Master Tsunetane Oda
by Toshikazu Okada
Edited by Alessio Oltremari and Hal Sharp
If one thing has characterized my life it has to be my love of Judo. I have lived many years outside of Japan because of my job, but even when it was difficult I always found a way to practice. Judo has given me the will to overcome hardships and to bring out the best in me. I have had many senseis and still to this day try to study how to make the most of every day at the Kodokan. But there was a sensei that had been particularly important to me and who has deeply influenced the way I feel about and practice Judo. That was Master Tsunetane Oda.
It has given me much happiness to discover that Master Oda is well remembered and that many people still question me on his life. My friends have asked me to write something, therefore, I am happy to relate some of my memories. It should be noted that while Tsunetane is his proper name, his preferred name in Japan is Joine but the Kanji is the same.
Master Oda was born in 1892 in the part near the center of the island of Honshu. The exact place of his birth was Yamanashi Ken, a relatively small prefecture. It is in one of the forests near Mt. Fuji. At the age of 17 in 1909, Master Oda began to practice Judo while attending the Advanced School in Numazu. The next year he entered the Kodokan, where his extraordinary abilities in Judo were revealed. In 1911 he had already obtained the rank of 1st Dan.
In those days the Kodokan practice of Katame Waza, the techniques of controlling a fight on the ground, was not emphasized. Many Katame Waza techniques were considered minor and of less importance. The love of scoring an Ippon (full point victory) by a Nage Waza, a throwing technique, has always been at the core of Judo. Generally it was impractical to practice Katame Waza because most Dojos were small and crowded. More often today Ne Waza is the common term used to describe grappling techniques or groundwork.
Master Oda clearly took a contrary approach. Although his Nage Waza was of the highest level, it was his concentration on Katame Waza that he became known for. As one of the more promising students of Jigoro Kano, Master Oda gradually changed Kano’s view of the importance of Katame Waza. Master Oda felt that Katame Waza should be fifty-percent of judo since all fighting starts standing and ends on the ground.
Kano granted him permission to carry on his research on this subject which subsequently became the Katame Waza of Judo as we know it today. Kano who held Master Oda in high esteem sent him to teach at several schools and universities in Japan. What Master Oda taught his students has endured in terms of the effectiveness of his techniques.
One memorable incident happened around 1930. Master Oda was sent to teach at the Advanced School in Tokyo which is today Tokyo University. After his arrival at the school, his students soon excelled at Katame Waza. At a team competition against another university, his students who were not black belts defeated the other team who were all black belts. This showed the value of Katame Waza to the judo community. Oda’s system was nicknamed “Joine-Ryu Ne Waza”.
Ko Sen Judo's Formation
Master Oda then teamed up with Isogai Hajime, the famous 10th Dan who formed the foundation of the Ko Sen Judo. Unfortunately for reasons mentioned earlier Ko Sen Judo with its focus on Ne Waza was not politically well thought of by the Kodokan as well as the Japanese Ministry of Education. Following its reorganization in 1943, the Japanese scholastic system definitively stopped the practice of Ko Sen Judo in the school system. This resulted in Ko Sen Judo moving out of the main stream of Judo in Japan.
Master Oda took 25 years to publish his first book, “Koshita Judo Wa Sushume” (“You Progress This Way in Judo”) which is focused on Katame Waza. Ten years after it was published a draft of his more complete work, “Judo Taikan” consisting of over 1400 pages in two volumes, one on Nage Waza and one on the Katame Waza was completed. Many years later in 1948, on the occasion of his promotion to 9th Dan, Master Oda published his third edition of “Koshita Judo Wa Sushume”.
I began to practice with Master Oda at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, during the early 1950’s and still remain fascinated by his bravado. Master Oda was a relatively small man with a normal physique. He was a person of gentility, generosity and exceptional sensibility. I tried to understand his techniques by engaging myself to the maximum. Perhaps he understood my passion which is why Master Oda invited me to practice at his Dojo. At the end of each day at the university I would go to Master Oda’s Dojo where many Judokas would join us. The mat was so crowed that we had to do randori in rotations. When the practice would end it was usually late at night and would be very cold outside and snowing. Sometimes we would stay at the Dojo to have supper then read Master Oda’s book “Judo Taikan” and sleep on the tatamis.
Master Oda continued to teach to at the Kodokan and several universities in Tokyo. I remained under Master Oda’s tutelage for many years practicing 3 times a day. Often I would accompany Master Oda to the Kodokan as well as the Dojo at Sugamo Prison. The prison was not far away from Kodokan in a secluded area. It housed many high officials of the Japanese armed forces held by the American’s after World War II. The policemen inside had organized the Dojo of the prison so that Master Oda could teach them daily. Sensei Takamura 9th Dan and expert in Ashi Waza worked out there where he would display his strong skills in Randori. He was an intimate friend of Sensei Oda’s along with Yoshimi Osawa and Nakano Shozo, also 9th Dans who were also regulars at the Sugamo Prison Dojo. When the Judo practice was finished, various groups would arrive in order to participate in the Aikido class, taught by its founder, Shihan, Morihei Ueshiba. He too was a good friend of Master Oda.
After our workouts at the prison, I would go to supper with Master Oda carrying his Judogi over my arm. It is a Japanese custom for students to carry the gi of their sensei as a sign of deep respect. Students are expected to be on time for practice, clean the Dojo, etc. One very cold night Master Oda had me sleep in a small room that was warmer. The next morning I discovered that he had slept in the cold dojo because I slept in his room.
Judo for me is a practical approach to life. A dedicated Judoka should strive to practice Randori and Kata their whole life. This is the true Way of Judo. As young people we can Randori strong and with lots of energy. When we get older we can continue to Randori but must do it more softly. When an older Judoka gets over powered by a younger person in Randori he can switch to using Katame Waza as developed by Master Oda and often prevail.
It is said, while young Judoka can easily move like rabbits, older Judoka move like turtles but can still survive using Katame Waza.
Master Oda died from a serious disease on February 11, 1955, however his legacy will live forever at the Kodokan and in Judoka worldwide. I continued to practice Ko Sen Judo with Master Hirata, its last great exponent until his death in 1998.