An Interpretation of Musashi’s “Shrike on a Withered Tree” 枯木鳴鵙図 Koboku Meigeki Zu (Sep 2022)

As a bit of a change from our normal content, please see the attached presentation with my interpretation of 宮本武蔵 の 枯木鳴鵙図 Miyamoto Musashi`s Koboku Meigeki Zu “Shrike on a Withered Tree”.

In the philosophy of Kanō Jigorō, a well-rounded human pursues the study of 文武両道 bunbu ryōdō “the martial and the arts, both Ways”. This concept, that the study of both martial Ways and the Way of the arts is vital to balanced humanity is widely spread in the Far East; years ago I visited an ancient Buddhist temple in Vietnam and leaned my shoulder against a huge pillar to steady myself to take a long-exposure photo inside in the dim light. After I took some shots, I put my palm on the vermillion pillar to push myself upright, and only then noticed that my hand fell next to an intricate pattern carefully carved into the huge pillar and painted in black to stand out – 文武両道.

Although a miserable artist and calligrapher myself, I’ve always been fascinated by the ability of true artists to create a separate reality on canvas, and, for me, the fewer strokes, the better.

In Japan a genre called 墨絵 sumie, ink painting (sometimes ink wash painting) has a tremendous history. Classically written Japanese and Chinese are written with a brush dipped in ink. Traditionally the ink is made by rubbing soot ink from a 墨 sumi inkstick, a dried block like a soot crayon stabilized in glue, on the 硯 suzuri inkstone, and mixing it with water and adjusting for darkness. Practiced by hundreds of millions around the world for thousands of years, such calligraphy also provides a basis in the techniques of sumie ink wash painting, using the same basic simple tools.

One of the best known proponents of 文武両道 studying both the martial and the arts is the famous swordsman 宮本武蔵 Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645). Swordsman, strategist, philosopher, author, ronin masterless samurai and sumie artist, Musashi, as he is commonly known today, was never bested in 61 recorded duels. In his first duel at age 13, he wielded a wooden staff to best a grown man armed with a sword, stunned him with a blow between his eyes, then beat him to death.

Retiring to seclusion after a life of training, study, violence and wandering, Musashi penned his most famous work 五輪書 Gorin no Sho, A Book of Five Rings in 1643. It is a treatise on what is often called “military strategy” but is more a collection of tactics in personal combat and aphorisms on life in general than normally considered “strategy”.

In it, Musashi stresses the need to study “both Ways” in his principles, namely:

Do not think dishonestly.
The Way is in training.
Become acquainted with every art.
Know the Ways of all professions.
Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
Develop an intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.
Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
Pay attention even to trifles.
Do nothing which is of no use.

From the first I saw it, I was drawn to a particular Musashi sumie ink wash painting, 枯木鳴鵙図 Koboku Meigeki Zu “Shrike on a Withered Tree”. It’s stark lines, simplicity and at first to me unusually long vertical layout appealed to me, but I always felt I was missing something. Then, years ago, a martial arts colleague made an off the cuff comment that led me to develop a whole new understanding of it. The presentation attached describes that understanding.

枯木鳴鵙図 Koboku Meigeki Zu
“Shrike on a Withered Tree”
(Wiki Commons)

I hope you enjoy this – constructive comments and corrections welcome, please use the email below.
Musashi images courtesy Wiki Commons.
To me, as a former US military strategic planner, nearly none of the traditional Japanese “military strategy” texts reach the level of strategy; at their highest military love they focus on tactics. Call me pedantic, OK.
For a great English translations of Musashi’s works, see
The Complete Musashi – The Book of Five Rings and Other Works (Tuttle, 2018)
by eminent martial arts historian / scholar and kendōka swordsman Dr. Alexander Bennett.

Lance Gatling
Tokyo, Japan
contact <AT>

Kanō shihan’s First 35 Years – The Kanō Chronicles

Recently I provided an essay to the Asiatic Society of Japan, the “oldest learned society in Japan” of which I am a member. See for an introduction to the Society.

It was founded in Yokohama in 1872, when Kanō Jigorō was only 12 years old and had just moved to the new Japanese capital ofTokyo with his family. By 1888 Kanō was one of the first Japanese members, and became a member of the first Japanese board of advisors. The Society membership was like a Who’s Who of a wide range of Japanese and Asias diplomacy, science, natural history, languages, cultures, and more.

The essay was provided to the Society’s Transactions 134 years after Kanō and a colleague at the Gakushin where Kanō was the vice-principal gave a lecture in 1888 then a demonstration of his new jūdō, making it one of if not the first known demonstration of jūdō to a foreign audience.

Later I made this presentation based on the essay, and gave it to an informal group of Japan-centric academics called Informasia.

Please enjoy, and let me know if you have questions or comments.

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer
The Kanō Chronicles

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

The paper linked herein was published in December 2021 in the International Judo Federation’s Arts and Science of Judo online ‘zine, Vol. 1, No. 2.

The Origins and Development of Kanō Jigorō’s Jūdō Philosophies
By Lance Gatling. Pages 50-64.

Kanō’s jūdō philosophies – Seiryoku zenyō Jita kyōei – adorn tens of thousands of judo dojo across the world, but what exactly do these phrases mean? They are typically translated as ‘Best use of energy / mutual benefit’, even this does not clarify the origins and precise meaning of the phrases.


Despite many searches, I can’t find anything else like this paper. It details what Kanō proposed as the true philosophy of jūdō and how he adopted Western Utilitarian philosophy taught in his youth, blending in elements of traditional Eastern philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism.

Producing it for the professional periodical editor and peer reviewers of the International Judo Federation’s new Arts and Sciences of Judo was interesting. I did experience some pushback from a content editor or two, which was probably to be expected given that I am not an academic and presented a new, complex thesis complete with extensive documentation that has apparently been overlooked until today.

