Kanō shihan calligraphy on the power of education – The Kanō Chronicles Oct 2022

Examples of the calligraphy of Kanō shihan are abundant. Beyond a number of apparent fakes available (some pretty accurate simulations of a number of his different writing styles), Kanō offered to and did brush any number of calligraphy 掛け軸 kakejiku hanging scrolls and other materials for jūdō dōjō opening ceremonies, decorations for established dōjō and individuals (most often when overseas), and for other occasions. The overseas calligraphies of Kanō are notable in that most lack the red-inked seals he normally used while creating calligraphy at home in Japan.

I find one in particular very striking. In it Kanō shihan speaks of the importance of education and its ability to affect a “thousand far generations”.


The difficulty of roughly dating Kanō’s calligraphy, as they are seldom dated, is considerably eased by his use of pen names, names he changed over time at significant ages. On this calligraphy, Kanō shihan’s pen name is written by the three small vertical characters on the far left of the scroll, 進乎斎 followed below by two seals stamped in read ink.

The three pen names Kanō shihan used were: 「甲南」・「進乎斎」・「帰一斎」. This is marked with the second, which is a reference to a tale 2500 years old……

(to continue reading, click on the READ MORE link below)

「甲南」Konan, ‘south of Ko’ referred to 六甲山 Mount Rokko that looms above Kanō’s birthplace in Higashinada, now part of the city of Kobe. Kanō used this name when signing his calligraphies until he became around 60 years old.

「進乎斎」Shinkosai, used in this calligraphy, was Kanō’s pen name in his 60’s, namely 1920 to 1930. 進乎斎 Shinkosai is thought to be a reference to certain writings of 莊子 Zhūangzi (Chinese for “Master Zhūang”, Japanese: Sōshi), one of the most influential philosophers of the Dao (Chinese: Dao 道 , Japanese: ), “The Way”. (See NOTES below), active during China’s Warring States period [350 BC-250 BC]. Shinko 進乎 (progress) appears in two noted passages of his most important text, the Zhūangzi, one of the two foundational Daoist texts along with the Dao De Jing. The sai 斎 of Shinkosai is an old Japanese variant of the traditional Chinese character 齋 zhāi (simplified today as 斋) which means “to fast” or “study”, so Shinkosai means something like “progress through fasting”. In this sense “fasting” means the Daoist discipline of focusing the spirit to learn the Way and the true nature of things by isolating the spirit from the distractions of perceptions of the physical world (represented by “hearing”), emotions and thought. (Handler S, 2022 communication, see NOTES below).

The Zhūangzhi chapter thought to be the source of Kanō’s pen name is the 2500 year old Daoist tale of a master butcher. Lord Wen-hui, captivated by his evident skill of the Butcher Ding (in some translations Ting) asks how he can so effortlessly butcher entire oxen.

Cook Ting replied that he only cared about the Way, which exceeded skill. But when he first began butchering oxen, all he could see was the ox. After three years he no longer saw the whole ox. Finally, he said, he proceeded by spirit alone and didn’t even look with his eyes. His skill was so effortless and insight so powerful that he never even had to sharpen his blade, using the same one for years, and the ox carcasses simply fell apart under his blade. Perception and understanding had stopped and he had proceeded to the point that his spirit moved where it wanted (Watson B, 2013), meaning it was in accordance with the Way of the Dao.

What I think Kanō meant by adopting such a pen name in his 60’s was that he was proclaiming he, too, had progressed beyond mere perception and thought and had learned to only seek the Way through his spirit. Even though Kanō paid tribute to Japanese tradition and nearly 2500 year old Daoist thought by his choice of a pen name rooted in an ancient text, for Kanō the Way he sought to follow was not the Way of the Dao, but rather the Way of jūdō, which means “The Way of Flexibility.” Kanō defined that Way in part through the phrases 精力善用自他共栄 Seiryoku Zenyō Jita Kyōei, Best Use of Energy / Mutual Benefit, the modern jūdō philosophies he derived from the late 19th century writings of English Utilitarian philosopher Herbert Spencer he studied at the then new Tokyo University in his youth. (Gatling L, 2021)

Kanō was saying that he no longer needed perception of the physical world (hearing or seeing) or thought (knowledge or emotion) to employ the techniques that initially guided his pursuit of his Way, but now sought to proceed through the understanding and learning of his spirit alone. Having practiced for so many years, he could proceed simply by keeping his spirit focused on the Way. Without conscious thought he could accomplish the smaller things addressed by his perceptions and mind, honed by years of constant training and attentive practice of the Way of jūdō. He no longer saw people and situations, but looked beyond them to see the Way. In this he equated his understanding and skills with that of the estimable Butcher Ding.

This is not a surprise, given Kanō’s belief that dedicated study of jūdō could provide a level of satori enlightenment equal to that to be gained through intensely practicing zazen seated Zen mediation for a decade or more. (Gatling L, 2022)

This is also consistent with Kanō’s 12 Precepts of Jūdō, in which he prescribed practicing it first as budō martial arts, then as physical exercise, then as personal spiritual training, then as a way to interact others in the dōjō, then finally engaging the world at large in accordance with jūdō philosophies, the best possible universal ethics and morality. (Gatling L, 2020)

One of the calligraphies Kanō brushed under the pen name Shinkosai is written in classic Chinese, or at least Kanō’s simulation thereof. It reads (right to left, top to bottom, with Kanō’s pen name Shinkosai being the small three vertical characters to the left of the main text):


There is nothing like education in this world;

the moral education of one man spreads to ten thousand.

