Brian N. Watson, Yukimitsu Kano book: The Father of Judo: A Biography of Jigoro Kano
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Informative but slightly bias
I have been waiting for this book for quite some time and as soon as it was available I ordered a copy. I guess anyone who would order this book knows there is precious little available english text on Jigaro Kano. So I was a little disappointed that the authors deep respect for Mr. Kano did not allow him to be fully objective. All of the losses Mr. Kano's judo experienced against other schools are not even mentioned. At any rate this is an inspirational book not only for those who love judo but also for anyone who aspires to lead a meaningful life. Mr. Kano's greatest achievments go well beyond judo and this book does a good job of telling us who this man was.
This book is valuable for providing little-known information about an important figure. Unfortunately, it is written at about an eighth-grade level. Those who read history seriously will be frustrated by the book's superficiality. It is difficult to determine what is documented and what is contrived for readability. The author states up front that he has created dialogue to make the book more interesting, but there is no way to tell which dialogue is created. For example, were those really Kano's last words? On the other hand, the photographs are terrific, and a time-line of events (at the end of the book) is very helpful.
Early Life [from Chapter 1]
Jigoro Kano was born on October 28, 1860, in Mikage, a village located in what is now part of the city of Kobe. In 1869, when Jigoro was nine years old, Sadako Kano fell ill and died. His mother's sudden death cast a pall over the remaining years of his youth and marked the beginning of eight years of hardship. The following year, his father decided to send Jigoro to school in Tokyo, where the boy would be able to get the rigorously demanding education he would need to surmount the challenges of life in the modern world. That same year, accompanied by his older brother Kensaku, ten-year-old Jigoro left home for far-off Tokyo, a journey that marked a major milestone in his life.
In Tokyo, Jigoro lived at his father's house. At first he attended a small private school, Seitatsusho Juku, to improve his reading and writing skills. He was looked upon as a promising student, and one teacher suggested that he study the sciences. His father took note, and, since science was generally thought to belong to the world of Western knowledge and associated with European languages, he resolved to have Jigoro learn English. This was an unusual decision for the time, but it proved to be a wise one.
In 1873, a private boarding school offering instruction by European teachers opened in Tokyo. All the courses at the new institution, Ikuei Gijuku, were taught in either English or German. Jigoro asked his father for permission to be enrolled at Ikuei Gijuku, and his father consented. Jigoro thought it would be great fun to live with other boys in a dormitory, but upon his arrival all such illusions were abruptly dashed to pieces.
On his first day, he was shown to the dormitory room he was to share with five older boys. The lighting was weak, the atmosphere was gloomy and inhospitable, and the floor creaked beneath his feet. His new roommates demanded that Jigoro identify himself at once, and when he bowed deeply and nervously introduced himself, they greeted the newcomer with insults and abuse. Jigoro was immediately made to understand that, as a younger boy, he was held in contempt and was unworthy of any consideration from his elders. His first instinct was to rebel against this cruel and arbitrary treatment, but he quickly realized that if he wanted to remain at Ikuei Gijuku, he would have to find a way to endure this sort of bullying.
Life at boarding school was lonely and difficult, especially for a boy who had already lost his mother and whose father was usually away from home on business. Even so, aided by the basic knowledge of English he had already acquired, Jigoro eventually settled down to his studies and made steady progress.
One day, he was busily preparing for his lessons when one of the older boys appeared and demanded that Jigoro accompany him outside for a round of "sumo practice." Jigoro tried to decline the invitation, to no avail. The older boy seized him bodily, carried him outside, and hurled Jigoro to the ground. As he lay there gasping for breath, the older boy cursed him for not putting up a more spirited fight and stalked off.
Overcome with fury and a bitter sense of powerlessness, Jigoro wept. He was physically inferior to the older boys, unable to defend himself in a fight, and now desperately unsure how much longer he could endure their bullying.
Over the following months, Jigoro was harassed incessantly, usually by older students but sometimes even by his own classmates, some of whom may have begrudged the fact that Jigoro was a model student and often received the highest marks in his class.
Jigoro received a temporary reprieve from the petty cruelties of life at boarding school the following year. He was sent to study English at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages, a state-run institution with no boarding facilities. The principal of the school, Shosaku Hida, who also happened to be a friend of Jigoro's father and an employee of the Japanese Ministry of Education, owned a house near the school, and arrangements were made for Jigoro to stay there. This was a happy time for Jigoro, free from bullying.
In 1875, Jigoro turned fifteen. Having spent a year at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages, he entered Kaisei School, the forerunner of modern-day Tokyo University, which is widely regarded as Japan's most prestigious institution of higher learning. His fellow students came from all over Japan, and, like many young people, they tended to band together in mutually exclusive groups. Rivalries and animosity among different groups was not uncommon, and this occasionally led to violence. Most unhappily for Jigoro, younger students were often harassed and abused, just as at boarding school. Confronted again with the need to defend himself, he was once again at a loss.
A man named Baisei Nakai, a former member of the shogun's guards, was at that time a frequent visitor to the Kano household. One day he mentioned in passing that jujutsu was an excellent form of physical training. He proceeded to give Jigoro a brief demonstration of some jujutsu techniques. Mr. Nakai said that jujutsu could enable someone with little physical strength to overcome a bigger, more powerful adversary.
To Jigoro, this came as a mighty revelation. He resolved then and there to ask Mr. Nakai to teach him jujutsu.