Most papers on the topic are either in error – stating categorically that the origins of the philosophies (there are actually two) are from classic Eastern sources such as Confucianism and Daoism – or are too vague, not citing the specific inspirations for Kanō, but rather citing Utilitarianism in general as a Western influence.

My approach was somewhat unique, a fact that I only understood in retrospect. I intentionally ignored the common Western sources for primary sources, largely Kanō shihan himself and other prewar Japanese sources. I have the luxury of a stupidly large library of Kanō materials, as I have collected everything single thing written by Kanō or period pieces about him that I could find over more than 15 years. In doing so I have materials that range from Kanō-edited jūdō-related monthlies to philosophy texts to transcripts of Kanō speeches and interviews. In doing so I have found numerous Kanō works that heretofore escaped the notice of judo researchers until now. Granted, only a portion proved useful for this particular topic, but bits and snippets helped fill in the spaces between the major, cogent points.

As a side benefit, I looked at length for English versions of some ancient Chinese classic texts, 2500-year-old philosophical and military strategy texts that Kanō studied in his youth (by his account, starting at the age of 6 in his birthplace and hometown of Mikage village, now a part of eastern Kobe City). Because I was unable to find English translations for key texts, I translated them myself, and in doing so may well now may be able to present the first known English translation. As this is the full explanation of the concept of flexibility, for the purposes of this paper, I left it simply as is, but there is much more to be explored in that along with some other new findings. Later, perhaps.

So, please take a look. Please let me know what you think. If you find anything interesting herein, please sign up and you’ll get automatic updates when I post new material.

My paper is on pages 50 to 72.

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, Arts and Sciences of Judo, Vol. 1, No. 2

Certainly none of this is required to learn today’s sport judo but I hope it provides food for thought as to the broader meaning Kanō strove to impart, and increase appreciation of the vision and nature of Kanō’s vision for jūdō.

I hope you enjoy it!


Lance Gatling ガトリング•ランズ
Lecturer / Author
The Kanō Chronicles® 嘉納クロニクルズ

The Kanō Chronicles®: The Most Valuable Martial Art of All

Just as national defense is necessary for a country,
individuals must know how to defend themselves.  
If another person comes at you wrongly with violence,
you must know how to defend yourself;
if you give up without even a thought, or without even a second thought,
you will lose face.
Also, even as a people, when the time of need arises,
you must be prepared to fight for the country.
In order to do this, in this day and age we must unceasingly learn jūjutsu,
as a martial art the most valuable of all, 
and as individuals and as a nation
we must be prepared with the necessary qualifications.
– Kanō Jigorō, Jūdō Kyōhon , 1931
NOTE: ‘losing face’ is losing one’s honor and prestige because of an improper act or failing to act

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer
Tokyo, Japan

The Historic and Philosophic Origins of Kanō Jigorō’s Jūdō Philosophies: Seiryoku Zenyō Jita Kyōei (Best Use of Energy / Mutual Benefit) – The Kanō Chronicles® 

Efforts to ascribe philosophical meaning to various martial arts seem perennial, but documents supporting origin claims are often transparently contrived or unsupported. Notable exceptions are China’s Shaolin kung fu, developed centuries ago and still taught at the Chan (Japanese: Zen) Buddhist Shaolin temple in China, and Japan’s Shorinji Kempō, developed to popularize the school’s Zen practice. Many koryū (ancient Japanese martial arts) claim unique philosophies but cite tales of inspiration by intense, training-inspired visions or even visitations by tengu (long-nosed goblins). But the genuine philosophical roots of one modern Japanese martial art practiced worldwide were misunderstood, overlooked, then finally lost to history. That art is jūdō, a modernized version of jūjutsu, the ancient samurai martial art of fighting barehanded.

Although Kanō spoke about his jūdō philosophies frequently in Japanese and occasionally in English for decades, he never disclosed their origins, and their exact meaning escaped jūdōka for nearly 100 years. While his writings were clearly influenced by ancient Eastern philosophy more than 2,200 years old, this paper, adopted from the forthcoming manuscript The Kanō Chronicles: The Untold History of Modern Japan,® will show how the core of his philosophy came from 19th century English philosophers.

Lance Gatling
Tokyo, Japan
The Kanō Chronicles®

The evolution of the jūdō keikogi (‘gi’) – The Kanō Chronicles®

The evolution of the jūdō keikogi (practice clothing) is one of the many minor mysteries of the history of judo. Many details in jūdō history of interest to some today simply were not recorded in any evident form available today, surely for a variety of reasons, including the likelihood that no one thought that many events were actually noteworthy. The evolution of the keikogi is simply another detail of history that changed, evolving over time, and at the times it changed, no one thought it important enough to record those changes in detail.

When Kanô shihan (master) started his jûjutsu practice (yes, jûjutsu, not jûdô) we know everyone wore street clothes. Over 30 years later he said that he noticed great differences in the quality of the clothes, as his students included very wealthy aristocratic children, the scions of noble Imperial court members, former samurai of various means, as well as poor street urchin / houseboys, a number of which he alone supported with room, board and an education. He wrote that he took note of the large differences in quality and condition of the clothing of the commoners versus the aristocrats. In order to ‘level the playing field’ so to speak, he had everyone change into early versions of the keikogi – the date was unspecified, but was apparently in the early to mid 1880s, as he wrote about it in the late 1880s.

