(Originally Published at Abloodyblog)

Kosen Judo is a form of 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 to the Gracies in Brazil, by Mitsuyo Maeda.


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

Ancient origins

Fusen-Ryu Jujutsu was founded by Takeda Motsuge, in the early 1800s. The ryu was based on his early Jujutsu teachings (by his late teens, he 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 Jujutsu 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 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 the Gracie family, which would later develop into 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

Jujutsu schools had earned a very bad reputation in the 19th century. The art of Jujutsu 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 Jujutsu 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

Newaza 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 Gracies, in Brazil).

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 Judo. By 1915, he finally arrived in Brazil and taught Judo Ne-Waza to Carlos Gracie. Helio Gracie learned the techniques from watching his brother Carlos and adapted them to his own slim and weak body. 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 school Judo masters as very capable fighters (Helio Gracie´s account of 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 Kodokan Judo before World War II, than current ‘international judo’ as it is presented by the Kodokan itself, today.

Shichitei Judo / Kosen Judo Tournaments

Japan’s seven national universities began their Judo Tournament in 1952. The forerunners of this event were the Kosen Judo Tournaments dating back to before WWII. Today’s seven national universities are Hokkaido U., Tohoku U., Tokyo U., Nagoya U., Kyoto U., Osaka U., and Kyushu U. These schools share a storied tradition. Every year, their Judo clubs meet to test their skills against one another and see who trained hardest. This fierce, but friendly competition embodies the spirit of Shichitei Judo and keeps alive the Kosen tradition. Students train without respite, developing not only their minds and bodies, but their fighting spirit; and their endeavors, in turn, develop the art of Shichitei Judo, itself.

From its inception, Judo has been comprised of standing techniques and groundwork. Shichitei Judo has always emphasized the cultivation of the latter, strong Newaza. From the third tournament in 1954, Shichitei rules permit students to use Hikikomi to pull the opponent straight into Newaza. Also, Shichitei Judo emphasizes the uninterrupted flow of matches, allowing players to fully demonstrate their prowess by flexibly using the mat space in and outside the competition area to the greatest extent possible. Contestants are expected to understand the principles underlying these rules and compete with dignity and respect for their opponents.

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