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From Russia with a Judo Chop

May 10, 2010

Sure, Eddie Izzard took Judo in school (as have film director Guy Ritchie and Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger), but did you know that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has practiced Judo since the age of 14? Not only is Prime Minister Putin a judoka (practitioner of Judo), but he wrote a book about the Japanese sport with Blue Snake Books, as well! Below is just a sampling of this title, which explores  the history of judo, along with the basic rules, forms, and techniques of the martial art. Masters talk a lot about strong leadership skills built in the study of martial arts; how about being a President and Prime Minister for a country?

From Chapter 1: “The Beginning”

Judo owes its origins to a centuries-old tradition of one-on-one military combat that came into being and developed in various schools of jujitsu in medieval Japan, yet many people still argue about whether jujitsu has purely Japanese roots or if it was brought in from outside. It is a delicate issue, as it touches on the Japanese patriotic feelings.

There are three versions of the story of jujitsu’s origin. According to the first story, China is the homeland of jujitsu; jujitsu penetrated the Japanese islands when a monk named Chen Yuanbin arrived in the Land of the Flowering Sakura. Having left China due to the terror of the Ming dynasty, he found a refuge in one of the monasteries in Edo. He lived modestly, away from the noise and the hustle and bustle, taught Chinese calligraphy and philosophy to the children of noblemen, and translated classics of Chinese literature. He traveled occasionally, painting monotone landscapes, but most importantly he taught fighting techniques to many samurai warriors, which helped to spread jujitsu in Japan.

The second version of jujitsu’s origin is connected with the name of Takenouchi Hishamori, who, according to legend, dreamed of a hermit monk who came down from the mountains and shared the secrets of an art based on throwing and fighting techniques. Thus the purely national origin of jujitsu is established.

Finally, the story of Doctor Akayama Shirobei is widely known. He would often take walks in the garden in wintertime and admire the branches of a cherry tree (other sources say it was a spruce) that slept soundly in expectation of spring, tilting forward its cap of white snow. One time, Akayama noticed that one thick branch couldn’t support the weight of the snow and had snapped. But a small, flexible branch was bent all the way to the ground, yet it didn’t break. When Akayama saw this, he fell into contemplation and exclaimed, “You must first surrender in order to ultimately gain victory!” His words related to the fighting techniques that he was in the process of creating. Having studied the hand-to-hand combat systems known as kogusoku and kosinomawari, which were popular in Japan at that time, he set off for China in order to expand his knowledge. In China, he became familiar with a series of local fighting styles called subak and taijitsuisho. As a result of systematizing and generalizing technique, Akayama, along with his students and colleagues, demonstrated several thousand techniques to a specially convened imperial commission. These techniques formed the foundation of jujitsu.

German art historian and jujitsu expert Karl Hageman stated in the 1920s that the fighting style of jujitsu derives, like everything in Japan (for example, karate), from China. This generally correct statement (let’s remember karate) should be made more precise, since these borrowings were usually subjected to a purely national reworking and reconceptualizing by the Japanese and acquired an independent character, often on a higher level.

As a term that generalizes and systematizes the experience of hand-tohand contests on the battlefield, the word jujitsu appeared at the end of the fourteenth century. During the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate, a period of more than three hundred years during which martial arts flourished in Japan, the number of jujitsu schools approached seven hundred.

The latter half of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of an age of striking changes in Japan. In 1868, supported by advocates of radical reforms, the emperor Mutsuhito ascended the throne. The revolutionary transformations of the Meiji Restoration era began in all spheres of society. The country’s prolonged period of isolation ended as the spirit of the West began to infiltrate the daily life of ordinary Japanese. A generation interested in everything new and modern stepped out onto the historical stage. European theater and rugby became symbols of this generation. The samurai tradition died off. The ancient martial arts, which were carried on by representatives of samurai clans, were threatened.

For more books on Judo from Blue Snake Books, click HERE.

Other important leaders who have practiced Judo:
Ben Nighthorse Campbell – US Senator
Theodore Roosevelt – US President
William Hague – former British Conservative Party leader
Bjarne H. Hansen – Norwegian Politician, former Minister of Employment
Angela Merkel – German Chancellor

How do you think martial arts effects leadership skills?

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