The origin of those earliest keikogi is almost certainly a type of kimono undergarment – likely the 襦袢 juban or 半襦袢 han juban. Today the various types juban are typically made of very light, fine material, particularly for summer use, as they are under layers of heavier cloth. Fine silk or cotton / synthetic blend cloth juban worn under kimono could never stand up long in jūdō keiko practice, but in the 1880s, daily use juban, particularly of commoners of modest means, were simple, sturdy cotton. Some 20 years later in the last days of the 19th century, Kanō shihan describes the final, premodern keikogi jacket as 白木綿 筒袖 袷襦袢 – white cotton, tight sleeved, lined juban – modified with triple layers of cloth above the waist, sleeves extending so far beyond elbows, longer coat tail to reach mid thigh, gathered in the front and held by an obi like a standard juban, etc., etc. He describes the pants as 白木綿 下穿 – white cotton ‘underpants’ – a term used more widely today to include exercise pants, etc.

Many such clothes were probably at least semi-custom made in the day, anyhow, so buying something incorporating the triple layer fabric and narrow, long sleeves Kanō specified was likely pretty simple. But some time early on, it seems likely that some enterprising tailor realized that thick, woven white cotton material was more suitable for tough outer wear and would be easier to assemble than three layers of standard material (and his customers would stop complaining about getting their keikogi ripped apart). Such thick, woven or even padded cotton material is commonly used in happi 半纏 short outer coats, famously used in matsuri festivals today, and winter hanten 法被 long outer coats. (This would seem to be a natural evolution for any half clever tailor, but the vague similarity between a modern keikogi top and a happi coat has made speculation about a relationship between them a popular pass time over the years. Kanō, a noted clotheshorse given to wearing rather fancy Western and Japanese clothes, certainly knew the difference between a juban and a happi, so I’m happy to accept his description of a modified juban as the basis of the keikogi.)

(Some Westerners call this ‘kimono underwear’, which it is, in a way, but I’d point out that casual seminudity was an aspect of life in the lower Japanese social classes, public baths and manual occupations that scandalized Western visitors well into the 20th century. So, I prefer ‘foundation garment’ as there was no apparent shame in men being seen dressed in such indoors, while at practice, while porters, laborers and jinrikisha men of the day might wear nothing but fundoshi loincloths or even less. Women and their modesty are a very different matter, and really didn’t become an issue until the 20th century when Kanō ended his secret lessons for women and began teaching them openly.)

After nearly two decades of experience he (mostly like both Kanō and his teaching staff) realized that longer sleeves and pants legs would better protect practitioners’ knees and elbows from abrasion from the rush straw tatatmi (mats) they had standardized as a floor covering. The longer sleeves and pants legs were probably being used experimentally starting in the 1890s; their use became mandatory around 1906. The change was probably enacted over time as students wore out their old ones, which also helps make the precise date of the adoption of the change vague. In 1909 Kanō wrote at length about the development of his notions of the keikogi, noting that in the old days of jūjutsu that competitors sometimes fought near naked, but that modern modesty and health, along with practical safety considerations, made traditional clothing and even the wide varieties of modern Western clothing less practical for instruction of jūdō.

法被 Happi short outer coat, marked with ‘Matsuri’ (Festival)

Also there was always a lot of variation in keikogi until recent competition driven detailed rules – as late as the 1930s jūdō instruction books often included patterns for homemade keikogi, and even instruction methods that did not require keikogi.

Frankly, what’s always been more interesting to me than the keikogi is the origin of the modern obi – as the original belts were thin, single layer cloth strips tied in a bowtie – look closely at photos of Kanō shihan and Mifune sensei. And I can’t find any evidence, but think it was an invention of clothing makers postwar, upselling judoka with fancy, thick and even embroidered belts.


Modern long sleeve juban

‘Tight sleeves’ as opposed to traditional loose sleeved juban 
or optional sleeveless, summer use han juban ‘half juban’. )

Sleeveless modern juban

Ads for keikogi appear in Kodokan publications pretty early on and carry on today.

Lance Gatling – February 2021

Tokyo, Japan

The Kano Chronicles® – Kano’s 12 Precepts of Jūdō

Here’s a very rare writing by Kanō shihan. I just made a simple translation; the text is very indirect and complex. The below is simply a truncated paraphrasing.

It’s a very short essay, really just a list in a small, obscure Showa era book not noted by Kanō biographers.  The book was only printed in a small batch in a first edition, and by the time the second edition came out, the book had been completely reworked and this essay was replaced by a much longer essay by Kanō shihan and this disappeared from public view.

The ‘practicing’ is 修行 shugyō, which the excellent defines as:
修行 しゅぎょう
Noun, Suru verb

  1. 1. training; practice; discipline; study​
    2. ascetic practices ​in Buddhism
  2. Wikipedia definition
    Sādhanā (Sanskrit साधन,Tib. སྒྲུབ་ཐབས་, druptap; Wyl. sgrub thabs) literally “a means of accomplishing something” is ego-transcending spiritual practice. It includes a variety of disciplines in Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim traditions that are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives…..

1. ascetic practices (Buddhist term)

2. training; practice; discipline; study Wikipedia definition 3. Sādhanā (Sanskrit साधन,Tib. སྒྲུབ་ཐབས་, druptap; Wyl. sgrub thabs) literally “a means of accomplishing something” is ego-transcending spiritual practice. It includes a variety of disciplines in Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim traditions that are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives.

柔道十二訓 Jūdō’s 12 Precepts – Kanō Jigorō

Jūdō practice as Budō

1. Practice kata and randori as carefully as if your opponent is armed with a live sword.

2. Do not forget that the objective of jūdō study is to improve every day, not to win or lose.

3. Jūdō practice is not limited to the dōjō.

Jūdō practice as Physical Exercise

4. Avoid dangerous techniques and optimize your exercise to train your body.

5. Do not neglect proper food, sleep and rest.

6. Exercise correctly, not carelessly, in accordance with proper principles.

Jūdō practice as Spiritual Training

7. Conduct kata and randori with your best effort.

8. Endeavor to practice not only with your powers of judgement, but also with your powers of intuition.

9. It is necessary to consider others’ reactions to you in your self-reflection.

Jūdō principles applied to Daily Life as practice

10. In the basics of your daily life, bear in mind the principle of Seiryoku Zenyō Jita Kyōei.

11. When faced with occasional inconsistencies in your teachings,
keep in mind the principle of Seiryoku Zenyō Jita Kyōei.

