Skip to main content

Intelligence Gathering & Jujutsu - Part 8 - The Ascension of Judo



So far we have had a brief look at the scope and scale of Japanese Intelligence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  We have also had a brief look at the facts that:

  • As early as 1896 Ryohei Uchida had begun using the Kodokan as cover for the right wing activities of Toyama’s Genyosha and his own Black Dragons.
  • Other Jujutsu dojo were already being used as intelligence posts in Southeast Asia.
  • The practice of martial arts, especially Jujutsu & Judo was an excellent cover, facilitating travel, access to police, military and political officers and premises.
  • The dojo itself as an excellent choice of a cover premises allowing fraternisation of local and itinerant personal, including military personal, without raising suspicion.


Determining the exact make-up of martial artists, dojo and intelligence networks is nigh on impossible from the top down, but we can consider the implications to Jujutsu and shed new light on Judo in the process.

Let us consider the common fable of Judo:


The legend begins, Jigoro Kano is born at the dawn of the Meiji era - cometh the hour cometh the man.  He is a sickly child, and can’t get anyone to teach him Jujutsu.  Finally in his late teens he is able to find Jujutsu teachers, and trains diligently in two styles under three masters.

Having mastered theses styles of Jujutsu and ‘studying’ many others, he concocts his own system and founds the Kodokan.  The methods of the Kodokan are far superior to the old methods, culminating in the fabled police matches in which the Kodokan players essentially destroy Jujutsu on the mat, relegating Jujutsu into obscurity and elevating Judo to the mantle of the ultimate form of hand to hand combat.

Kano’s genius both on the mat as a martial artist and off the mat as an educator are confirmed for all time.


How true is this myth?

I’m going to leave Kano’s early years and the creation of Judo to one side - for the purposes of this post he founded the Kodokan - let’s go from there.

If you search hard enough you will discover an interesting fact - there is little evidence of the police matches and their devastating effect on Jujutsu - especially from the period.  The only information in English that is much past the myth is notations of how there is no period newspaper information, and that the myth seems to appear decades later.

Thats not to say these matches didn’t take place - let’s assume they did.  But were these matches really the origin of the ascendancy of Judo?

I would answer ‘no’.

I put it to you that the ascendancy of Judo is a result of;

  1. the political power of the Kodokan, emanating in no small part by its widespread penetration and use by right wing groups, resulting in
  2. the adoption of the rules of Judo by the Butokukai, due to it being the palatable unified ruleset for disparate schools of Jujutsu
  3. with an eye to the introduction of martial arts into school curricula
  4. leading to the reconfiguration of budo to suit Japan’s militaristic needs
  5. culminating in the reconfiguration of modern budo following Japan’s defeat in WW2 and the disbandment of the Butokukai and
  6. the eventual adoption of Judo as an Olympic sport.

The first point is why intelligence and Jujutsu will be forever linked - it may be that Ryohei Uchida is the most important man when it comes to Kodokan Judo as opposed to Jigoro Kano and his most famous students.

Kano needed students and money to run his educational pursuits (private schools) along with the Kodokan - both of these facilities were useful to the Genyosha and the Black Dragons - it was useful for Kano to be a cog in these questionable machines.

The Butokukai was the most significant martial arts organisation in Japan, and its membership eventually numbered in the millions (yes, millions).  When Kano (who we believe is backed by the most important men politically in the country) became the third head of the Judo department (following I believe Totsuka and then Hoshino) he had a brief to create a unified Judo.  Most people who practiced Judo (read Jujutsu) did so through the Butokukai and would never step foot in the Kodokan - however they all eventually ‘joined’ the Kodokan.

The ministry of education had previously said there was no value in martial arts, including Judo, being included in the education system.  The formation of standardised systems, especially Kendo and Judo, and political clout eventually had that decision reversed.

From at least 1931 (I’m sure coincidently the same time as Japan’s activities on mainland China begin to manifest in earnest) there was a push within the Butokukai to further militarise modern budo.  This was complete by 1942 and at that stage the Butokukai was taken completely over by the government and organisations like the Kodokan were subsumed by the Butokukai.

Subjects of the Japanese empire must study budō to cultivate loyalty, bravery and heroism in order to bolster the spirit of the nation, while developing principles of devotion and honour. The essence of budō must be embodied in the lifestyle of the nation, and when danger threatens, each must not falter in laying down their life showing their obligation to the emperor. 

Following WW2 SCAP disbanded the Butokukai, and eventually Modern Budo (somewhat ironically now referred to today as ‘Traditional Martial Arts’) was shaped to be palatable to post WW2 Japan and its American oversight.

Judo itself became a sport in most circles and eventually an Olympic event, resulting in widespread funding.

Kano was a great organiser and made the most of opportunities, but I wonder what he would make of Judo today.  Certainly he did not like Judo to be thought of as a sport and did not want it in the Olympics.  I am pretty sure he would frown upon the sporting antics and tactics of a modern match.

As far as the Kano myth is concerned (leaving aside rumours of martial prowess) we must at least acknowledge his willingness to dance with the devil.  One of the problems of the actual story is that Kano loses the moral high ground.  For Jujutsu people this may be neither here nor there, but for the Modern Budo construct this is imperative.

