Journal of Combative Sport, March 2000

Memories of Jigoro Kano's Visit to the London Budokwai in August 1933

By Trevor Leggett

Reprinted courtesy of Richard Bowen and the Budokwai, Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

At that time the Budokwai was in small premises near Victoria Station. It was originally one of a small line of shops, including a little restaurant. It was a side street; the other side of the street was the high wall of Buckingham Palace grounds. The Budokwai had a ground floor dojo of about twenty tatami; the basement was another dojo of the same size, and the showers and changing rooms.

I was a young judo enthusiast of under twenty years when Dr. Kano came with Mr. Sumiyuki Kotani and Mr. Masami Takasaki. We were able to become members of the Kodokan, and I received from Dr. Kano a Ni-kyu certificate. Dr. Kano watched two English Budokwai members performing Nage-no-kata, and then Mr. Gunji Koizumi and Mr. Yukio Tani perforing Ju-no-kata. Koizumi had introduced some of his own ideas into the kata, and I heard that Dr. Kano remarked: "That is a modification of Ju-no-kata." He himself demonstrated a couple of the Itsutsu-no-kata. It must have been very difficult in the confined space. He made a little explanation for the English members, in his impeccable "Headmaster's English". (I mean by this that each word was separately and clearly pronounced, as an English Headmaster does to set a good example of correct pronunciation to pupils.) He told us that it would be difficult for us to understand the principles shown in the Itsutsu-no-kata. He added, with an unexpected touch of humour: "It is even more difficult to perform it. I myself have been studying it for over forty years, and I think I can now perform the first three correctly!"

On one of the days of his visit, he had been invited to an afternoon garden party at Buckingham Palace. It was arranged that he would come on to the Budokwai (which did not open till about 6 p.m. -- the members all had jobs which they could not leave till about 5:30.) As it happened, Dr. Kano left the Buckingham Palace party at about 5. He was wearing Court dress, which in those days was magnificently decorated with gold braid. As the Budokwai was so close to the Palace, he walked, but found it still closed. It was a warm sunny day, and he had not brought a raincoat. The Budokwai secretary arrived in a hurry just before 6; he looked in at the little restaurant next to the Budokwai, and (as he told me later), he saw this wonderful old Japanese man in full Court dress, sitting very upright and drinking tea, without any sign of embarrassment, before the amazed gaze of a few other customers in the tea shop.
Jigoro Kano doing kata
I heard that on this same European trip, the coach in which Dr. Kano was travelling in Italy went off the mountain road, and nearly over the cliff edge. As it hung there perilously with half its length in space, some of the Italian passengers were almost hysterical with fear, but Dr. Kano sat undisturbed till they were able to climb to safety. (I heard this story at second-hand, so I cannot vouch for its truth in details, but certainly something of the sort happened. Perhaps what I have set down here may confirm some other more direct account.)

In London, Dr. Kano gave a public talk on the principles of judo to an audience of about 250 I should estimate, at the drill hall off Kensington High Street. We had expected it to consist largely of demonstrations of technique, and though he did show some movements, the main part of the talk was on intellectual and philosophic lines. This was a considerable surprise to most of the British audience, but his obvious intellectual capacity, combined with his almost magical charisma as founder of the mysterious judo, completely captivated the audience for nearly two hours.

He illustrated in various ways Saidai Noritsu Genri, which he translated for us as the principle of maximum efficiency. He said that goldfish in a tank could not live without some green stuff, but if there were too much, they could not live either. This particular example did not mean anything to me, as my family had never kept goldfish. But I was fascinated with the point, that to use too much force was against the principle of judo. Before going to university I had asked about the courses. I had been told that taking notes of the professors' lectures was an important and tiring job. So in the three months before going to London University, I learned shorthand, and got to a good speed, 160 words a minute. The high-speed instructor told us that it would be impossible unless we held the pen or pencil about halfway up, and very lightly but firmly. After this training, I had noticed that most of the British people held the pen rather tightly and near the point. This meant that they had to move the hand along the paper after nearly every word. I had noticed casually that this seemed very inefficient. But when I heard Dr. Kano speak of his principle of maximum efficiency as applying not only to technique on the mats but throughout life, I suddenly had a realization of what he meant. The principle could be applied in the smallest things of life as well as the largest things. Too much force -- holding the pen too tightly -- was as bad as too little force -- holding the pen too loosely. I understood that my whole nation, in one of our most common activities, namely writing -- had not understood the principle of maximum efficiency.

Another point he made was that this universal principle could be learnt in various ways -- for example, through commercial activity. But, he said, one of the best ways was through judo practice. He said that judo practice was a very good way to learn (1) self-control, (2) will: how to actualize long-term goals by suppressing short-term desires, and (3) mutual co-operation, rising above a superficial conflict to give mutual aid and benefit. British people were familiar with some of these points. For instance, we had long had a tradition about sport, that it should be training in character: one tries very hard, but one is not cast down in failure, nor over-elated by success. But the sporting tradition had nothing like the scope of Dr. Kano's principle, and it was already becoming eroded by professionalism. As a matter of fact, Dr. Kano was against having judo championships for this very reason, thinking that it probably would destroy the character-forming aspects of judo. In this he seems to have been right.

One of the things that puzzled us was Dr. Kano's insistence that the principles of judo (maximum efficiency: mutual aid and concession leading to mutual welfare and benefit) are all-pervading, though developed in Japan. He said repeatedly that these are not national things, but universal. I could not understand why he insisted on this point; I thought it was obvious. After all, Newton had discovered gravity, but it was not an English thing but a universal principle applying everywhere. Roentgen had discovered X-rays, but they were not German. Why was Dr. Kano emphasizing that judo principles were not specially Japanese, but all-pervading? He added that other branches of budo such as kendo were specialized applications of the universal principle of judo, namely maximum efficiency and mutual aid. It was not till I went to Japan towards the end of the 1930s that I understood why Dr. Kano insisted on this point, and how brave he was in doing so. He saw that Japan's future role would be to contribute to world culture, and not regard itself as a closed and superior society. I realized clearly the nature of that nationalism; high-minded though it undoubtedly sometimes was, I heard Admiral Jiro Nango give an address at the Dojo-biraki in 1940. He said that although Dr. Kano had seemed sometimes to say that kendo and budo in general were applications of the principles of judo, it would be truer to say that judo, like the other branches of budo, were in fact manifestations of the Japanese spirit of Yamato damashii.

Hearing this I realized what a clear-sighted man Dr. Kano was.

JCS Mar 2000