12. When faced with many pressures, even the daily necessities of life in mind,
one by one consider your problems,
keeping in mind the principle of Seiryoku Zenyō Jita Kyōei.


Draft translation copyright July 2016

Lance Gatling

Director / Instructor
Embassy Judo
Facebook ‘Embassy Judo’
Director, Tokyo Judo Federation

The Kanō Chronicles® – Kanō and the Kōbun Gakuin 嘉納歴代 • 嘉納師範と弘文学院

One episode of Kanō shihan’s life not generally appreciated by jūdōka is his extended effort to educate Chinese students. This effort saw him undertake a Meiji government sponsored months’ long, thousands of kilometers official trip through Q’ing dynasty China in which he met mandarins, had secret conversations with overlords, visited the tomb of the founder of orthodox neo-Confucianism, contacted future revolutionaries, and dodged pirates.

Beginning with a small private juku in a rented facility Kanō developed a purpose built school that inducted almost 8,000 Chinese over years, hundreds enrolled at any given time. He changed its name from 亦楽書院, a name derived from an ancient Confucian classic text, then again changed the kanji for the new name after inadvertently violating an obscure ancient naming taboo seen as an insult by traditional Chinese. Today in Japanese we know it as the 弘文学院 Kōbun Gakuin, in Chinese history it is known as the Hongwen Academy.

It was essentially a preparatory school, primarily intended to bring the diverse group of polyglot Chinese students to an acceptable level of comprehension and communications in spoken and written Japanese and other topics so the students could later enroll in regular advanced education in a number of Japanese higher education institutes, including Kanō’s own 東京高等師範学校 Tōkyō Kōtō Shihan Gakkō Tokyo Higher Normal School, where they would study to become the new teaching cadre that backwards China so desperately needed to modernize its education system.

In doing so, almost inadvertently the school became one of the foremost working laboratories of teaching Japanese. In mid-Meiji, the school developed a Japanese language training program which it published; the book and its training program was so well regarded that it stayed in print for over thirty years.

The school remained in operation for years until political propaganda fostered by Europeans and Americans fueled anti-Japanese sentiment to the point that enrollment fell off sharply. Kanō, who lived on the school compound in a large house built with Chinese government funds, acquired the huge plot of land years after the school closed and lived there until his death in 1938, when his eldest surviving son and future Kodokan president Kanō Risei inherited it.

In the years of the Kōbun Gakuin, Kanō met key Chinese political figures, future actors including men who became founders and leaders of all three rival Chinese governments vying for power in World War II and the subsequent Civil War, and contributing to the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese, and teachers and businessmen desperately trying to bolster the faltering China. Some stayed in touch with Kanō for decades afterwards.

The students included future Communists, Nationalists, collaborators, political leaders, soldiers, artists, authors, and even Mao’s father in law. They included: 陈天华、黄兴、李待琛、杨度、胡汉民、牛保才、杨昌济、张澜、朱剑凡、胡元倓、李琴湘、方鼎英、许寿裳、鲁迅、沈心工、陈幼云、陈师曾、陈寅恪、劉勳麟、鲍贵藻, 李四光、侯鸿鉴、郑菊如、李书城、林伯渠、邓以蛰、趙戴文、and 程鴻書.

Kanō provided a forward to the language training text book, which he wrote in kanbun, the ancient Sino-Japanese writing style that would be understandable by most educated Chinese despite their different spoken dialects of Chinese.



Recently there is a Chinese cultural movement.


These new scholars.


Skilled in our Japanese language and grammar.


And Japanese is actually getting more and more important every day for Chinese scholars。


However, educational books.


I have not seen good ones.


I regard that as regrettable.


The study of speech and writing.


As easily as possible.


But what else?


Our Kōbun Gakuin.


Educated Chinese students for many years.


Our national language professors.


Studied how for a long time.


Men of considerable achievements.


As a result, Professor Matsumoto* compiled this Japanese language book.


Various professors supported it.


Its colloquial use cases are established first.


And is published with.


Grammar and a reader, etc.


It is complete.


Finally the day of its release!


We welcome this book!


And its teaching material for Japanese and Japanese literature.


It is almost ready.


This book.


Is thus made for Chinese.


Teaching of our Japanese to typical foreigners.


Nor is it for this reason.


The benefit of this book.


is not small, after all.


April Meiji 39 (1906)


Kōbun Gakuin head Kanō Jigorô

– translation copyright 2020 by Lance Gatling


* Matsumoto was Kanō’s vice principal

** The first name of the school was 弘文学院 Kōbun Gakuin later changed to 宏文学院 which is also pronounced Kōbun Gakuin in Japanese; not accidentally both are pronounced Hongwen Xuéyuàn in Mandarin, usually rendered as Hongwen Academy in English. We will explore the naming taboo that the original name violated.

Hat tip to Geoff Newman for his translation suggestions! 谢谢!

Origin of Jūjutsu’s ‘Principle of Flexibility’- Jū no Ri

Kanō shihan wrote and lectured on the principle of Jū, flexibility.  He termed it as Jū no Ri, the Principle of Flexibility.

What is the origin of the term and its concept? What is the correct context?

