November 5, 2018

Traditional Judo: What it is Not

My Last Judo blog, while being generally well received did take some criticism from certain quarters, who seemed to be wilfully misinterpreting my point. One individual who went online to attack something I did not say even admitted that he had not read the entire blog – such is the sectarian attitude of some Judoka.

The blog had been about the race to gain spectators for Judo, something that I feel has a negative impact on our activity, but along the way it had been turned into a one-way war of words about ‘traditional’ Judo. The Aunt Sally that I have been given was that I was against contest in the name of tradition: I am not.

However, I pick up the metaphorical pen again to get to an even meatier discussion about what exactly is ‘tradition’ in a Judo context. The previous piece had said nothing about the Judo organisation that I am in and was not intended as anything like a promotion for something that I did not mention. That organisation does engage, by the way, in contest, but does not consider those that compete as their ‘elite.’

According to the dictionary, tradition is ‘the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation or the fact of being passed on in this way.’ That definition works and is important to understand. We are not talking about mere acts that have been ingrained, but a philosophical underpinning of our activity. When seen in this light, it is easier to understand that the activity itself can gradually morph without its core values being eroded.

Thus, as a simple example, my own Sensei is an extremely innovative coach, who comes up with numerous relevant exercises for Judo, and constantly looks at new ways of gaining entry for techniques, but remains very tradition in his outlook and views of what he is trying to achieve on a Judo mat and via Judo activity. Tradition then is not about being stuck in a hundred year rut, rather it is about remaining true to the spirit of what has gone before.

This is very philosophical, which is hardly surprising because Kano was indeed a philosopher of sorts. In fact, as an aside, I rate him as one of my favourite philosophers, alongside Karl Marx and Bertrand Russell. I actually put him above these two because his thoughts give me a practical guide to how I should conduct my life.
And so Judo has changed in a number of ways over the years. Some of those changes have fitted in with Kano’s philosophy, some have not. Some, to be fair, have been changes that have had little or no traditional impact.

Traditionally it matters not that we have now had elasticated Judo trousers because they do not affect the core philosophy that underpins Judo; coloured kits however do because they have become symbols of elite contest, which goes against the grain of the philosophy.

‘Ah,’ I hear someone say ‘Here he goes again with his anti-contest mantra.’ Not so. Let me repeat in the hope that my sectarian detractor is still reading: I do not, and the organisation I am in, does not object to contest: Kano did not object to contest. What Kano wanted from contest was the development of the individual, not the deification of the winner – champions. That is a philosophical point. That is a tradition worth upholding – it goes to the core of Judo.

The grading system is another valuable tradition that is worthy of comment. If Judo was fundamentally a sport, the grading system would make no sense. Typically, the ability to compete reaches a peak long before an individual stops progressing up the ranks. Even if you keep the concept of grades, if Judo’s core was sport, then a grade would be directly related to contest standing and like Sumo grades would fluctuate with contest success.

Grades have changed over the years: Kano’s original system had three dan grades and three kyu grades, but the changes have not altered the traditional concept behind them. The Dan and kyu grade system is an indicator of progress, not of contest results.

In the 1950s the Kodokan devised a new self-defence kata. In essence, the Goshin-jutsu replaced the Kimi-no-kata (the kata of real self-defence). The thinking was that the Goshin-jutsu fitted a more modern way of life, incorporating as it did defence against guns and kicks, jettisoning techniques that were based on the old way of Japanese comportment. The introduction of the Goshin-jutsu did not devalue the basic philosophical stance of the Kodokan, whereby Judo retained its interest as a genuine fighting system. Hence it is an example of innovation being bound within a traditional mindset.

I am, and am happy to admit, that I am a traditionalist. I am happy with and embrace innovation, but it is important that the innovations do not change the core principles. To go back to the beginning, or rather, to refer to my previous blog, the chasing of spectators for Judo affects it’s core philosophical value and as a traditionalist, I do not like it for that very specific reason.

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