Judo Founder Jigoro Kano’s Challenge Match with a Russian Seaman on a Ship

Judo Founder Jigoro Kano’s Challenge Match with a Russian Seaman on a Ship

The story of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, is filled with fascinating anecdotes, one of which is his legendary encounter with a Russian seaman aboard the Hikawa Maru ship. This episode, found in the Iawa Maru Museum, captures a moment in 1889 that highlights not only Kano’s martial prowess but also his deep understanding of the principles of Judo.

The Challenge on the Hikawa Maru

While the Hikawa Maru was en route to Europe, passing through the Indian Ocean, Kano, then 29 years old, witnessed a physical challenge involving a strong Russian man, a Swiss, and a Dutch on the ship’s deck. The Russian was proving to be overwhelmingly strong, overpowering his challengers with ease. Observing this, Kano remarked to a Russian merchant that, despite the Russian man’s strength, he could pin him down, rendering him unable to free himself. This claim, initially met with laughter, quickly led to a challenge being set.

The First Encounter: Ground Technique

The Russian seaman agreed to the challenge, and the contest began with him positioned on his back on the ground. Kano successfully pinned him, demonstrating his superior technique and control. When the roles were reversed, Kano, lying on his back, managed to escape effortlessly from the Russian’s pin. This move surprised and infuriated the Russian, prompting him to accuse Kano of cowardice. Kano replied with a key judo principle, stating that one should act before total power is applied, as that is the right time to escape.

The Second Encounter: Stand-up Technique

Not satisfied, the Russian asked for a rematch, this time in a standing position. Kano accepted, and as the Russian attempted to strike, Kano skillfully evaded his attacks and, at an opportune moment, executed a perfect seoi nage, throwing the Russian. The spectators, including the Russian seaman, were left in awe of Kano’s skill and finesse.

Kano’s Understanding of Judo Principles

This encounter is a testament to Kano’s deep understanding of judo principles. He demonstrated that judo is not just about brute strength but about timing, leverage, and the ability to read an opponent’s movements. His strategy of waiting for the right moment to act, whether escaping a pin or executing a throw, reflects the core ideals of judo, particularly the concept of itsutsu no kata, where timing and movement are crucial.

Kano’s Holistic View of Judo

The story also dispels myths about Kano’s view of ground techniques (newaza) in judo. Kano’s balanced approach to judo, emphasizing both standing and ground techniques, showcases his belief in a comprehensive martial arts system. His ability to apply judo principles effectively in various situations, whether on the ground or standing, highlights his vision of judo as a complete and adaptable martial art.

Jigoro Kano’s encounter with the Russian seaman on the Hikawa Maru is more than just a tale of physical prowess; it’s a narrative that encapsulates the essence of judo. Kano’s actions aboard the ship demonstrate the effectiveness of judo in real-world scenarios and affirm his status as not only the founder of judo but also as a master practitioner who deeply understood and lived by its principles. This story remains a powerful reminder of the depth and versatility of judo as a martial art.