The primary saying that is used to describe the core philosophy of jūjutsu is the four-character idiomatic phrase [1]

柔能制剛 Jū nō sei gō

Flexibility overcomes strength [2]

Or, more often, and less correctly ‘Softness overcomes strength’ [3]

But that is only the introductory line of the Upper Strategy. The complete primary text of The Three Strategies of Huang Shingong’s Upper Strategy from near 2250 years ago reads:

「軍識曰、柔能制剛、弱能制強。柔者徳也、剛者賊也。弱者人之所助、強者怨之所攻。    柔有所設、剛有所施、弱有所用、強有所加。兼此四者、而制其宣。」

軍讖曰: The “Military Prophecies” cites:

柔能制剛 Flexibility controls the strong,

弱能制強 weakness controls strength.

柔者徳也 The flexible have virtue,

剛者賊也 the unyielding have faults.

弱者人之所助 The weak attract assistance,

強者怨之所攻 the strong attract opposition.

柔有所設 At times use flexibility,

剛有所施 at times use hardness,

弱有所用 at times use weakness,

強有所加 at times add strength.

兼此四者 One using all four

而制其冝 will then prevail. [4]


The primary purpose of the strategy was how to deal with people. In the extended commentary it is clearly about his to deal with subordinates first. The extension is now to deal with non-subordinates, including enemies.

As one of the Seven Military Classics, this work has been studied for over 2000 years as one of the most important schools of strategic thought.

Regarding its use in describing  jūdō, apparently Kanō shihan thought it was insufficient to capture his vision; therefore, he developed his own explanation of the basic principles of  jūdō that went through various versions, but eventually he settled on:

Seiryoku zen’yō

Jita kyōei

The origin of Kanō’s principle  is much more complex, a long tale that will be explored in the full version of The Kanō Chronicles®

Lance Gatling

Tokyo, Japan


[1] Japanese and Chinese use thousands of four character ideograms called yojijukugo in Japanese. These are used as in a wide array of situations from sayings to mnemonics to short hand for long stories or legends. Many are thousands of years old.

[2] 柔能制剛 Jū nō sei gō is Chinese. It is rendered in Japanese as 柔よく制剛  jū yoku sei gō the quality of flexibility / softness controls hardness / softness

[3]  The author contends that the typical translation of into English as ‘softness’ is neither correct nor appropriate in historical context and for the purposes of understanding jūjtsu or jūdō. 


San Lüe 三略 (Three Strategies) is divided into three parts: Shang Lüe 上略, Zhong Lüe 中略, and Xia Lüe 下略. The first two parts quote from military writings of the past, Jun Chen 軍讖 (Military Prophecies) and Jun Shi 軍勢 (Military Power) and elaborates them, while the third part is the author’s own discussion. Some attribute the work to Huang Shigong 黃石公, but in recent research, it is said that this book was written by an anonymous person between the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). ”

The Governing Principles of Ancient China, Volume 2 – Based on 360 passages excerpted from the original compilation of Qunshu Zhiyao (The Compilation of Books and Writings on the Important Governing Principles), pg 508. Seri Kembangan, Malaysia: Chung Hua Cultural Education Centre, 2014.


The entire work’s name in English is usually rendered as the The Three Strategies of Huang Shigong.

The Shang Lüe 上略, Zhong Lüe 中略, and Xia Lüe 下略 are respectively the Upper Strategy, the Middle Strategy, and the Lower Strategy.

The exact date of the Military Prophecies seems unknown but appears to be around 2400 years old.

English translation by Lance Gatling, Tokyo, Japan  ©2020.

The Kanō Chronicles® – Viscount Shinagawa Yajirō and the Fujimichō Kōdōkan

Among the many locations of the Kodokan in its early days (1882-1900) was one that Kanō shihan (master) explains in some detail: the Fujimi-chō dōjō (literally, ‘place of the way’, originally a Buddhism term denoting a place of austere study, adopted by Japanese martial arts to indicate a place of practice and austere study).

In his early 20s, from the early to mid 1880s, Kanō became acquainted with key Chōshū samurai who variously fought with or led Chōshū military units fighting in the Satsuma – Chōshū led coup that seized control of Japan in what is termed the Meiji Restoration. This long series of events led to Kanō’s relationship with a young Chōshū samurai named Murata Genzō, who studied English under Kanō. (Satsuma and Chōshū were only two of the around 260 han domains of old Japan, but two of the most powerful and most in tension with the bakufu. Sited in today’s Kagoshima and Yamaguchi prefectures respectively, these powerful han existed about as far as you could get from Tokyo and still be part of the country, and were jealous and suspicious of the Tokugawa bakufu military dictatorship / administration and protective of their own prerogatives. In alliance with lesser allies the senior samurai of these two han led the Restoration, the overthrow of the over 260 year old Tokugawa regime and the establishment of a new government with the Emperor as its titular leader, advised, of course, by his new Imperial supporters.)

Murata told Kanō that he wanted to travel and study overseas but could not afford to do so. Through Murata, Kanō met Viscount Shinagawa Yajirō (1843-1900), a senior Chōshū samurai colleague of Murata and one of the rising stars in the new Meiji government. Kanō consulted with Shinagawa and Shinagawa’s own senior colleague and patron, then Count (but later designated a non-hereditary Prince under the new Meiji peerage system) Yamagata Aritomo about how they could support Murata. In the end, Yamagata asked the young Kanō to lead a private subscription drive to support Murata. Kanō agreed and eventually successfully collected enough money from other senior Chōshū samurai and his own merchant commoner friends to underwrite Murata’s subsequent overseas study trip.

Viscount Shinagawa Yajirō (1843-1890) Wiki Commons pic

Shinagawa was born a low level samurai in the Hagi sub clan of the Chōshū han in today’s Hagi City, Yamagata Prefecture. As a young man Shinagawa and many of the other key Chōshū men of the new government studied at the Shōka Sonjuku (literally: Under the Pines / Village Academy) private academy of famed anti-bakufu warrior-scholar samurai Yoshida Shōin (1830-1859).

