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Joshi Judo (Women's Judo): Origins and Early Years

Joshi Judo (Women's Judo): Origins and Early Years

The history of Joshi Judo (Women's Judo) is more important than just the academics. It may allow insight into Kano's original intentions for Judo.

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This article is republished here because I cannot find it anywhere on the internet and whilst I cannot vouch for its accuracy it does discuss what I think is an important topic. This document is published as "cop con" since I have been unable to contact the author.

Joshi Judo: Origins and Early Years

Copyright1996 Steven R. Cunningham All Rights Reserved

Jlgoro Kano is often quoted as saying, "If you want to know what I truly intended for Judo, then look at what they are doing at the Kodokan Joshi-Bu (Women's Section)." This implies that a consideration of Joshi Judo has greater importance than just historical or academic. An analysis of Joshi Judo may allow us to peer into Kano's original intentions for Judo.

What is so different about women's Judo? According to Keiko, one of the leaders of women's Judo, "...the main object of Women's Judo is not to win in a competition as in [modern] Men's Judo." What is, then, the essence of Women's Judo? To glimpse the answer to this, we need to outline the history of the development of Joshi Judo

Kano accepted his first female student, Sueko Ashiya, after she arranged an introduction in 1893. Kano's openness was not shared in the male-dominated society of Japan, so he taught Miss Ashiya at his home along with his wife, Sumako, and some of her friends. (Sumako gave birth that same year to their daughter Noriko).

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At that time Kano apparently had little sense of the longer or farther-reaching consequences of this action, to him it just seemed the right thing to do. When others (other men) found out what he was doing, they questioned the wisdom of teaching women, and some suggested potential health problems and limitations of women participants. Kano researched the issue himself and discussed it at length with the leading medical authorities available at the time, and came to the conclusion that women would only benefit from the practice and study of Judo.

Mrs Kino Yasuda became the proof of the theory. In poor and failing health, Kano took her into his home to live with his family and taught her Judo alongside his wife, daughter and other female relatives. Yasuda‘s health improved dramatically. This helped quiet the critics and gave Kano renewed confidence. At the same time, Kano began to teach Women at a dojo in Koubun Gakuin (Koubun school) in Tokyo, where he taught women from the Nikon Women's University and the Ochanomizu Girls' High school. Yasuda became so enthusiastic with it all that she volunteered to make judogi (uniforms) for everyone, The early judogi was a result of repeated iterations of design between Kano and Yasuda.

Gradually, Kano was going public' with this, and women's Judo was taking on a life of its own. In 1923, Kano informally created the woman’s section at the Kodokan (Kaiunzaka Dojo) and named Mr Honda as the chief instructor. In 1926, Kano hosted a two-week clinic at his own home, where he personally taught about a dozen teachers, from all over Japan, how the Kodokan Kata should be taught to women in the public schools. This was nothing short of revolutionary. Later that year (November), he formally opened the Women's sectional the Kodokan under Honda.

Things were, moving along pretty fast and certain complications with formalities had to be resolved. For example, it was not until 1931 that the Joshi Enrollment Oath Book was created. Keppan, or “blood Oaths” were not required as they had once been routinely in the Men's section, and the oath was more related to focus and commitment, The first three names were Nortomi, Akutagawa, and Yasuko Morioka. A Joshi Yudanshakar (black Bell Association) book appeared in 1933.

When the new dojo was built at Suidobashi the women were given their own dojo in the Kodokan, established their own regulations, procedures, practice methods, rank requirements, etc. In many ways, the course of instruction at the Women's section more reflected the training that Kano had given his students in the first decades of the Kodokan. Classes began with a thorough warm-up, then a lengthy ukemi session followed by Tandoku Renshu (solo exercise). Extensive use of Kata and randori were interspersed with long lectures on method, theory and history and Atemi and other battlefield methods were practised. Students were given extensive research and study assignments designed to provoke a deep and subtle understanding. These sessions were often led by Kano himself with his oldest daughter, Noriko Watanuki, who was also then head of Joshi-Bu. Students were also given extensive instruction on etiquette and propriety. Indeed the training program was extremely complete. In some ways, their requirements were more rigorous than those in the Men's Division and were thought to deserve special recognition. A white stripe running the length of the belt was chosen as a symbol of this and the more pure line of the Women's Division.