Educating one life reaches a hundred far generations.
(Translation copyright 2022 Lance Gatling)

This was written by Kanō in his 60s, after he retired from Japan’s Ministry of Education and a lifetime as an educator. In fact he was a member of an 1890 Ministry of Education committee that produced Japan’s first school ethics teachers instruction manual, and in the early 20th century produced the country’s first new school ethics manual in response to an updated school education law. Having spent his entire career in education from his graduation from Tokyo University graduate school in 1882 until his retirement from decades of teaching and making education policy in the Ministry of Education in January 1920, Kanō was now looking beyond the initial mechanisms of education techniques and policies to seek how to guide humanity along the Way, which he thought was moral education. In 1922 he introduced his mechanism to guide humanity through teaching morality, 講道館文化会, Kōdōkan Bunkakai, the Kodokan Culture Council, which we’ll address later in a separate essay.

And indeed, the jūdō moralities taught as Kanō’s jūdō philosophy have informed seven generations since he founded jūdō in 1882, and spread across the entire world.

「帰一斎」Kiissai was Kanō’s final pen name, adopted around his 70th birthday and used until his death in 1938. While this name, too, is thought to have Daoist roots, there are other factors and influences that I’ll explore in a later essay.


Bibliography –

Watson B., 2013, The Complete Works of Zhuangzhi, New York, Columbia University Press.

Gatling L., 2020, Kano’s 12 Precepts of Jūdō, The Kanō Chronicles, https://kanochronicles.com/2020/09/12/the-kano-chronicles-kanos-12-precepts-of-judo accessed 9.29.2022

Gatling L., 2021, The Origins and Development of Kanō Jigorō’s Jūdō Philosophies 嘉納治五郎の柔道原理の原因と開発, International Judo Federation, Arts and Sciences of Judo, Vol. 1, No. 2. https://kanochronicles.com/2021/12/30/the-origins-and-development-of-kano-jigoros-judo-philosophies-%e5%98%89%e7%b4%8d%e6%b2%bb%e4%ba%94%e9%83%8e%e3%81%ae%e6%9f%94%e9%81%93%e5%8e%9f%e7%90%86%e3%81%ae%e5%8e%9f%e5%9b%a0%e3%81%a8/ accessed 9.29.2022

Gatling L., 2022, The Kanō Chronicles, an unpublished manuscript

Zhuangzhi, James Legge translation, 1891, “The Writings of Chuang Tzu”,
Volumes 39 and 40,
Books of the East, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
(NOTE: Chuang Tzu is earlier yet still valid transliteration of Zhūangzhi 荘子 (JA: Sōshi) )

Taoist scholar Stefan Handler pointed out that 斎 sai used by Kanō is an old Japanese variant of the traditional Chinese character 齋 (CH: zhāi, simplified today as 斋). Its meaning includes “to fast” or “study”, and provided classic Daoist literature citations that explain how “brain fasting” is a Daoist description of a way to study by focusing the spirit to avoid partial information from hearing or believing how things should be to understand how things truly are.

‘Maintain a perfect unity in every movement of your will. You will not wait for the hearing of your ears about it, but for the hearing of your mind. You will not wait even for the hearing of your mind, but for the hearing of the spirit. Let the hearing (of the ears) rest with the ears. Let the mind rest in the verification (of the rightness of what is in the will). But the spirit is free from all pre-occupation and so waits for (the appearance of) things. Where the (proper) course is, there is freedom from all pre-occupation;
such freedom is the fasting of the mind.’

Zhūangzi 4.2 (James Legge translation: emphasis added)

Same passage translated by Burton Watson

“Make your will one! Don’t listen with your ears, listen with your mind. No, don’t listen with your mind, but listen with your spirit. Listening stops with the ears, the mind stops with recognition, but spirit is empty- and waits on all things. The Way gathers in emptiness alone.
Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.

Zhūangzi 4.2, Watson B, 2013 (emphasis added)

Reader Nelson Lam pointing out that the scroll is written in classic Chinese, not kanbun classic Sino-Japanese, an error I corrected above.

In discussing the Chinese passage, scholar Thomas To offered an interpretation with more poetic license.

Nothing in this world is more admirable than education.
Teach one person virtues, and they spread to ten thousand more.
Foster one generation’s growth, and it lasts for hundreds more.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (edited down)
Chinese 道
Literal meaning “way”
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet đạo Chữ Hán 道
Korean name Hangul 도 Hanja 道

Japanese name Kanji 道
Hiragana どう

English name
English /daʊ/ DOW, /taʊ/ TOW

Tao or Dao is the natural order of the universe, whose character, one’s intuition must discern to realize the potential for individual wisdom, as conceived in the context of East Asian philosophy, East Asian religions, or any other philosophy or religion that aligns to this principle. This intuitive knowing of life cannot be grasped as a concept. Rather, it is known through actual living experience of one’s everyday being. Its name, Tao or Dao (Chinese (道), came from Chinese, where it signifies the way, path, route, road, or sometimes more loosely doctrine, principle, or holistic belief.

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer
The Kanō Chronicles
Tokyo, Japan
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Thank you!

4 thoughts on “Kanō shihan calligraphy on the power of education – The Kanō Chronicles Oct 2022

  1. Is Classical Chinese rather than Japanese but nonetheless, its meaning and or massage no doubt, is and would be appreciated by anyone who reads it .


    1. I expect you’re correct. Since I’m not a Chinese language expert I hedged and said kanbun, but certain elements are missing, so this is probably Kano’s version of classical Chinese. I never know when puzzling through if it is exactly that or some Kanō creation of his own. He wrote in a number of different languages, from classic Chinese to modern Japanese, which he helped create.

      Thanks for your note!


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