For fomenting rebellion and participating in assassination plots the firebrand Yoshida was one of many bakufu enemies rounded up, imprisoned, tried, convicted, and executed during the Ansei Purge, a last gasp attempt of the bakufu to control the rising tide of sedition fomented by Imperial extremists. Yoshida was condemned to death as a common criminal because he had intentionally defied his superiors by leaving his han without permission and was removed from the samurai class in punishment. As a commoner, much to the disgust of his students and supporters Yoshida was not allowed to commit seppuku, the traditional honorable self-disembowelment ritual suicide of the samurai class, but rather was beheaded by a samurai executioner on the Kozukappara execution grounds in Edō, the site of tens of thousands of executions.

The story of Yoshida’s Meiji era rehabilitation from attempted assassin and executed criminal to ultranationalist martyr is long and involves many of Kanō’s acquaintances and colleagues, but must wait for another time.

Yoshida Shōin (1830-1859)
Master of Shōka Sonjuku
Revolutionary Imperialist theorist, attempted assassin, teacher, and beloved martyr of the Meiji ultranationalists

Shinagawa, along with many of his fellow students of Yoshida, became an active participant in the son’ō jōi (an Imperialist battle cry translated as ‘Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians!’) movement which sought to replace the bakufu under the pretense of ‘restoring’ the Emperor to his rightful place of active command (of course, supported by the right advisors – themselves) and repelling all encroachments by foreign powers. He followed a typical path for many of his coup contemporaries, first as an activist discussing and arguing, then participating in covert operations as an arsonist cum assassin. In the start of the Restoration war, Shinagawa commanded a commoner militia unit during the historically significant yet tactically minor street battle of the Kinmon Incident in Kyoto. These street battles in the ancient Imperial capital between Imperialists intent to destroy the bakufu versus a mixed bag of bakufu loyalist han clan forces and cutthroat mercenaries lit a firestorm that led to battles throughout Japan. In the conventional battles that followed, Shinagawa became a staff officer in the expanded Chōshū commoner military units drilled in modern fashion; these units outperformed the traditional samurai battle formations of the more traditional Tokugawa loyalist han.

In 1870 after the Meiji Restoration Shinagawa was dispatched abroad as an observer of the Franco-Prussian War, one of the first involving many modern weapons, mass mobilizations, and professional armies. Then he remained in Europe, studying in London, France and Germany before returning to the new capital of Tokyo, where he used his new knowledge in several positions of increasing responsibility in the Meiji government.

In 1886 he was appointed ambassador plenipotentiary to become the new nation of Japan’s envoy to the new nation of Germany. Before he left for his extended overseas assignment, knowing that the 25 year old bachelor Kanō’s juku private academy at Eishoji in Ueno was almost 7 kilometers away from his dojo in nearby Kami Nibanchō, Shinagawa proposed that Kanō act as caretaker for his new house, a quasi-Western style structure in Fujimi-chō near Kami Nibanchō. As Shinagawa didn’t want to rent the prestigious house to a stranger he offered its use to Kanō for free, even offering to let Kanō live there along with his handful of resident jukusei academy students, which would bring Kano’s extracurricular activities and residence much closer to his duty position at the Gakushūin Peer’s School. But according to Kanō near 30 years later he declined what he construed to be a gratuity.

After some discussion, the face saving solution was that Shinagawa agreed for Kanō to pay the same rent for Shinagawa’s entire spacious house and estate of over 4000 square meters (over 2400 tatami) that Kanō paid Eishoji for a study room / dojo of only 12 tatami (about 18.5 square meters), a transparently symbolic payment given the difference in the value of the house. In February 1886 Kanō moved to Fujimicho along with his live-in shusei houseboy students and jukusei academy students.

According to his recollections, Kanō initially had reservations about the arrangement but apparently grew to appreciate his new accommodations. He soon made arrangements for the new 40 mat Kodokan dojo (incidentally the exact size of the author’s dojo at the US Embassy Tokyo he had built earlier in Kami Nibanchō about 2 kilometers away to be dismantled and reassembled in the garden of the Fujimichō compound.

The house also boasted a modern kitchen (and we will see later that young master Kanō certainly liked to eat, so that was important!), and was much more accessible and in a far more prestigious location in central Tokyo than an ancient Buddhist temple sited with scores others on the fringes of Ueno. Finally, Fujimichō was also 4 kilometers closer than Eishoji to the Gakushūin, the Peer’s School where Kanō served as the Imperial appointed vice principal as a member of the Imperial Household Agency. These factors almost certainly contributed to the success of the Kanō juku and the Kodokan, along with Kanō’s hard work, as the number of students in both increased. Kanō later also claimed that during these three years at Fujimi-chō he and his key instructors resolved many of the technical fundamentals of judo; decades later Kanō would claim that by 1889 judo was fully established in its final form (we will examine this claim in other segments).

Fujimicho dojo.jpg
The Fujimi-chō Kōdōkan ©Kodokan (between 1886-1889)
• Kanō shihan in kimono seated on raised dias
• Keikōgi (practice ‘gi’) are still short sleeves and pants
• Many of the practitioners wear black belts, indicating yūdansha (dan grade holders), an innovation introduced around 1887
• Observers seated either in anza (cross-legged) or seiza (formal kneeling)
• Primarily practicing standing techniques, the early focus of judo
• This was the first purpose built Kodokan dojo, with an area of 40 mat training area and a raised dais, first built in Kami Nibanchō, then disassembled, moved to Fujimi-chō and reassembled

But beyond its convenience, this was an unusual neighborhood.

