Kosen Judo

Kosen Judo is a form of Kodokan Judo adopted by the major high schools and technical schools during the Meiji Era (1868 – 1914). It emphasizes Ne-Waza (ground techniques) such as controls, joint locks and strangles. This is the style of Judo that was taught by Mitsuyo Maeda to Carlos Gracie and his brothers (Osvaldo, Gastão Gracie Jr, Jorge and Hélio) and Luiz França Filho (Luiz França Filho’s lineage is the most prominent non-Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lineage in the world that continues -to this day- to produce Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA world champions via Nova União, GF Team and others) all of them founders -all of them 10th Degree Red Belt- of the art that would become today’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Mitsuyo Maeda (Brazilian naturalized as Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda) was a Japanese master of pre-World War II Kodokan Judo (no; this was not today’s Olympic Judo), Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, wrestler, professional wrestler and prizefighter. He was also known as Count Combat or Conde Koma in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

Mitsuyo Maeda – Summary
Born: November 18, 1878, Funazawa village, Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan;
Died: November 28, 1941 (aged 63), Belém, Brazil;
Nationality: Japanese, naturalized Brazilian;
Other names: Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda (Brazilian name);
Teacher(s): Jigoro Kano, Tsunejiro Tomita;
Rank (in Kodokan Judo): 7th dan Black Belt;
Occupation: Judoka, Jiu-Jitsu fighter, wrestler, professional wrestler and prizefighter – he won over two thousand (2000) documented professional fights in his career;
Height: 1,64 m/~ 5′ 4″;
Weight: 64 kg/141 lb;
Notable students: Luiz França Filho (teacher of Oswaldo Baptista Fadda/the most prominent non-Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lineage in the world that continues -to this day- to produce Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA world champions via Nova União, GF Team and others) and Carlos Gracie (the only true founder of the ‘Gracie dynasty’).

History of Kosen Judo

The roots of Kosen Judo lie in two schools of Jujutsu: The Fusen-Ryu Jiu-Jitsu and, not surprisingly, Jigoro Kano´s own ryu (school) – Kodokan, which was named Judo and spread worldwide.

Ancient origins

Fusen-Ryu Jiu-Jitsu was founded by Takeda Motsuge, in the early 1800s. The ryu was based on his early Jiu-Jitsu teachings (by his late teens, Takeda Motsuge was already considered a Shihan). The most influential schools he had trained were: the Nanba Ippo (from Takahashi Inobei), Takenouchi, Sekiguchi, Yoshin, Shibukawa and Yagyu-Ryu. The dissolution of the Samurai class came about at the same time of the Fusen-Ryu founding and the banning of armed combat probably contributed heavily for its development and emphasis in unarmed combat techniques.

By the end of the 19th century, another school of Jiu-Jitsu was getting prominence beating several older schools in consecutive matches. This school was founded by Jigoro Kano and was called Kodokan Judo. Mataemon Tanabe, the then Fusen-Ryu master, challenged Kano school and his students won every match. Much to Kano´s surprise, they did not attempt throwing techniques, but rather went straight to the ground and applied Ne-Waza (ground techniques) submissions as arm-locks, leg-locks, pins and chokes. Kano, being very open-minded, was so fascinated by the Fusen-Ryu effectiveness, that he persuaded Tanabe to teach Kodokan Judo students the concepts of his ryu´s strategy. Kano had consistently invited the heads of every Jujutsu ryu he encountered to incorporate their teachings into the Kodokan curriculum. The Ne-Waza component however became a major part of Judo influencing its development greatly. Among these early students were prominent to be Kodokan Judokas by the likes of Yoshiaki Yamashita, Hirata Kanae, Tsunejiro Tomita, Sakujiro Yokoyama and Maeda – the latter being the one who eventually taught Judo to Carlos Gracie, his brothers (Osvaldo, Gastão Gracie Jr, Jorge and Hélio) and Luiz França Filho (Luiz França Filho’s lineage is the most prominent non-Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lineage in the world that continues -to this day- to produce Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA world champions via Nova União, GF Team and others) all of them founders -all of them 10th Degree Red Belt- of the art that would become today’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (some people think Jiu-Jitsu is actually a misspelling of Jujutsu, but as both are ‘romanised’ versions of Japanese Kanji script, neither is strictly speaking ‘wrong’).

The birth of Kosen Judo

Jiu-Jitsu schools had earned a very bad reputation in the 19th century. The art of Jiu-Jits was not seen as a sport and its practitioners were all labelled trouble-makers. This troubled Kano, as he wanted his art to be mainly taught as a way of life and to be a fitness exercise (for both body and mind). To this end, he started promoting the educational side of his Jiu-Jitsu ryu by, first, changing its name to Judo. This, theoretically, demonstrated that Kano´s school departed from the Bujutsu tradition of warfare to a more person centered Budo tradition, where the role of the individual was the real focus.

