The following is the summary in English of the lecture I delivered at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports at Kanoya, Kagoshima, on the occasion of the Institute's Forum on the Manners in Martial arts held on December 5, 2009. The lecture represents my view on the challenges and problems the Japan's judo faces today together with my thoughts on solutions.

Manners in Judo: Their International Significance and Hopes for the Role of University-Level Education From the Experiences of a Diplomat

Gotaro Ogawa: Special Assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs
Adviser, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group


photo by National Institute of Finness and Sports at Kanoya

1. Cultural power Japan and the martial arts

After entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1968, I lived some 40 years as a diplomat, alternating back and forth between Japan and abroad, and spent 23 of those years living in seven foreign nations. Those seven are France, the Philippines, the former Soviet Union, South Korea, Honolulu (United States), Cambodia and Denmark, and in each of them, I practiced judo. In particular France, where judo is popular and where I was posted twice, and partly because I was still young then, I practiced a lot and even took part in local tournaments.
When abroad, you can look objectively at Japan from the outside and come to know what she is like as compared with other nations. To express in short how I felt when I saw Japan that way, I felt her to be a large power with all sorts of distinguishing features to be proud of. As examples, there are her unparalleled nonmilitary and pacifist diplomacy, the high level of her economy and technology, her contributions to the world through Official Development Assistance (ODA), and the strength of her great culture.
Especially outstanding is the strength of her culture. From traditional culture including Noh, Kabuki and the tea ceremony, through cuisine such as sushi, to the pop culture of manga, anime, fashion and popular music and culture of the mind including haiku and the martial arts, to give just a few examples, there are people all over the world who find themselves attracted to each of them. You will not find another nation that embraces a culture with such a variety of genres known to the world, and in which so many people take interest. In all her pride, even France, recognized both home and abroad as a great cultural power, has through the years received considerable influence from Japan in such fields as painting and cuisine.
Standing among these many cultural facets, the martial arts are something distinctly Japanese made up of the double aspects of training of the body and training of the mind and character. In all the great profusion of different sports, it is extremely rare to find any that provide an ethical side as a main aspect, and for that very reason, people from around the world have become interested in the martial arts and even taken to practicing them. My own experience of exchanges through judo in nations of varying cultures and levels of economic development left me with a strong personal sense of how the martial arts have penetrated into all corners of the world. As a Japanese, this was something that gives me a quiet pride.

2. Judo’s penetration into the world and the underlying significance

It is a fact that judo and other Japanese martial arts have penetrated throughout the world. The International Judo Federation (IJF) is made up of member judo bodies from199 nations and territories, a number greater than that of members of the United Nations. It has been 40 years since I first went to France, but I was surprised to find that already back then, no matter where I went all over the country, even small villages had their dojos. After coming through long years of civil war and the Pol Pot years with their mass human sacrifice, even people in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh in the late 1990’s were practicing judo in small, humble dojos. In the small North European nation of Denmark, it was a happy surprise to come across people eagerly learning all sorts of martial arts even in outlying towns. In short, one can say that no matter whether large nation or small, judo has spread through the world, and no matter what their gender or age, people are working hard to practice it. In dojos of each area of each nation, I would often find photographs of Kano Jigoro hanging on the main wall, and I found even small children beginning and ending their practice sitting Japanese-style on folded legs on the mats and, with the Japanese instruction “Sensei ni rei (Give thanks to the teacher),” bowing in unison. At a dojo in Cambodia, I remember being impressed with the manners of children who after practice had ended, came up one by one to their instructor, a member of the Japan Overseas Volunteer Corps, and bowed again in thanks before leaving for home.
Judo has both a competitive side and a side for building one’s mind and character with the aim of being of service to society, and the majority of people learning judo in overseas nations approach it with an interest that includes this ethical side. One of the things motivating parents to bring their children to dojos is the hope they will be taught good manners. Many Judoka in France are particularly interested in this side, and among them, I know of some with whom it is because they seem to have converted to this spiritual element. Recently, the Japanese government invited officials from the Iraqi Police Force to Japan, and they took part in a training program that used judo as a means to aim toward raising the morale and competence of police officers. I, too, was involved in the program and still remember how these Iraqi police, whose work puts them in daily confrontation with acts of terror, expressed an unexpected surprise at judo’s manners and self-discipline, the way players bow with composed respect even to opponents in matches and attacks, and of how they told of their eager wish to make use of judo in the training of police back home. When we think of how this ethical side of judo, the way judo is not limited just to building up the body, also works to raise feelings of respect and closeness toward Japan among judo enthusiasts overseas, maybe we can see that to Japan, judo is a major intangible asset.

