Monday, April 4, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 17 - Kyu Grades & Coloured Belts

Harry Hartman's photographs and other memorabilia arrived. It is an amazing contribution to the Jan de Jong history and the history of his school of thought. I asked Harry to review my blog with the view to confirming I'd not gotten anything wrong, and, that it didn't contain anything he was uncomfortable with. Harry emailed me and, very satisfyingly, told me he was very happy with the blog and was going to refer his family to it. Thank you Harry, and, the photographs suggest you were a very capable and enthusiastic practitioner of the art. The photograph to the right is a wonderful photo of training at Edgehill Street, Scarborough. Harry is the person at the front applying the technique to the opponent on the ground. It is interesting that the technique being applied in the standing couple to the right was very much later included in the third dan practical grading.

As I'm finding, the school of Jan de Jong is becoming a classic case study for the evolution of the Japanese martial arts in the 20th century.

The previous blog included an image of Harry's 1954-55 membership card that refers to only four gradings - red, yellow, white, and green; in that order (see right).

His 1958 membership card increased the number of gradings to red, yellow, white, green, and, orange, purple, and black and white (see right). Were these new gradings De Jong developed? Or is this an administrative thing where the additional gradings existed but were not included on the 1954 membership card?

Where this discussion becomes interesting is when the history of the coloured kyu belts is included in the analysis. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, is often attributed with the introduction of coloured belts to judo, and thereafter the rest of the martial arts world. Incorrect. Kano introduced the kyu/dan system in the 1880s, and he introduced the black belt for the dan grades. The white belt was used for all the kyu grades. From Neil Ohlenkamp (
Mikonosuke Kawaishi is generally regarded as the first to introduce various colored belts in Europe in 1935 when he started to teach Judo in Paris. He felt that western students would show greater progress if they had a visible system of many colored belts recognizing achievement and providing regular incentives. This system included white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple belts before the traditional brown and black belts.
1935! De Jong is still training with the Saito brothers in Semarang, Indonesia. He commenced training with the Saito's in 1928, so, the Saito's have been in Indonesia for a number of years prior to 1928. The Saito's and De Jong would, in all likelihood, never have been exposed to the coloured belt system ... until De Jong does a little training in Holland during the WWII years. He then becomes relatively isolated when he returns to Indonesia before he emigrates to the 'most isolated capital in the world', Perth, Western Australia in 1952. Then within a year a coloured belt kyu grading system appears.

De Jong was a voracious collector of martial arts books. He would tell the story that in the air raids on Rotterdam, Holland, during WWII, he would be considered mad because the only possessions he'd take into the air raid shelter was his suit case of martial arts books. Having said that, these books would have been very few and very limited.

This is pure conjecture, albeit based on logic and reason. De Jong may have been exposed to the kyu coloured belt system, but only superficially. He develops his own kyu coloured belt system in Australia in 1952 without a full understanding of the coloured belt system. Hence, the inclusion of the white belt mid-way through his grading system. When I say belt, I mean symbol as they didn't use belts in the 1950s. They used badges. The image to the right is of Harry's red and yellow badges. I'm not sure how white embroidery on a white badge affixed to a white uniform would have worked. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who graded white belt/badge and received a white badge just to see how it worked. Seems a little inconsidered from a purely practical point of view.

Most use white belt for the complete novice. After a bit of research, I found some actually use it for the sixth kyu belt. If so, what does one wear when starting out and before the first grading? Kawaishi's purple belt seems to be the least adopted colour. The six kyus come from Kano, and De Jong followed suit. If you adopt Kawaishi's coloured system and take out purple, you're left with white which then becomes an actual grade.

De Jong later changed his kyu grade colours to yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, and black and white. It has been suggested that Kawaishi's system went from light to dark symbolising a progression from novice to experienced. De Jong, like many others, do not appear to adopt the same progression to the same degree. I am so intrigued as to the motive behind De Jong's choice of colours. You hear so much nonsence associated with the colours of the belts these days. Much of it is 'shoe-horning'; making something fit.

Why does De Jong's jujustu system have a black and white belt? It is a black belt with a white stripe running the length of the belt. Judo used this belt for women yudansha (black belts). Is the inclusion of this belt because De Jong did not know it was used by the Kodokan only for women? A senior instructor in my time would explain that black and white signified black but without becoming an instructor. The black grades included instructor type of grades (theory grades) which turned the fighter into an instructor. Maybe it is a considered decision by De Jong, or maybe it is an example of shoe-horning by the senior instructor.

I asked Harry about the gradings he did. He provided the following response: 'At the exams the students got on the mat and did not know what attack was coming. Sometimes it was surprising and we had lots of laughs.' I haven't pressed him todate to explain further. What I'm hearing though is (a) the shinken shobu no kata (see previous blogs) method is being employed, and (b) there are no specific techniques included in these early gradings. This then starts to lend weight to the suggestion that De Jong developed the entire grading system.

When I referred to this as being a case study; there are those that need what they are teaching to be a direct transmission from the warriors of the past. They were warriors. They were not necessarily teachers. And they didn't have the benefit of modern teaching methods. Instead of suggesting otherwise, as possibly De Jong did himself at times, I think his prestige is enhanced immeasurably if the entire grading system is a product of his own design.

This is a moving feast. I'm to have dinner with an instructor who was my instructors' instructor. He's going to give me a complete set of the grading sheets that existed before my grading sheets. I'm also going to be discussing these issues with Hans de Jong as he commenced training in 1955 and would be a living history resource, albeit untapped.

Do you have a detailed history of your school or style? Has anyone actually studied your school or style, or are 'stories' passed down from generation to generation with no real study of the subject matter? I appear to be the first to do so with respect to the school of Jan de Jong.

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