Kano had Joshi-Bu Dojo put right next to his personal suite so he could keep a close eye on the proceedings there, Kano made sure that the Women's section was not shortchanged in the quality of instruction, Honda, Uzawa, Mifune, and others were regular faces in the dojo. Masako Moritomo, then the highest ranking woman, had begun training at age ten, was very knowledgeable and highly skilled, and gradually accepted more of a leadership role in the instruction.

For the Women's Division, Kano felt that competition was contrary to the objectives of Judo practice, Competition requires one to attack, the antithesis of a defensive art, and leads one to try to assert oneself over another. Also, if you attempt to achieve victory with unperfected techniques you will almost certainly abandon technique, skill, and Ju in favor of strength; once the Judo, is perfected, competition has no meaning.

Kano had undertaken an obligation (Giri) to Hachinosuke, Fukuda, his Tenshin Shin’Yo Ryu Jujitsu instructor, The elder Fukuda was a major figure in Japanese Jujitsu. For example in 1879, while a student of Fukuda, Kano participated in an exhibition that Fukuda gave for U,S, President Ulysses S. Grant. Jujitsu had died out in the Fukuda family. In January of 1934, Kano hand-brushed an invitation inviting them to a ceremony at the Kodokan in honor of Fukuda, Masatomo lso, and Tsunetoshi Iikubo, whose teachings all greatly Influenced the development of Judo, At the ceremony in March, Kano planted three Sakaki trees (Shinto ceremonial trees) in their memory, in front of the Dojo. Shortly thereafter, Kano visited the Fukuda household and personal invited Keiko Fukuda, his old teacher’s granddaughter, to join the Josh-Bu at the Kodokan. Fortunately, she accepted, and Keiko Fukuda is now one of the highest-ranking women in the world (Ed. Until her death).

By 1935 members of Joshi-Bu arranged for women to learn the Seiryoku-Zenyo-Kokumin-Taiiku no Kata (form of the system of exercise based on the principle of maximum efficiency), a form emphasizing Atemi and Taisabaki (strikes/kicks and pivoting methods), and Kime Shiki (ritual of moments of life and death decision) to high school women in some schools.

About the same time, Kano was being pressured to allow the military to use the Kodokan as a means for the wholesale training of soldiers for the Japanese military machine. Kano refused and was utterly horrified at the turn of events. Although he received some guarantees from the Emperor that a nationalization of the Kodokan would not happen, Kano and others remained gravely concerned. Preparations for the worst were made, many key people left and certain practices were abandoned. Kano died mysteriously on a ship voyage home after meetings in the West. As a result of his actions and perceived sympathies toward the West, some people claim he was assassinated.

Kano's nephew, Jiro Nango, took over leadership of the Kodokan, and attempted to keep things afloat during difficult times. Kano had often said that it was critical that Atemi be taught in close conjunction with other techniques and the Kata. Concerned about the loss of such martial skills teachings to women as an outcome of the "politics" just mentioned, the new Kodokan head proposed that the Joshi-Goshin-Ho (Women's Self-Defense Methods) be created. Noritomi, Fukuda, and others went to work on it. Joshi-Bu managed to maintain about 25 women staying at the Kodokan during the war, often instructed by only Fukuda and Ontsuka.

After the war, the Allied Occupation forces enforced a ban on all martial activity. This kept the elder surviving Judo instructors from returning to the Kodokan. Tiny dojo sprung or Judo people joined Jujutsu people in their tiny private dojo mostly practising in secret. Kotani and others have talked about this experience.

Ultimately the ban was lifted. The women at Joshi Bu were amazed when "the giants" from the West arrived, Western women looked physically huge to the tiny Japanese Women at the Kodokan, People like Ruth Gardner Chicago, Helen Carollo (Oakland), and others, with the first to arrive, Remembering the wishes of their teacher, Kyuzo Misfune Sensei and others often visited Joshi-Bu over the years and encouraged the ongoing development of Women's Judo.

Today women participate in international competition, and Women's Judo is evolving in such a way as to make it identical to Men's Judo in every way, One Judo seems a better ideal. I guess the only question is: is the one Judo that is emerging the right Judo?

Copyright © 1996-1990 Steven R. Cunningham All Rights Reserved.

Last updated:03/17/00

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