3. Current challenges faced by Japanese judo

I would like to raise three challenges or problems faced by Japanese judo today. First is the challenge of internationalized judo. Through the Olympics and increasingly frequent international tournaments, and further, with the introduction of things like a ranking system, we are seeing a growing tendency in judo to give priority to the competitive side and to winning and losing, while neglecting the equally important ethical side with its manners and respect and self-discipline. These days, when matches end, we have come to seeing winners jumping around gaudily pumping their fists in the air, and losers crouching stagnant on the mat, before they have given the ending bow. For the winner to strut his pride in front of the loser shows a blatant lack of respect toward one’s opponent and makes an unpleasant sight. A loser who remains crouched on the mat ignoring the referee’s urgings appears incapable of showing even the most basic manners. It is gravely regrettable that such attitudes are seen not only among players of other nations, but recently among Japanese players as well. For Japan, as judo’s “founder,” this is truly disgraceful. Especially with our men, not only has it become harder and harder to win matches, but there are cases where we see inferior performances even in the area of manners and self-discipline. In comparison, our women’s side, which has been producing increasing numbers of skilled players, includes many who remain calm and composed whether they win or lose.
Another problem that concerns me is that the whole of Japan seems to be pouring her greatest efforts into winning medals at international tournaments. For the time being, let me call this the “doctrine of medals at any cost.” Of course, as a Japanese myself, I fervently hope for our players to be strong and win gold medals. But the tendency to criticize players and coaches simply because they do not win medals only serves to spur the “medals at any cost” doctrine on even further. The weak point of this doctrine is that because it slants toward putting too much energy into winning medals, it winds up subtracting from the effort needed for other important matters. The problem I mentioned a minute ago on the decline in manners and self-discipline is not unrelated to this tendency, and it even makes you wonder if it is not connected to our losing the latitude to take part in international movements concerned with judo’s rules and how matches are managed.
I myself underwent a good deal of training in France and other nations and felt that on average, the physical and muscular strength of players there was greater than that of the Japanese. In places like Russia, Central Asia and Korea, too, it is a fact that there are large numbers of players physically superior to us. If they undergo an amount of training equivalent to ours, and if they receive appropriate instruction, it is no wonder when they win against Japanese opponents. In passing, it is also true of tennis, golf, baseball and other sports besides judo that it does not happen to be that sportsmen from the country of origin always win. I would like to emphasize that there is no need to become overly upset when we do not win medals. It is of great importance to put in the effort to strengthen our players and collect information with the aim of earning medals, but when that is carried to the point where other aspects suffer, then it is a problem.
A third important problem in Japanese judo circles today is the weakness of our will or action when it comes to taking part in the international management of judo. In the process of judo’s spread through the world and the growing frequency of international tournaments, its rules and the way matches are managed underwent substantial change. Dividing matches into weight classes became the norm and a system of meticulous points was set up to determine their outcomes, besides which, referees came to call out “Mate” time after time as matches were in progress, with the result that they obstructed matches’ natural flow and the sequence of combination techniques. For various reasons like these, the nature of judo deteriorated badly, but through the whole process, Japan exercised virtually no effective influence. It is meaningless to sit at home and lament among ourselves on undesirable changes. Japan should be making positive efforts to speak out for “true judo” and to be involved in its international management. The fact that we have yet to see such a stance taken is extremely unfortunate.