Since Fusen-Ryu matches ended in a pin or submission, instead of serious injury and it avoided difficult throws, it was easily learned in the school setting. Kodokan Judo had formed great Ne-Waza experts. This, along with Kano´s willingness to promote Judo as a way of life and a form of physical education, greatly influenced the face of Judo in its early days and helped him promote it in Japanese schools. In 1914, Kano organized the All Japan High School Championships, at Kyoto Imperial University. This sportive style of competition was formally called Kosen.

An expansion of Kodokan Judo Ne-Waza

Ne-Waza effectivess and ease of learning started to change the way Judo matches evolved. It was much too easy to train a bulky fighter in Ne-Waza and have him stop the most fit opponent from a rival school, so, soon, Kano saw Judo becoming a Ne-Waza only school. By 1925, so much emphasis was on Ne-Waza -due to its success in competition- that Kano introduced new rules, limiting the amount of time the Judoka could stay on the ground. It was stipulated that techniques had to start from Tachi-Waza (standing techniques). If you pulled your opponent down more than three times, he was declared the winner. This rule continued into the 1940s, but was ignored by the Kosen schools, who continued their form of Ne-Waza competition.

Kosen Judo evolution

At the time of the rule change of 1925, Ne-Waza was extremely popular and well researched, particularly by the Kosen Judo students. Since Kosen Judo was an inter-school team contest only, there was the possibility to draw. It was only Ippon (win by pin, submission, or a perfect throw), or a draw. Ne-Waza training was very useful, because it is easier to get draws in Ne-Waza and faster to get a beginner trained for competition. By this time, turtle positions, double leg locks (closed-guard), half-guard and so on, were extensively researched by the Kosen masters (there is a major misconception that these techniques were developed by the Brazilians).

Kosen Judo followed its own course and continued under the old rules, even to this day, in the Seven Universities Tournament. Kano was very careful not to obliterate Kosen Judo when he introduced the new rules. He did this for several reservations:

– there were relatively few doing Ne-Waza only;
– he wanted Ne-Waza specialists in Judo;
– he could not convince himself that doing only Ne-Waza was, in itself, bad;
– Kosen judokas did also Tachi-Waza, despite their emphasis in Ne-Waza.

This way, the rule changes were not enforced throughout the Judo world in Japan, allowing Judo to evolve, both standing and onto the ground. The new rules were devised as a mean to emphasize Tachi-Waza, while great care was taken not to make Ne-Waza unpopular.

The spirit of Kosen Judo

Kosen Judo followed the spirit of Bushido. Winning was the most important aspect, although, in Bushido, this means winning for the group, rather than the individual. They were the elite of the time. They never gave up, even when pinned or having their arms broken and succumbed to unconsciousness, rather than call maitta. World War II changed this, as Japan lost the war and the Kodokan was closed, eventualy to become a military academy. After many meetings, it was agreed that the Kodokan could re-open, only if it taught Judo in a pure democratic manner.

Kosen Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

In 1904, Mitsuyo Maeda was sent to America to spread the word of pre-World War II Kodokan Judo. He then broke away from the Kodokan Institute and travelled to Europe, Cuba, Mexico, and Central America to pursue his career in prize fighting. By 1914, he finally arrived in Brazil and taught Judo Ne-Waza (along with techniques from other styles -such as Catch-As-Catch-Can wrestling- learned on his travels) to Carlos Gracie and his brothers (Osvaldo, Gastão Gracie Jr, Jorge and Hélio) and Luiz França Filho (Luiz França Filho’s lineage is the most prominent non-Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lineage in the world that continues -to this day- to produce Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA world champions via Nova União, GF Team and others), all of them founders -all of them 10th Degree Red Belt- of the art that would become today’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This way, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be regarded as a direct descendant from Judo Ne-Waza and, by extension, from Kodokan Judo as it was taught before World War II.

In recent days, due to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prominance in the media, a rivalry between Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu started to grow. Soon, this was regarded derogatory to both sports. In Brazil, practitioners of Jiu-Jitsu never took much attention to this rivalry, partly because they did not recognize ‘sport judo’ as having any influence in their art, partly because they regarded old pre-World War II Kodokan Judo masters as very capable fighters (Hélio Gracie´s devastating loss to Masahiko Kimura´s skills is just one evidence among many).

Currently, there is a big trend in Brazil toward bringing together Judo and Jiu-Jitsu schools. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters went to Judo schools to develop their throwing techniques and judokas went to Jiu-Jitsu schools to develop their Ne-Waza skills. Much credit for this has to be given to the specialized press, which started to write accurate articles regarding the origins of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Judo, promoting the aproximation of both arts.

Many scholars regard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kosen Judo to be more closed related to the pre-World War II Kodokan Judo than the current ‘international/olympic judo’ as it is presented by the Kodokan itself, today.