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

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 failure to act

Lance Gatling
Author / Lecturer
The Kanō Chronicles
Tokyo, Japan – please send a note to give us feedback.

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The Kano Chronicles® – Kano shihan in fact and fiction Part I – Kano battles Dracula (⁉️)

Athough he kept an English diary for decades that has been carefully kept from the public, Kano shihan apparently never wrote an autobiography. What he did provide was a long series of interviews with frequent Sakkô contributor / journalist / judoka Ochiai Torahei covering his personal life, his career as an educator and experience as a judoka. This material has been available in Japanese for many years – first published in a series of twenty-four long articles from Jan 1927 to May 1929 in the Kodokan Culture Council monthly magazine Sakkô (‘Arousal’), there have been various extracts and versions reprinted in several postwar collections of Kanō shihan’s writings.

There is an English version of the Sakkô serialized interviews that covers around 200 pages of dense text and is the single best book available in English to date on Kanō shihan’s life. The meticulously translated Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano by judoka and long term Japan resident Brian N. Watson is a unique contribution to make judo history accessible in English. Brian’s book is an indispensable reference for any serious judoka and a fascinating read that took years of knowledgeable effort to complete; I recommend it unreservedly.

In the Sakkô memoirs Kanō shihan describes his life, career, and judo in his own words, in his late 60s, after his retirement from the Ministry of Education, and after his Imperial nomination to the Japan’s Upper House, where he won election in 1922 and then sat as the equivalent of a member of the UK House of Lords or as a US Senator until his death in 1938. (Spoiler alert: Kanō shihan’s version of events in certain places is biased towards him, with all that entails. Some very serious judo history researchers have noted there are no independent supporting contemporaneous accountants of some episodes that have since become core to the legends of judo. Cf. the legendary ‘Police judo matches’ of the 1890s, EN1.)

In addition, there are scores if not hundreds of contemporary and later Japanese and foreign language profiles and mini-biographies of Kanō, starting in the late 1890s in magazines, newspapers, academic journals and books.

But unknown to most folks are the works of fiction in which Kano appears.

Perhaps the most intriguing is the novel “The Tale of Meiji Dracula: The Apparition Appears in the Imperial Capital” 『明治ドラキュラ伝: 妖魔, 帝都に現る』 by Kikuchi Hideyuki, published in 2004. Kikuchi was the author of numerous Japanese vampire novels. In this one, set in the 1880s in Meiji Tokyo, a twenty-something Kano teams with his (real world) favorite judo deshi Saigo Shiro and the fictional 17 year old swordmaster Minazuki Daigo to battle Dracula, who appears in Japan to complete a centuries old mission that I leave for the reader to discover.

Interestingly, this novel was translated into English as Dark Wars: The Tale of Meiji Dracula in 2008. (I don’t have a copy; if anyone reads it, I’d welcome more information.)

Next, we’ll look at the fictional version of young Kano Jigoro when he fights not just Dracula but nearly everyone.

EN1: An anonymous scholar acquaintance spent hours looking for evidence of the famous ‘police jujutsu competitions’ and told me he came up empty-handed, which in turn spurred me to look, too. Neither of us uncovered any contemporaneous articles in newspapers of the day, which we thought very strange; such activities by the police were normally very carefully covered by the press. Only 20-30 years later do the tales appear of the great police jujutsu tournament in which the Kodokan judoka were victorious and were hired as police jujutsu its allies, but only from Kano shihan and his supporters.. While it is entirely possible there was such an event, it seems more likely that if it did exist, it was a relatively small affair. Certainly some Kodokan judoka were hired as Tokyo Metropolitan Police jujutsu instructors around that time, but so were instructors from a number of other, different jujutsu schools; the public records of this are clear. The entire affair may be a combination of some (ahem…..) exaggeration on the part of Kanō shihan and his hagiographers and most definitely misunderstanding of the complex relationship of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police with martial arts, particularly kenjutsu (sword) and jujutsu (grappling).

To be continued…..

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 The Kanō Chronicles – Lance Gatling


The writings and lectures of Kanō shihan – known, unknown and lost

Probably less than 10% of Kanō shihan’s numerous writings have been translated into any Western language, or even extracted or summarized.