4. What should we be doing?

In regard to these various challenges and problems in judo, what should Japan be doing?
Various programs are underway to develop players who can win by Ippon and to give them intensive training with a view to gaining medals. It is of course necessary to continue them. From now on, however, the point on which Japan should start anew to intensify her efforts lies in returning to the fundamentals of judo as taught by Grand Master Kano and getting people both at home and abroad to practice judo as an education of their minds and character, with the inclusion of manners and respect and self-discipline. In these times when other nations are turning out large numbers of strong players, it is no simple matter for Japan to hold an uncontested competitive edge. On the other hand, when it comes to manners and self-discipline, there is no way to have this aspect truly and more thoroughly realized around the world unless Japan takes the lead. It is important for Japan to win matches, but also, she has the ability to serve as role model to the world when it comes to putting manners into practice, and this is something she must do.
To accomplish this, she must face the world and speak out affirmatively on the importance of manners and self-discipline and use a full range of fora to give guidance. One means could be through taking the continual initiative to hold seminars or talks on the subject, using, as an example, the occasion of international tournaments. At the same time, for the achievement of “true judo,” she should take the lead in the amendment of rules and the management of matches fought with manners and self-discipline. In the field of judo, if Japan states her case repeatedly and with authority, there should be many nations willing to lend an ear. Judoka from around the world carry a strong interest in the practice of judo that values manners and self-discipline. In the major judo power France, as well as in Korea, Russia and other nations, there are many who hope for the reinstatement of “true judo.” As I mentioned earlier, in the small nation of Denmark and in Cambodia, still newly emerged from civil war and one of the world’s least developed nations, in these nations, too, you find people earnestly studying the manners and ethical side of judo. Japan should not forget this. If Japan takes the lead, if she takes the initiative in international exchanges and cooperation and teamwork, it is likely that other nations and people will come forward and join her in this effort.

5. Hopes for the role of university-level education

As part of this situation surrounding judo, there is the question of what role universities should play, and I would like to give some of my thoughts. I believe that the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, as an institute of education and one which holds physical education to be the purpose of her creation, can play an important role, and that role is a large one.
(1) Leadership of the university in rebuilding manners and self-discipline: The field of judo today shows a decline in manners and self-discipline that came about along with its internationalization. It is my hope that to deal with this, universities with courses in the martial arts will return to fundamentals and teach the importance of manners and self-discipline, and work to take the lead in implementing and promoting this cause. With this in mind, I believe that those who hosted today’s seminar with a theme like this one deserve much credit.
(2) Contribution to the “Judo Renaissance”: The “Judo Renaissance” movement was started up by the All Japan Judo Federation and the Kodokan to work toward the revival of judo’s ethical side and manners, and, amidst the reality of the trend toward giving weight to competitive judo, the role which this movement plays is extremely important. Various efforts have been done but I hope that universities throughout the nation might join forces to cooperate with the All Japan Judo Federation and the Kodokan to aim for the revitalization of the Renaissance movement.
(3) Training of international-minded personnel: Given today’s situation, with one international tournament after another and the tendency to focus attention on winning, it is imperative that, in order to advise people on the educational side of judo and press for its healthy development, Japan be actively involved in the management of international judo. That purpose requires a long-term commitment to the training and development of people with knowledge of the essence of judo and with persuasive power when using foreign languages. It is my belief that such a role can be fulfilled particularly well by universities that teach the martial arts.
(4) Educational cooperation with judo in developing nations; Restoration of manners and self-discipline through cooperation with international judo: In nations where judo is popular, the importance of manners receives what can be considered a certain level of awareness and practical application. In developing nations, however, where there are few highly qualified instructors, it is not uncommon for judo to be in the early stages of development. In this field, the backing of our nation’s universities in ways such as sending instructors to developing nations or offering training in Japan would contribute not simply to the development of judo in the nations involved, but also to improving the quality of judo throughout the world.
Universities throughout the nation have a unique role to fulfill in areas such as those I have mentioned, and I believe that it is possible for the university to demonstrate its special features and support the All Japan Judo Federation and the Kodokan.