Prof Jean Williams is working with the British Judo Association on its history, and its global spread as an Olympic discipline. Having recently supervised the PhD of Amanda Callan-Spenn on Sarah Mayer, the first Western woman to obtain a black belt in Japan in the early 1930s, Jean has also previously hosted talks by Amanda and Dr Mike Callan, President of the International Association of Judo Researchers, who also recently hosted a major conference in Walsall for the Commonwealth Judo Association. Jean has camped out at the University of Bath, Special Collections to research Judo and hockey for some time. It is a fantastic resource, and well managed. The University archivist and Records Manager, Elizabeth Richmond, gave this testimonial: 'Beyond her own extensive research, Professor Williams is a great advocate of sports-related archives and special collections. Her publications demonstrate their ongoing relevance, while her support has helped to underline the continuing importance of preserving unique and distinctive materials that document all aspects of our sporting history.' This is a longstanding partnership going back to 2011. Jean also provided consultancy and academic support in the process of applying to UNESCO for the Richard Bowen Collection judo archives, University of Bath to be included on the UK Register as part of the Memory of the World project. She corresponded with Justin Cavernells-Frost of the Rothschild collection in this regard as well as writing a letter of recommendation.
So, what are the key points in the history?
1. The Invention of Judo as an Art, and Education from 1882 onwards
The Japanese martial arts have a strong link with history and tradition and, in 1882, Jigorō Kanō based his new form of judo on existing techniques of jūjutsu, soon establishing a school which he named the Kōdōkan, or the place to study the way. Judo, translated to ju-soft/gentle, do-way, used yielding techniques, where the opponent’s body weight was used against them.
2. The Spread of Judo Across The World
The fashion for all things Japanese in British society from 1882 until the end of the First World War was called Japonisme. In this the British were not alone. In British minds at the turn of the century, jūjutsu and judo were not always differentiated and the opening of Japanese ports slowly spread more Japanese products across the world. The term jūjutsu was more commonly known historically as a way to describe the Japanese wrestling arts. But Judo began increasingly to have its own rules, and practices, spreading with Japanese influences from trade to clothing, art and merchandise as this sea-going nation increased its international profile.
3. The Birth of British Judo
In 1906, Yukio Tani and Taro Miyake, the foremost performers of the art in the British psyche, produced a manual called The Game of Ju-jitsu, setting out basic techniques. The techniques included in this book closely mirrored those of Kōdōkan judo at that time but developed into distinct throwing, grappling and striking techniques. Key British figures included Edward Barton-Wright, Edith and William Garrud, and the upper classes generally.
The rise in popularity of jūjutsu for women in Britain was borne out of political civil disobedience and ‘cat and mouse’ relations with the police. The women’s suffrage movement was at the peak of its confrontational aggression between 1910 and 1913, and militant suffragettes needed self-defence techniques to protect themselves, not only from the police, but mobs of anti-suffrage campaigners. In 1913, Sylvia Pankhurst was quoted in the New York Times: ‘We have not yet made ourselves a match for the police, and we have got to do it. The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practice it as well as men.’ Early jūdōka in Britain were often from ‘upper-class’ origins.
4. The Budokwai and changing Anglo-Japanese relations
Gunji Koizumi founded a Japanese institution the Budokwai, or Way of Knighthood Society, in London in 1918, for members to engage with Japanese culture and physical education. British Judo continued to grow but in changed political circumstances, as Jigorō Kanō introduced Judo as an Olympic event in 1932 but he was ambivalent.
However, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, designed to bring the First World War to a close and prevent future conflicts, had not recognised Japan’s Imperial territorial rights, and limited the size of her Navy, leading to increased nationalism throughout the 1920s. Rapidly after the beginning of Emperor Hirohito’s sixty-three year reign in 1926, known as the Shōwa period, Japan moved into political totalitarianism, and extreme forms of nationalism, embodied by the Statist movement, particularly among right-wing Japanese intellectuals. Japan’s expansionist policies increased during the 1930s, first with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and the subsequent withdrawal from the League of Nations. Diplomatically isolated, and with the assassination of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi in May 1932, Japan increasingly became a dictatorship under Hirohito. Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 further strained anti-Japanese feeling in Britain.
5. British Judo’s Pioneering Role Towards an Olympic Sport
In 1948 The British Judo Association was formed and the chapter covers the history of the minute books and the committees. A key figure was Trevor Leggett, a British judo teacher, who had studied at the Budokwai since 1932, and was head of the BBC's Japanese Service for 24 years. Leggett had studies martial arts in Japan, and was detained there during the early part of the war, enabling him to train in both Judo and yoga. He worked in the Ministry of Information until 1945. After the war, he taught judo at the Budokwai and worked in Japanese language services at the BBC. Leggett was honoured for this by being inducted into Japan's Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1984. He inaugurated the Renshuden for competitive practice in 1959, and several Anglo–Japanese exchanges. Charles Palmer and fellow fourth dan, Geof Gleeson, joined Gunji Koizumi and Leggett as Senior Instructors at the Budokwai. In the European Championships 1955-58, with Gleeson as captain, this team won, and did so for three years in succession.
6. Charles Palmer, British Judo and the International Judo Federation
A relatively short, powerful competitor, Palmer had gone to Japan to develop his Judo career, returning in 1955. Upon retiring, in 1961 Palmer became Chair of the British Judo Association, and held the post for the next twenty-four years. Palmer was also elected President of the British Judo Association. At the 1965 International Judo Federation (IJF) Congress, Palmer was elected President, succeeding Risei Kanō the grandson of the founder of judo, Jigorō Kanō. He therefore became the first non-Japanese to be the President of the IJF and would transform the sport into the media spectacle we know today, hence being known as ‘the father of modern Judo’. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave Judo a regular place on the Summer Games program from 1972. In 1975 Palmer was a founding member, and served for twelve years as General Secretary, of the General Assembly of International Sports Federations (GAISF). From 1983-1988 Palmer was Chair of the British Olympic Association (BOA). He was narrowly defeated by Mary Glen Haig to be the BOA’s representative on the IOC.
7. A Global Sport
With Olympic success there were accusations that Judo had moved increasingly from its educational/ philosophical roots to more of a sporting ethos. As women joined the Olympic Games, and increasingly the Paralympics, the work of British Judo focussed on authority and organisation; relations with the IOC, Europe, the Commonwealth and Japan; approaches to elite training and high-level participation; approaches to teaching an increasingly wide ‘grass-roots’ population under revised rules, and refereeing. Judo has become more bureaucratic, oriented towards spectacle, and focussed on spectator-appeal. This was contested. In Britain, the nature of Judo leadership at different times and the focus of Judo activity in different periods reflected wider societal changes. The first big stars, like Brian Jacks, and Neil Adams and Sharon Rendle, became household names. Of course we will also examine what 2020 has meant to Olympic sports generally, and examine how Judo has negotiated the pandemic, at elite and participation level. A great project for 2021! There is lots of lovely archival data to use to tell this story.
Posts written by Jean or Joanna.