Back in the early 1980s I decided that I wanted to learn a martial art. It wasn’t for fitness reasons, I was already fit playing badminton, it wasn’t for something to do, I already had a healthy social life. It wasn’t either a simply desire to learn something new. I wanted to be able to defend myself if the need ever arose.
The choice of Judo above the others wasn’t a difficult one for me. Kung Fu had been popularised by the television series of that name and karate clubs abounded where I lived, but my research told me two things of importance about Judo. One was that my perception was that Judo was less aggressive than many of the others because it did not use strike and was supposedly based on using another person’s aggression on them. The second key factor to my thinking was that Judo was the basis of unarmed combat for such people as the British Army and the Israeli secret service. I figured if it was good enough for them, it was probably good enough for me.
I have been on a very long Judo journey since then and found out that Judo is a wonderfully diverse activity. It can be practiced as a sport, it is a form of fitness, it is a pedagogy. It can, indeed, be used in all sorts of way. I have developed my own social skills, my teaching skills and my self-belief since I first set on a mat, but just as importantly, for me, I have learned how to use my body in a fight situation. As a security operative, that is rather important to me.
Judo was first used by the Tokyo Police in Kano’s day, after a famed contest between Kodokan Judo and other forms of Jujutsu (let’s not get hung up on spelling here, or the finer details of the contests). What is often overlooked, however, is that Kano devised some techniques specifically for police use – control and restraint techniques that were contained in the Renkoho.
Many of these techniques I did not learn until much later in my Judo career. In fact, some of them I was introduced to first not by Judo, but my second art, Aikido. Nevertheless, wrist locks and other come-along techniques have been part of Judo since the very early days, from before the development of Aikido by Usheiba.
Judo spread across the world at an impressive rate in the early 1900s. It did so not on the back of being a sport, because at that stage it was not, in any real sense. People took it up because it was a martial art. As such it became of interest to police and military and it was not long before it was being rolled out by such organisations as part of their overall training.
By the time of the First World War German troops were already being trained in ‘Japanese Wrestling’ and it wasn’t long before the Americans followed up by employing John O’Brien to teach unarmed combat. O’Brien had previously served as a policeman in Japan, so his teaching leaned heavily on the Renkoho.
In Britain too, Judo was taking a hold within the military and police, even if the word jujutsu was being interchanged with Judo on a regular basis. Not only was the establishment recognising the efficacy of Judo, but others too. The London-based Suffragettes had a group trained at the Budokwai who were deployed to defend their speakers against attacks. Famously they held back a police assault on one of their meetings in Glasgow in 1918 for a considerably time before being overwhelmed.
In both the police and the military Judo became the system of choice for unarmed combat. While the police naturally tended to train in the restraint techniques of the Renkoho, military personnel were introduced to stock techniques such as Ippon Seionage and O-soto-gari. By the end of the 20th Century the term Judo was not necessarily being banded around by the establishment, but a look at the techniques used by groups as diverse as the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Marines shows that Judo has remained at the core of physical conflict training. In his book about serving in the Special Air Service Adam Ballinger makes reference to the fact that Territorial SAS personnel were sent to a Japanese Judo instructor to learn unarmed combat.
Kano was, in my humble opinion a genius. He is one of my favourite philosophers, but more than that he created a training method that, like the art of Judo itself has lasted the test of time. His attitude to training has been picked up on my modern sports psychologist as well as those that teach fighting skills to military and police personnel. He moved jujutsu out of the shadows and allowed the bright light of scientific study to intrude.
Randori is a significant part of Judo training which gives it an edge over many other eastern fighting arts. It helps stress test not just techniques, but the individual attempting them. Posture and fighting distance are also two key aspects of conflict that Judo teaches, along with controlled breathing. These statements are not merely wild opinion, but theories that have been looked at closely by psychologist.
The sporting side of Judo is also relevant here. Bruce Siddle in his eminent book Sharpening the Warriors Edge, made the point that training must be enjoyable – and that applies whether you are just doing Judo as a fun activity or if you are training physical skills to save your life – you will learn better with a smile on your face.