For one, Shinagawa’s mansion was next door to that of his primary patron, war colleague, fellow Chōshū samurai, and fellow Shōka Sonjuku student Count (later Prince) Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922). Both men were born into low level samurai families – the older Yamagata was the son of an ashigaru foot soldier, the lowest rank of samurai – but rose in prominence during the war and through their bureaucratic capabilities afterward (and longevity as many of their elder Chōshū superiors in the new Meiji government died after the Restoration). Both warriors knew Kanō before he moved to Fujimi-chō through mutual acquaintances like Murata, and some of the Chōshū former samurai were sending their children to the elite Gakushuin. Both men had trained in kenjutsu and jūjujtsu as a matter of course as samurai, so they basically knew what Kanō was doing; Yamagata was a Kodokan supporter throughout his long life. Also, Yamagata’s wife was the eldest daughter of Dr. Kato Hiroyuki, President of Tokyo University and a close colleague of Kanō’s from his earliest student days at Tokyo University; the educators continued a close professional and personal relationship for decades as they became two of the most senior members of the Ministry of Education and provided key leadership for an array of educational organizations.

Field Marshall three time Prime Minister Prince Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922)
in full formal court attire

When Kanō moved to Fujimi-chō in 1886, his next door neighbor Count Yamagata was an active duty Imperial Army Lieutenant General in the early days of his long position as Home Minister from 1885 to 1890 (he also served as such several years more in a later cabinet). In the powerful position as Minister of the Naimushō Home Ministry he controlled the nation’s entire police operations and training (including martial arts), the assignment of metropolitan and prefectural governors, oversight of local administration, management of public works and government lands, organizing and executing elections, and the collection of information on and monitoring of the people through police and other intelligence networks. Through his personal connections in the government and the Imperial court Yamagata inserted himself in an even wider array of issues facing the new government, including ethics and moral education for students, an interest he shared with the young Kanō.

By outmaneuvering (and outliving) his political opponents eventually Yamagata became undisputed the most powerful man in the country for decades. He was an Imperial Army Field Marshal, would become the key Chōshū figure in the Satsuma-Chōshū alliance that for decades controlled the highest Imperial Army and Navy general officer assignments, served as Japan’s first three times Prime Minister, and headed the Emperor’s influential Privy Council for an unprecedented 17 years. Throughout he remained a deadly enemy of uncontrolled democracy and party politics until his death. In a word, Yamagata became Japan’s kingmaker, the power broker behind the throne, particularly as the Imperial Army held much more influence over domestic affairs than did the Navy. Many parallels have been drawn between Yamagata and Germany’s Bismark.

Another unusual feature of the address was that both mansions were literally adjacent to the Imperial Palace. Shinagawa’s house was in Fujimi-chō 1chōme Ichibanchi, Kōjimachi-ku, which was then one of Tokyo’s only 15 ku wards. (After multiple changes, today Tokyo has 23 wards; the old Kōjimachi-ku was eliminated and Fujimi-chō was absorbed into the new Chiyoda-ku. ‘Fujimi-chō’ means ‘Fuji view block’; even today there are other Tokyo area neighborhoods with views of Mount Fuji with similar names.) Today the address of Yamagata’s house is Kudan Minami 2-chome 2-11 Chiyoda-ku, the Indian Embassy chancellery.

But what else made this neighborhood unique?

In 1657 a fire flamed out of control by the winds of an oncoming typhoon burned up to 60-70% of the entire city of Edō. The conflagration even jumped the moats to damage Edo castle itself, so in the aftermath the bakufu enacted new fire prevention rules. One effect was that the daimyo estates and other facilities built adjacent to the Palace moats were forced to retreat to provide protective fire breaks called hiyokechi 火除地 ‘fire prevention lands’ under direct bakufu control. These firebreaks were sometimes fenced off, usually bare parade grounds used for entertainment and ceremonies such as parades, fireworks and kite flying. Structures or tall vegetation were strictly banned.

Hiyokechi ‘fire control land’ scene from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,
a series of ukiyo-e prints begun and largely completed
by famous Japanese artist Hiroshige (1797–1858)
Wiki Commons

NOTE: While the term hiyokechi today is an anachronism, another fire fighting measure’s name survives in place names today. Hirokōji ‘wide streets’ were broad avenues carved through congested urban areas to link up vital points with strict easement rules to control encroachment on the avenue / fire break and to facilitate official and fire fighting traffic in an emergency.

The Fujimicho hiyokechi are the three purple areas aligned vertically west of the northwest Palace moat, which is called Chidorigafuchi.
(due north is straight up. blue is the castle moat, purple are bakufu lands)
The upper third became Shinagawa’s estate, the middle Yamagata’s, the southernmost the young Prince Kan’in Kotohiro’s.
The wide yellow areas are hirokōji wide firebreak boulevards.
Incidentally, the top of the eastern / right hand white area inside the Palace grounds is the location of today’s Nihon Budokan martial arts exhibition and training center; in the Edo era they were compounds for close Tokugawa relatives.
Statute of Viscount Shingawa Yajirō just west of 田安門 Tayasumon, the north Imperial Palace gate, about 200 meters from his former residence, on the grounds of the former hirokōji broad firebreak street (see map above for Tayasumon; the statue stands just to the left). The statue was built with subscriptions from Shinagawa’s friends and admirers, including Kanō Jigorō, who once described Shinagawa as ‘the last true samurai’. It is uphill from today’s Kudanzaka Station near Yasukuni Shrine.

Perhaps pulling strings with their comrades in their new government, as all bakufu and daimyo lands reverted to the new Imperial Meiji government after Restoration, including Tokyo’s hiyokechi and hirokōji, Shinagawa’s and Yamagata’s new estates were built hiyokechi fire break land along the Imperial Palace Chidorigafuchi moat, between Hanzon-mon (‘Hanzo’s gate’, named after the ninja master retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu tasked to provide the guard force for that gate) and Tayasu-mon the northernmost palace gate near today’s Kita no Maru park and Yasukuni Shrine. (Shinagawa’s house was where the Indian Embassy stands today. The large empty lot to the south was Shinagawa’s garden.) Yamagata died in 1922 and his residence burned in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. It was restored later only to burn again in a WWII fire raid. Today only the garden remains, the house replaced by a mixed modern and traditional style multifunction government meeting hall.

