lOth-Dan Judo Master,
Is Dead in Tokyo at 81
One of the great ones is gone.
Kyuzo Mifune, last of the lOth-Dan
Red Belts (Judans) of Kodokan judo,
died January 27th in Nichidai Uni-
versity Hospital in Tokyo. He entered
the hospital last December 4th with
cancer of the throat and this, with
bronchial complications, ended the
life of one of the greatest judomen of
all time. He was 81.
Mifune-judan stood only five feet
three inches tall and weighed but 110
pounds. Unlike many Japanese of
small measurements he was not stocky
or muscular. People outside the mar-
tial arts were politely incredulous
when informed that this little white-
haired old man was the best in the
world in the rough-and-tumble con-
tact sport of judo. It’s true that in his
later years the young bulls did not
fight him in serious contest, but it is
also true that only the top Dans or
current champions might have over-
whelmed him if they’d tried.
Precious few of the world’s hun-
dreds of thousands of judomen reach
the stage where they win their matches
purely with technique. Mifune, de-
scribed without demurrer as a genius,
had passed beyond even this stage to
the point where he dominated his op-
ponents with pure principle.
Because of this he was revered by
judomen and by all the martial arts
as living proof that their’s were not
mere roughneck combat systems or
“scientific dirty fighting,” but true arts.
Mifune became the last of the 10th-
Dans last November when Kaiichiro
Samura died in Tokyo, reportedly of
“old age” (he was 84). Samura-/Wan
was given a Kodokan funeral and pre-
sumably the same honor will be be-
stowed on Mifune.
Because of his small size Mifune-
judan was never tempted to overcome
his opponents with weight or muscle.
By refining the principles of gentle
giving-way and of deflecting the force
of attack he made it impossible for
anyone to throw him. As the top-
ranking giants of Japan snatched him
into the air he would ride them like a
man or horseback and always return
to his feet. It was like elephants trying
to throw a butterfly.
He threw others — at will — purely
on the principle of non-resistance.
Rather than fighting a man he would
go with him, at the right moment add-
ing his own 110 pounds to his oppo-
nent’s 250. Thus the other man would
suddenly find himself weighing 360
pounds without a leg to stand on.
Mifune invented a number of new
throws including many counters (an
art he specialized in), and the tech-
nique of “Air Throwing” (Kukinage,
or Sumi-Otoshi), a function of pure
principle in which only the hands
touch the opponent’s body.
As a youngster he took up the study
of ju-jitsu in Sendai, northern Japan.
Halfway through Keio University in
Tokyo he quit college to become a
disciple of Jigoro Kano at the Kodo-
kan Judo Institute. He never left, and
in 1945 he attained the pinnacle, the
rank of Judan Red Belt. He received
several decorations from the Japanese
government but his true glory lies in
the realm of judo theory. In his book
“The Canon of Judo,” written in 1956
and translated into English, he set
down many of his ideas on the prin-
ciples and techniques of the art.
Even during his lifetime many
found it difficult to believe this in-
credible man existed. Now that he is
gone it will be all too easy to consign
him to some other-wordly pantheon
While he lived it was always pos-
sible to know the highest level attain-
able through judo—Mifune was there.
Now that light is out, and from time
to time judomen must remind the
world and themselves that he existed
else they lose their way. S^