'Internal' Arts and Judo


On a martial art forum, the assertion has come up that Judo contains the same sort of “internal” skills that are common in Chinese Kungfu or Japanese Aikido (among others.)

The idea is amusing for many reasons - those who assert these “internal” skills never seem able to cite any Judo texts on the topic. In fact, it originated from the statements of a Jujutsuka (not a Judoka!), an instructor in Shinden Isshin-ryu; Nobuyuki Kunishige; as referenced in E.J. Harrison’s fine book “The Fighting Spirit of Japan“.

[Just as a side note; I highly recommend that you purchase this book - it was re-released not long ago, and you may never have another opportunity to get this book!]

What makes this topic really amusing, is that those who assert that “internal” skills are present in Judo, believe that they are present in Kuzushi - one of the best documented foundational differences between traditional Japanese Jujutsu, and the art Kano created, known as Judo.

We have an interesting conundrum here… we must either believe that Jigoro Kano was too stupid to understand the Japanese terms traditionally used (for example, in Aikido) to reference “internal” skills, or that Jigoro Kano was trying to reserve this as a secret teaching of Judo.

That Jigoro Kano was an educator all of his life would tend to throw doubt on the idea that he had no concept of “Ki” or “Aiki”, to mention two examples… so this idea is silly on the face of it.

However, the concept that he might have been reserving these teachings on “internal” skills as a secret for only higher level students deserves a quick thrashing… Jigoro Kano always viewed Judo in a wider context of benefit for society - he didn’t have any “elitist” thoughts on martial training. While it might be understandable to presuppose that he had reservations about ‘killing’ techniques, to imagine that he withheld secret teachings on something as fundamental to Judo as Kuzushi seems just a tad incredible.

One proponent has even gone to the extent of asserting translation problems from Japanese to English - but didn’t seem fazed when I pointed out that only Judo texts had this “translation” problem, as Aikido texts don’t seem to have any problem getting across key concepts… or Ki concepts… Smiley

The next step of the debate seems to be that since I, as a Judoka, are unfamiliar with these “internal” skills, that I can’t be presumed to be able to state with any authority whether they exist in Judo or not. Of course, this presupposes that these ‘teachings’ were either secret, or that Jigoro Kano was a stupid man. I reject both scenarios.  I also reject the implication that Judoka can’t determine what Judo is - that it must be defined by those outside the art.

Another theory that was presented was that these “internal” skills are known to have been present in other Jujutsu styles, and since Judo was founded on these styles, it’s inconceivable that Judo doesn’t contain them. Of course, most Jujutsu styles also train with katana - and I suspect that should I step on the mat with a live katana, any Judoka is going to be looking at me as if I were a crazed Post Office worker…  So another argument down the drain…

(Note to foreign readers - there was, not long ago in America, a spate of Post Office workers who would walk into work carrying a gun, and who would begin shooting their co-workers… hence the phrase “going postal” to indicate someone who’s just a little crazy!)

To illustrate the desperate extremes that these people who assert “internal” skills in Judo will go, I provided a quote on the topic of physical strength, to illustrate that strength in Judo is a topic that Judoka can provide citations for.  What my esteemed opponent did was to declare that this quote proved their assertions of “internal” skills in Judo… from Sakujiro Yokoyama comes the following:

“It is a tradition handed down from old times that in Taijutsu or in Jujutsu, the more strength one has, the more liable one is to be beaten on account of the strength, and it does one more harm than good. But this is a great mistake. Other things being equal, the stronger man is bound to win. It is quite true however, that one with less strength sometimes is the superior, on account of his greater skill, to one with more strength. Again one who has much strength is apt to rely on it, often applying his strength against the principles of Judo. He may beat those with very much less strength than himself, but he can never win over one who is very skillful in his tricks or another who has equal strength, much less over a person who has more strength. Besides, he will get into a bad habit of doing his tricks against Judo principles and in a slovenly way, which habit he will find a great obstacle in his progress.

This fact seems to have been the cause of that mistaken tradition. But this never comes of the fact that a man has much strength, but of the fact that he lacks coaching and he has his own way in training himself; that is, trusting entirely on his strength. If a strong man, however, trains himself thoroughly, paying careful attention to the principles of Judo, there will be no fear for his being taken advantage of by his own strength; he will never fall into the mistake of applying his tricks in a wrong way; his progress in both arts will have no obstacle, and he will be able to make the most proper use of his strength. There is no doubt that his strength together with his skill will make him a formidable exponent. If the great masters of Judo in former days had had more strength, they would have been still more proficient. Briefly speaking, strength is very necessary to enable one to keep one’s own proper posture, to break one’s opponent’s posture, and apply one’s tricks upon him. Judo pupils should cultivate their strength in order to use it properly whenever necessary.” - Sakujiro Yokoyama 10th Dan.

Sakujiro’s meaning seems pretty clear here - but the theory must be that Yokoyama was either stupid, or those who translated his words were… for this quote contains nothing that is specific to “internal” skills. 

I’ve come up with a theory that explains all of these assertions. Those who practice “internal” skills have never been noticeable in the Mixed Martial Arts arena - they have no known proponents with skills that are testable - so my theory is that they’d like to ’sit at the same table’, so to speak, as a well-known, tested, and powerful martial art. I imagine that Judo is the ‘train’ that they’d like to jump aboard, and draw some respect by association. Just my opinion, of course. I have no particular axe to grind with these martial arts that employ “internal” skills… they just aren’t in Judo.

Just to make my position clear, there is nothing intrinsic to Judo that forbids any use of these internal skills (Commonly referred to as ‘Ki’ in Japanese martial arts).  So should you learn these skills, perhaps by studying Aikido, there is no reason to suppose that you can’t apply it to your Judo.  But these internal skills are neither taught nor required in Judo.  The burden of proof lies on those who claim otherwise.