His first known articles, on philosophy, were published in the mid-1880s while Kanō shihan was in his 20s. Over 50 years he contributed scores of articles to multiple publications on topics ranging from physical education, ethics, education, the Olympics, international geopolitics, China, politics, physical and moral courage, death, his incessant theme of 精力善用自他共栄 Seiryoku Zen’yô Jita Kyôei, even a commentary on a poem by the Meiji Emperor, who granted Kanō multiple audiences. Kanō shihan also contributed scores of forwards for the books of friends and acquaintances on topics from kobudô 古武道 to 武士道 bushidô to 神道 Shintô to ethics and morality; in one he admitted he hadn’t even read the book, but supported the author, his personal student.

He lectured widely and at great length – he loved to talk. While many of his impromptu lectures went unrecorded, some key lectures were prepared or transcribed. A number of his transcribed speeches must run over 30 minutes. A single question on education policy during an early 1930s Diet Upper House 貴族院 interpellation he posed to the Minister of Education took around 20 minutes; thankfully the Minister’s answer was mercifully terse.

In one private school New Year’s celebration as one of a small number of dignitaries given three minutes to provide short greetings, he ended by apologizing for talking nearly 20 instead, providing a long allegory criticizing the Second Sino-Japanese War. At one formal group dinner in Tokyo he talked for nearly 45 minutes nonstop after drinks and dinner then apologized – he had gone so far over the allotted time he had to leave immediately, and had no time for questions or comments, but instead asked a member of the head table to provide his car so he could depart from Tokyo Station.

The tale of the dinner address made me wonder how many people it put to sleep, as the recollections of his high school students sometimes commented on how long and boring his lectures could be. One European account detailing his address of an International Olympic Committee working dinner leaves no doubt; he started by extolling the advantages of Tokyo as an Olympic Games venue at length then departed on a tangent on judo that went on and on and on. The description of the result is not vague – many of the attending IOC members, many from far lands, late at night, well fed, some tipsy, and most probably at a loss to understand the importance or pertinence of judo, some not understanding English well, simply fell sleep.

And certainly he wrote on judo. He produced stacks of judo lectures, articles, essays, interviews, etc. Often repetitive and nearly formulaic, some include gems of new information and insights.

While traveling, he wrote newsy, factual and analytical letters and sent telegrams on important topics. He gave interviews to print media and live radio programs around the world to support his personal and policy objectives, primarily in English, but apparently a few times in less than fluent French and German.

A member of the International Olympic Committee from 1909 until his death, he corresponded with the leadership and staff in English. Kano shihan primarily wrote in Japanese and English, but occasionally in French and not infrequently in early Meiji in 漢文 kanbun, the ancient Sino-Japanese script of pre-Meiji Japan. His later writing in modern Japanese evolved in style over the decades for multiple reasons, but he was seldom concise and direct in his explorations of anything, much less complex topics.

Kanō most often wrote alone, but he did collaborate with others. One of his frequent collaborators was Watari Shôsaburô, an ethics instructor and kendoka at the Tokyo Higher Normal School where Kano was the principal.

For over 20 years I’ve collected his writings and transcriptions of his addresses, an uncounted total but surely hundreds to date. I suspect there are at least scores more. In the search I’ve found many surprises in the development of his thoughts, the range of his acquaintances, his plans for education, the Olympics (the current topic in Japan), and his true plan for judo. Only infrequently does his own character emerge; he wrote briefly, poignantly of the loss of family members in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 but then noted his gratitude, as his own home was not severely damaged, while so many others had lost so much, some losing everything.

His most striking writing is arguably is one of his last messages, unknown until very recently. It was recently discovered in a friend’s private library, actually delivered after Kanō shihan departed for the 1938 Cairo IOC meeting in February 1938; the missive provides striking new, private insight into the mind of a man obsessed with accomplishing his last critical mission for Japan, securing the 1940 Olympics Games for Tokyo. He departed for Cairo when he was almost 78 and in marginal health from decades of chronic disease. It was a long, arduous trip encircling the planet, one he insisted on taking alone, one that sapped his strength and one from which he would not return alive.

Two major questions regarding his writings remain today –

  1. Did he publish articles under one penname or another? There are a number of articles to topics dear to him that were clearly written under assumed names or clear pennames that read like the work of Kano shihan.
  2. Where are his lost texts? There are at least two instances where Kano shihan very specifically mentions important extended texts he prepared but they were apparently never printed.

And so the hunt continues.


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