To me the real test of Kano as the moral backbone of Judo is the way he treated his family.  It seems he was cold towards his wife and none of his children had fond memories of him.  Most of them had no interest in Judo.  There are some rumours of him being gay, emanating out of his disdain for his family and some of the company he would keep.

He was certainly involved in the nationalist movement - he may not have been as far to the right as some but he certainly enabled the Genyosha and the Black Dragons along with the military to do what they would as long as they supported the Kodokan.

This was not all smooth sailing.

There was an incident where Kano’s son Riho was arrested as a left winger, and some senior members of the Kodokan tried to have him thrown out of the organisation (yes, they tried to remove Kano from the Kodokan).

For all of those who start of with a bow to an inanimate object, Kano refused to have a kamidana in the dojo until just a few years before he died (he had no fondness of religion and rightly considered it distinct from martial arts) - the nationalists wanted to use this practice to solidify worship of the Emperor, whose divine wright is based in Shinto (much like Western royals and Christianity).

After Kano died they melted down his bronze statue outside the Kodokan.

To me he died in 1937 knowing Judo would never return to what he wanted it to be.

Since then a myth has been constructed of Jigoro Kano the great Physical, Intellectual and Moral educator.  As far a Judo goes, it makes much more sense to have a simple myth than a complex conundrum for general consumption.  Judo could not simply be another school of Jujutsu - it’s story was the story of the triumph of the new over the old, fitting of the times.

The reality of Jujutsu means it could never triumph over Judo as styles of Jujutsu are for the most part disparate - there is numbers in unity and standardisation.  I’m sure for those Jujutsu masters buying into the Judo method via the Butokukai, they did not believe there was no longer a need for Jujutsu, but rather that the two things should remain hand in hand.  I’m sure the same was true for those sword masters at the birth of Kendo - that Kendo and Judo would help support their ancestors.  This may even be true - there may be no interest in older styles of Jujutsu and Kenjutsu if it were not for Modern Budo.

As a Jujutsu man, perhaps it is Ryohei Uchida’s photo Judo dojo should have on the wall.  Uchida is not a footnote in Kano’s biography, he is one of the most important men in Japan’s history - if anything Kano is a footnote in Uchida’s biography.

Uchida used his Jujutsu in combat, espionage, politics and strategy.   The right wing organisations of which he was a most senior member were pivotal in the annexation of Korea, the drive into the mainland and the creation of the state of Manchuko and activities throughout South East Asia.  These private organisations eventually became a large part of Japans official intelligence community.

 He just never had the moral high ground.

Popular posts from this blog

Spear (Yari) in Owari Kan Ryu 尾張貫流 (Kudayari & others)

Owari Kan ryū is known for its use of the kuda-yari (tube spear). The e (shaft) is run through a kuda (metal pipe) that’s in the front hand of the practitioner.  Interestingly the school’s students start training by doing shiai (competition) and only after considerable training they learn the school's kata (forms). Most classical schools that practice shiai do so after learning kata. Thrusting using the kuda. Cross-stepping.                           Thrusting attack with kuda. Wide stance.   Shiai. Shiai using a spear with a cross piece. The original demonstration from which these stills were taken is here:

The Structure of the Tenshinshoden Katori Shinto Ryu Syllabus

It should be noted that the current head, Otake Risuke, has commented that not all of the parts of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu survive.  I recall his comments in various documentaries that Archery was once a component, and only some of the spear survives. Through various sources, mostly Otake's book, I have put together this brief outline of their syllabus, however I have little idea of the exact stage each is taught except that I believe the students start with Omote no Tachi.  I will use this as the basis for further posts and may add to it over time. I believe their are important implications when Otake says that one of the main reasons for training all the weapons is to train the swordsman against them. Note in this section in brackets are my own comments and should therefore not be relied upon, those from the written work of Otake are clearly marked. Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto Ryu -Kenjutsu (Otake lists Tachi, Ryuto and Kodachi under Kenjustsu) --Tachi (Use of the singl

Kendo Shinai Weights & Measures

As a note the recommended length and weight for shinai are: - Women 38 inches 440 grams. - Men 39 inches 510 grams. The Wikipedia shinai page lists the following tables: Regulations In  kendo  competitions that follow the FIK rules, there are regulated weights and lengths for the use of  shinai .  Table A. FIK Specifications for competition use of one Shinai (Itto). Specification Gender Junior High School (12–15 yrs) Senior High School (15–18 yrs) University students and Adults (18yrs+) Maximum length Male & female 114cm 117cm 120cm Minimum weight Male 440g 480g 510g Female 400g 420g 440g Minimum diameter of sakigawa Male 25mm 26mm 26mm Female 24mm 25mm 25mm Minimum length of sakigawa Male and Female 50mm 50mm 50mm Shinai  are weighed complete with leather fittings, but without  tsuba  or  tsuba-dome . The full length is measured. Maximum diameter of the  tsuba  is 9cm. Table B. FIK Specifications for competition use of two Shinai (Nito). Specification Gender Daito (long shinai) Sh