The next estate south along the former hiyokechi on the grounds of today’s Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery 千鳥ヶ淵戦没者墓地 was that of Prince Kanin Haruhiro (1865 – 1945), eventually the highest ranking military member of the Imperial families. Only then in his early 20s living in the large estate he would eventually will to his eldest son, he was 5 years younger than Kanō. Prince Kanin eventually rose through the officer ranks to become an Imperial Army Field Marshal and long serving Army Chief of Staff.

Kanō’s activities at Shinagawa’s house and the nearby Fujimi-chō dojo did not go unnoticed by neighbors and passersby. Viscount Shinagawa was a key Chōshū civilian member of the powerful Satsuma Chōshū alliance that essentially controlled the Meiji government and military. He himself was an up and coming political protege of the powerful Home Minister General Yamagata, who decided to make the move from military service to politics and depended upon the advice of the much more politically astute Shinagawa. Both men were not only military heroes of the Restoration (and Yamagata the hero of the Seinan War, commander of the field forces that hunted down and destroyed Saigō Takamori’s rebel army), both were arch conservative Imperialists and staunch opponents of party politics when politics was often a full contact sport. Kanō’s odd practice of jūjutsu – as even Kanō termed judo at the time – was growing at a time when most martial arts in Japan were greatly scattered and very sparsely attended. His jukusei academy students numbered up to 60 during the Fujimichō period; each boy was required to practice judo daily, and they were joined by outside judo students after their own academic school or work. These included the famous Hirose Takeō, who at the time was a student at the Naval Academy, which was still in Tokyo at Tsukiji before its move to Etajima. Coupled with the rough nature of some of Kanō’s shusei houseboy students and the extracurricular hobby of some to practice their jūjutsu against entertainment district thugs and drunks, these strange antics caused some of the locals to wonder if Kanō was in fact training political muscle for the new Chōshū oligarchs, who were famously not adverse to extreme political violence.

After a year or so in Berlin Shinagawa fell ill and spent some time convalescing there; because he did not recover fully he was recalled in 1887. Arriving he was bemused to find the 27 year old Kanō living with around 30 student boarders in his house, with around another 30 boarding at a nearby house Kanō rented. These students ranged from the sons of rich kazoku nobility who wanted to provide their offspring with the best possible preparation to pass the all-important Gakushuin entrance exams to the Peers’ School where Kanō was the vice principal to near homeless street urchin shusei live-in houseboy students who traded their labor and performed errands around the house and dojo at Kanō’s bidding for room, board, education, and judo. Always judo. Judo for everyone.

Kanō very careful recorded the name, date of entry, and the social class of every single Kodokan student in notebooks on display in the Kodokan museum today. In the first five students in 1882 he noted two kazoku brothers named Arima. Kanō set up his juku specifically at the request of kazoku families to prepare their sons for those exams; presumably because he would know what to expect on the entrance exams, he could prepare them. As a result he was entrusted with the education of some of the cream of Japanese society. Preparing for all important entrance examinations by studying in juku ‘cram schools’ became a practice that continues in Japan today as cram school teachers, often public school teachers working part-time, teach the tests in evening classes.

Shinagawa did not move back into his now crowded house with the dojo in the garden. Instead he had a new residence built on another large estate, the former Edō residence of a middle level daimyo in Dangōzaka, Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku, which he sold to a businessman named Sudo in 1889; while the Dangozaka estate was divided up over the intervening 120 years into numerous blocks of residential plots, the Shinagawa estate garden remains today as Bunkyo-ku’s Sudo Park. (Apparently being on the winning side of the Restoration coup was good business for a young budding Chōshū oligarch, as that estate was over 3300 square meters, around 8 acres, of prime land. Today the park is covered by massive ancient camphor trees and a pond of crawfish angled out on spring days by locals.)

Kanō moved the Kodokan in the spring of 1889, first briefly to Hongo Masago-cho, near the University of Tokyo, renting an unused Army warehouse in a deal facilitated by Shinagawa, then back to Kami Niban-cho near today’s Hanzomon Station. In the early days Kanō usually lived near or co-located with the Kodokan; more than once it was in his backyard until he built his large final family home further out from downtown Tokyo (a story for later).

Sudo Park, Sendagi 3chome, Bunkyo-ku,
garden of former daimyo compound owned by Shinagawa.
Photo ©2020 The Kanō Chronicles®
Excerpt of Edo era map of the Dangozaka estate of
Shinagawa Yajirō overlaid on modern map,
Sudo Park location in green text and block lower left. Rotated for reading; north is to the right.
Notation indicates the Edo era user before Shinagawa got the land:
‘Kaga Taishōji han (Ishikawa) 10,000 tsubo (area = 3300 sq m)
Matsudaira Hidanokuni Toshika (Maeda)
100,000 koku’ (large barrels of rice per year stipend)

After convalescing for another year or so after returning to Japan, Shinagawa recovered enough to begin a series of assignments as an advisor to the Privy Council and to the Emperor. In 1891 he became the powerful Home Minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Matsukata Masayoshi, a Satsuma samurai and another Kanō acquaintance.

Around then Kanō found himself at odds with the president of the Gakushūin and, rather than be fired outright, managed to get himself assigned to study European educational systems for a year on behalf of the Emperor, which he managed to stretch into nearly a year and a half.

After Kanō returned from Europe, Kanō and Shinagawa meet again under strange circumstances. Both are topics for the future.

Lance Gatling
Tokyo, Japan
The Kanō Chronicles®