The Kano Chronicles® – Japanese Physical Education 1915

1915 Japan Year Book describing judo,  ‘fencing’ as well as female physical education in English.

B. Physical Culture

Military and gymnastic exercises constitute the regular method of
physical culture as it is conducted in Japanese schools. The culture extends from the primary schools to the University preparatory schools. In the former pupils begin their military drill without arms after the 4th year. The including lately of the national arts of “judo” and fencing as regular tasks for middle school boys is a notable feature.

“Judo” or “ Jujitsu ”

This manly art of self-defence which has become so popular recently in both hemispheres owes its development to the reform effected by Mr. J. Kano (see Who’s Who) who established for this purpose in 1880 a special training hall styled Kodokwan, now at Koishikawa, Tokyo. The reform consisted in eliminating the dangerous features from the various styles formerly in vogue and developing a new system suited both for the
purpose of mental discipline and physical culture. At first the innovation was even ridiculed at by experts of old schools. It had only a very few pupils, but they included several men who have lately achieved distinction in military and naval services, as the late Commander Hirose of the Port Arthur blockade fame. By 1894 Mr. Kano’s persevering efforts began to bear fruit, and branch halls were skirted at several provinces, as at Nirayama, Etajima (seat of the Naval Cadet School), and Kumamoto. It was about this period that most of the noted experts of the present clay received training and that the new system had been carried to a state of matured perfection. Very often self-styled masters of old school came to the Kodokwan to challenge its founder and his pupils, but each time they went away humiliated, musing over the ignominious defeats. The fame of the new style began to spread not only in Japan but even to foreign countries, especially after the recent War, and a number of Mr. Kano’s pupils who went over to America and Europe for teaching the manly art to foreigners was not few. Everybody may remember that it was about this period that at the request of Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Yamashita, one of Mr. Kano’s best pupils, proceeded to America and taught the then President at the While House. The Military Academy at West Point also
intended to include this Japanese martial art in its programme, but after some investigations and trials it was decided to disapprove of the scheme. At present in almost all Japanese schools of secondary grade and above the exercise is practised as a method of physical culture. Private clubs and schools for the practice of jujitsu are to be found in all cities and graduates roll numbered about 20,000.

The Kodokwan has lately been converted into a foundation, with Mr. lwao, Mr. Wakatsuki, now Minister of Finance, and Mr. Yahagi as Directors and Baron Shibusawa and another as Trustees.


In former days fencing and swordsmanship occupied the foremost place in the physical and mental training of the gentry classes. As practised today at schools, the art is merely a faint memory of the passed greatness and importance. The practice sword is made of split bamboo, about four feet in length, with a twelve inches hilt in length for the double grasp. The points counted as collective hits are the head, both sides, the right hand
and throat. The traditional method of the two-handed use of the sword is still preferred by the Japanese to the single grasp popular in Western countries. It is among policemen that the training is more actual and realistic than at schools, for these guardians of pea<e arc required, from the nature of their duty, to practice fencing as a regular lesson and for
actual purposes. A fencing custom, now growing rather rare, is the so-called “Cold practice” adopted in some schools to encourage hardihood and endurance. It consists in the meeting of the fencing class at three o’clock in the morning through the coldest month. Active contests are continued until daybreak, without food or intermission for rest. These students enduring this strenuous test for the whole month receive special
recognition as hardy champions.

Physical Culture for Girls

Physical culture is no easy business for girls attending the secondary grade schools, not merely because active exercises by girls are still regarded with disfavor by some conservative mothers, but chiefly because Japanese female garment, though very attractive to look at, is not well adapted for active movement. Nevertheless, physical culture is steadily gaining ground, and in the girls’ higher schools the subject of gymnastics, 8 hours a week, is included, and girls are made to go through training in fancy steps and figure movements, some calisthenics, and so on. In the Female Higher
Normal School the Swedish system and some other exercises are given. In the Japan Womens’ University a hybrid system is in force, it partaking of the halberd training which daughter of samurai had to acquire in former days and some forms of calisthenics.

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer
The Kanō Chronicles
Tokyo, Japan – please send a note to request signup for automatic updates or give us feedback.
Thank you!

©Copyright 2019 – Lance Gatling, The Kanō Chronicles

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