proper actions.
The shorter the ma-ai -- that is, the shorter the engagement distance between combatants -- the more youth and strength is required for correct functioning. Conversely, as the ma-ai increases, the needed for youth and strength diminishes; the lack of age constraint is less a handicap.
Competitive partner-type endeavors can make is understandable. Judo with the shortest possible ma-ai, sumo with just a bit longer, kendo with a moderate ma-ai, and naginata-do with a long ma-ai are excellent examples in cases in point. Statistics show that top-level Judo champions expire prior to age 30; sumo champions find the end of the road between 30 and 35; kendo greats rein up until ages between 35-40, while naginata-do permits champions beyond the age of 40. To these competitive endeavors can be added others which do not actually compete against opponents (because of the inherent dangers should randori action be permitted) but compete against targets; kusari-gama jutsu and kyudo (chain-sickle-ball weapon tactics and traditional archery, respectively) operate at ma-ai of 20 feet or more, and the best in these specialties are the oldsters.
Thus, ancient and medieval accumulative experience, empirical in nature, acts in support of positive physiological truths we now must recognize. The barriers of nature definitely do not allow the skills and industry of man to approach them. As truths, they are worthy of the most implicit faith that can be given to human testimony. Man is not structured to continue competitively in efficient function so as to operate on a par with his chronological juniors in the martial arts.
Judo training, therefore, which requires the oldster to keep competitive pace with the youngster is opposed to our natural design, and is further tangential to that which the founder intended for Kodokan Judo. Kano accepted the reality of two types of Judo, one an entity in complete accord with nature – the other, substantially opposed to it.
Kano defined these two types as Judo in a "high" sense (jodan Judo), and Judo in a "low" sense (godan Judo). With his definitions, he also cautioned that the latter type is more entertaining, because it is less precise, plain to the mediocre mind as more of a "game" and contains, therefore, less valuable disciplines. While its technical implications are very similar to those adopted for the "high" Judo, the end point of a "low" Judo is a short road to almost nowhere.
I will not blandly compare the qualities of these two types of Judo, nor will I approach the less tangible areas that, though important, can appear too "sermon-like" and not interestingly readable. Instead I confine my comments to a description of some of the major issues intrinsic to "high" Judo. The reader is advised that they are qualities all lacking in the "low" form.
Judo training, in the Kanoian sense, must always lay stress on the "harmonious development of the body muscles". This can only be possible by a study and practice of a wide range of techniques. Over-specialization in any area of Judo endeavor cannot achieve this body developmental balance. In essence, this means regulated, balanced participation in randori, kata, and shiai.
Kano warned against a "contest over-emphasis" and the laying of too much stress on the achievement of the athletic objective. Here he had two important issues in mind. One was that competitive striving to excel in contest would invariably lead to forced, unnatural, hurry-up training methods, detrimental to the health. He urged caution against training measures which over exert the body. He writes: "... Those who aspire to be proficient in Judo must strive to avoid unnecessary fatigue of body and mind....". What he called "functional disturbances" surely are products of over-training for the contest. A "survival-of-the-fittest" type of training was always opposed by him with great vigor, in that it violates the principal of Judo, the maximum efficient use of energies. Rather, he advocated the natural, graduated study and practice of Judo.
"Everybody a dan holder", as an approach to Judo training, was not his idea for Judo. The mass over-popularization and compulsory training by which everybody engaged simply "must" achieve, "must" acquire a black belt, never occupied his thoughts, though he hoped fervently for solid and wholesome popularity of his beloved Judo. The sacrifice of quality for quantity, that is, lowering the standards to the whims of the public so that more can come into Judo, was never his method. Judo standards exist, to be sure, and those aspiring to proficiency, those motivated enough to undertake Judo training, were welcome in the Dojo. The student had to come to Judo, as it was, not Judo to be warped, bent, and weakened, and then taken to the student.
Kano, too, realized the limitations of advancing age, but he did not seek to penalize such persons undergoing this natural process by withholding of Judo rank or making rank advancement possible to them only through contest application. As age advanced, Kano graded the requirements to the individual, and no less was thought of the older judoist for his inability to keep contest pace with the younger, naturally-more-fit judoists.
Just as robust youth is exempted from being "perfect" technically in kata requirements, or in a wide range of Judo skills, and knowledge that is not yet his to possess, so the oldster, too, must get compensation in his physical performances to accommodate his age, especially in the contest phase of Judo.
"What is deficient in randori must be supplemented by kata" explains Kano in his latest technical notes. The "narrow nest" of randori is not part by the statement, but rather the fact that the contest-bent judoist will permit and encourage randori sessions which revolve mainly about his tokui-waza (pet technique) and its directly-related tactics. No wide range of Judo skills can ever be built by this training activity, for it is a mental void.
Health, Judo training, and physical education must be correlated and, above all, must be superimposed upon the education of all judoists to realization of the fact that these qualities are to be respected, not simply the contest winnings of the judoist. The highly competitive pace, as required by contest-centered training, burns out and does long-range harm by leaving for its end point a mental skeleton of the judoists "better days". With natural decline in physical performances, which only the most determined judoists can delay by abandoning tachi situations in favor of katame one's, youthful judoists are prone to lose respect for their seniors. This is especially true in western Judo where judoists are less steeped in tradition which holds to respect of seniors. In fact, it is regrettably evident that the western judoist thinks nothing of scoffing at a weaker judoist many years his senior, even, sometimes, when that judoist was his former teacher. This attitude can never be a fertile ground for the mature development of true Judo.
As is intended by its founder, proper Judo, to be meaningful, must take into consideration and permit a "Judo-for-all" attitude which gives full recognition to the needs of the chronological ages of the judoists training.
Editor's note: Donn F. Draeger was a scholar of Oriental history and philosophy. He did considerable academic and practical research on the martial arts and was engaged in research on the major fighting arts of Japan. As an instructor in the Kodokan's foreign section he specialized in analyzing the results of major competition as it relates to the individual player's total development. As of 1968 when this article was first published, Mr. Draeger had spent more than ten years studying at the Kodokan and, in addition to writing some ten books on Judo, was the only foreigner to be awarded official kata teaching licenses by the Kodokan, holding licenses in six of the seven recognized katas.