Book Review: The Canon of Judo by Kyuzo Mifune

An excellent, well-rounded book from one of the best of all time.  Four Stars (of Four).
The Canon of Judo: Classic Teachings on Principles and Techniques

I thought I would continue my book reviews with another of my favorites...

The Upshot:
This is a fantastic book by one of the great Judo masters of all time.  There is some real ninja magic in this book, and you can tell that in addition to being a great practitioner, he was also a great teacher.  Another cool thing is that the author was around from the beginning of Judo, and this was published in 1965, so there is lots of cool stuff in here that has been "lost" over time...  Definitely one of my favorite Judo books.

What's In It and How It's Organized:
This book covers standing and ground techniques, as well as defenses, counters, combos, and more.  The chapters are:

  • Intro:  A great section that has lots if Mifune's thoughts on the principles of Judo.
  • Basics (the actual chapter name is "Etiquette" but I think it's a misnomer):  bowing, posture, warm-ups, ukemi, kuzushi, randori and kata, and more.
  • Mifune's Gokyo ("Five Principles"):  Mifune describes the key throws of Judo.  Important to note is that his Gokyo is different than the "official" Gokyo.  Interesting.  Anyhoo, for each throw, there is a general description, step-by-step detail on how to execute it, along with (generally) high quality photos of the man himself in action, and then other notes on the technique, like points to consider, when to execute, etc.  The descriptions are pretty thorough and there are tons of really useful pointers.  This Mifune fellow must have had some teaching experience. 
  • Gatame Waza:  He doesn't spend a ton of time on hold-downs (~10 pages), but there is good detail and it is definitely worth reading, especially to see some of .  The descriptions here and in subsequent chapters are similar to those mentioned above.
  • Shime Waza: About 17 pages devoted to choking, plus a bonus of a poem?  Well, he's a 10th dan, so he can do what he wants, and you'll like it.
  • Counters/Defenses to Holds and Chokes:  Self-explanatory.
  • Kansetsu Waza:  Joint locks, including a couple of leg locks, as well as defenses/counters.
  • Miscellaneous Groundwork ("How to Enter a Mat Technique"):  Guard passes, rollovers, a few more escapes, how to make your victim's life worse, etc.  =:>
  • Counters ("Reverse Techniques"):  Counters to throwing techniques, and there is more Mifune magic in this section.  He covers a number of counters each to several throws.  The detail and photos are a little bit lighter here, but still fairly easy to follow.  He has a rather acrobatic counter to tomoe nage that probably isn't for everyone, but it's cool to see him do it!
  • Other Throws ("Reference Techniques"):  For throws he didn't cover in his gokyo.
  • Mifune's Counter Kata:  A three-set kata (hand, foot, and hip) that looks at countering throw attempts (e.g., uke attempts uki otoshi, tori does tai otoshi).  Interesting...
  • Early 20th Century First Aid ("Kappo"):  Good to have in the early 20th century, but with things like CPR, there have definitely been improvements made since then.
The Good:
This is a Mifune book.  It has a lot of unique flair from one of the great masters.  He seems to be doing his own thing, coming up with new names, and doing different types of techniques.  I wouldn't call it comprehensive, but extensive isn't a bad description.  To compare it to Daigo's "Throwing Techniques", Daigo's book is like a well-manicured yard, while "Canon" is a crazy garden.  "Throwing" is an office, while "Canon" is a magician's workshop.  Got it?  =:>  And a side note, this book, like "Throwing Techniques" was well-translated by Francoise White.

Could Have Been Better:
Some of the pictures will leave you scratching your head.  Other than that, I wish he would have gone on for another 224 pages.  There is so much good stuff, I didn't want it to end.

One Thing I Learned:
This book has lots of stuff that isn't "official" Judo per the Kodokan/IJF.  E.g., Ura Gatame, a kind of crucifix from the bottom... sort of?



kodokanjudo said...

Great book, lots of great judo from one of the great masters.
The book was translated into English in 1952 (first edition). You may have gotten the year confused with Mifune's death in 1965. Several years ago I followed an original copy on ebay for several days that went for nearly $900. Thank god for this reprint. LOL!
Notice Mifune's gokyo being different from the Kodokan's. He was considered something of a loose cannon in his day and did as he wanted. The Kodokan respected him but kept him at arms length. His kata was never adopted by the Kodokan and no living individual was promoted to judan until Kotani-sensei in 1982.

Jacob said...

new unofficial title:
"The Loose Canon of Judo"

kodokanjudo said...

I hear that the original book (1956, the Japanese book was released in 1952) translations were lousy. They made great advancements in the newer reprints.
Mifune was not easy to get along with. He knew he was good and he had the rank to prove it. He was not quite 60 when he gained judan in 1945 and lived for 20 years after that.
The Kodokan was a very conservative institution and Mifune wanted judo to evolve further. At times he even got to Cano's nerves with his newly created kata(s).
His students disliked his lectures (kogi) because they were too long and he was very demanding of them.

kodokanjudo said...

Mifune certainly had a certain amount of deceit and superiority, as he was considered by most everyne as the greatest judo technician ever, and was even nicknamed "the high deity of judo" (direct translation from the Japanese term). He could not help himself in naming his book as he did. It literally means "the final authority of judo" or "the bible of judo", like something that no one can dare to question.
He violated judo protocol by always wearing his ceremonial red silk belt, but no one can argue that he was always the highest ranked person in the room. He certainly was a bad example for westerners that today even use the shower with their kohoku-obi (red/white) belts on (LOL!) with no idea of the proper judo protocol.

Patrick Parker said...

@kodokanjudo!!! That's all awesome historical/biographical info! Where did you hear all that?

Chad Morrison said...

Leo has an encyclopedic knowledge of Judo. Either that, or he makes up a bunch of stuff! =:> He has the biggest Judo library I have ever seen, though, so I am guessing at least half of it is true.

Patrick Parker said...

Yeah, but how can you tell which half of what he says is half true half the time?

Jacob said...

be careful you two. i don't put it past Leo to break out full on citations. you know he owns almost every published book on judo and he's been reading back issues of black belt mag from the 1960s. Be warned; he'll slam ya' - dissertation style.