Thursday, May 12, 2011

'Universal Theory That Applies At All Times In Every Situation'

I'll share with you what I wrote yesterday.

I was struggling with presenting an idea that can facilitate the understanding and study, and teaching, of all physical techniques taught within all martial arts and used in violence generally. I'd been struggling with this for a number of days, deleting the previous days work over and over again. Then Jigoro Kano came to my rescue. He is - 'The Man'. He didn't always get it right; but he asked the right questions. Sometimes, he is one of the six blind men of Indostan attempting to describe an elephant they have never seen before: 'Though each was partly in the right,and all were in the wrong!' But Kano is one of the giants upon whose shoulders I am attempting to stand to see further. And what a giant he was. I may not be a fan of his judo, but I am most definitely a fan of the way he thought.

Kano encountered difficulties when he first started studying jujutsu:
In my youth I studied jujutsu under many eminent masters. … At that time, each man presented his art as a collection of techniques. None perceived the guiding principle behind jujutsu. When I encountered differences in the teaching of techniques, I often found myself at a loss to know which was correct. (1986: 16)
Kano refers to one teacher who 'did not teach me anything about what principles were involved, or how to apply those principles' (2005: 46). What one teacher taught differed from what another taught and he found 'there was no basis upon which to decide which one was correct' (2005: 46). This situation does not sound all that dissimilar to the martial arts being taught today.

Kano went in search of an underlying principle that explains all jujutsu technique: 'one that applied when one hit an opponent as well as when one threw him' (1986: 16). He first looked to the expression ju yoku go o seisu, which can be translated as 'softness controls hardness' (2005). The name jujutsu, he suggests, was derived from this expression. Ju means gentleness or giving way and jutsu means art, so jujutsu can be translated as 'the art of giving way', with the implication of first giving way to ultimately gain victory (1986). Kano refers to this as the 'theory of ju yoku go o seisu' (2005). However, Kano also found that the theory of ju yoku go o seisu could not always explain things. He refers to the example of an opponent grabbing a person’s wrists who then disengages using leverage, or when a person grabs a person from behind and they escape using leverage. These defences, he suggests, cannot be explained by the theory of ju yoku go o seisu.
During competition a person may kick his opponent. This cannot be called ju yoku go o seisu either. This is a case of actively putting energy to work in a certain direction and kicking the opponent in his vital points to cause damage. It is the same when thrusting with an arm, when slashing with a sword, or when thrusting with a pole – these attacks do not adhere to the theory of ju yoku go o seisu. (2005: 40-41).
Kano concluded that the techniques of jujutsu are based on various theories, ju yoku go o seisu being but one small part of the theory of jujutsu. He then asked the question: 'Is there a universal theory that applies at all times in every situation?' (2005: 43). 'After a thorough study of the subject’, he explains, ‘I discerned an all-pervasive principle: to make the most efficient use of mental and physical energy' (1986: 16). This all-pervasive principle is expressed as seiryoku saizen katsuyo (best use of one’s energy) or abbreviated to seiryoku zenyo (maximum efficiency) (Kano 2005).

Is seiryoku saizen katsuyo (SSK) the universal theory that applies at all times in every situation that Kano was searching for? It would appear not to be as all-pervasive as Kano suggests because he then used this principle to screen the 'methods of attack and defence' he had learned, rejecting those that did not conform with this principle. Given Kano used the principle of SSK to screen the techniques that came to form the body of techniques of judo, it may be the universal theory that applies at all times in every situation for judo techniques.

Does SSK provide the basis upon which one can determine which teachings are correct when different teacher's teachings differ? SSK is based on efficiency, not effectiveness. If a technique is effective but does not make the most efficient use of mental and physical energy, presumably it would be deemed to be 'incorrect' under the principle of SSK. How do you determine what is the most efficient use of mental and physical energy? Does SSK facilitate the understanding and study, and teaching, of all techniques in all martial arts?

Let's revisit Kano's initial question regarding the existence of a universal theory that applies at all times in every situation; not just for judo and/or jujutsu, but for all martial arts and physical violence generally.

The following is not drafted in the book. I asked the above question of Peter Clarke a short while ago, although, I do lose track of time so it may have been a little longer than a short while ago. Clarke answered the question in the negative. That there was no theory that applies at all times in every situation.

Presumptuously, I beg to differ. Can you hazard a guess concerning what the theory, principle, or concept is that can explain all physical techniques taught within the marital arts and used in violence generally?

Kano, J. 1986. Kodokan Judo. Tokyo: Kondansha International.
Kano, J. 2005. Mind over muscle: Writings from the founder of judo. Complied by N. Murata. Tokyo: Kodansha International.


  1. With all of the problems from blogger, I am sad to say that my comment here was erased. It was my longest ever, and I can't remember all that I said. But the gist was:
    1) Great post, it really made me think;
    2) Taken with a pinch of salt, I would say that mentally breaking your opponent's attack from offensive to defensive is the universal concept of all martial arts techniques. A sort of mental kuzushi.
    3) What do you believe the theory is?

  2. Thanks for the feedback and pity about losing your comment. I've still got on my to do list to go back to the subject of mental unbalancing. I wrote a Pt 1 blog on the subject late last year before I started writing the De Jong story. The question was, what, if anything, is mental unbalancing? Answer to be provided in a not to distant blog. As regards to the all-pervading theory or concept, that will be the subject of my next blog. I'm just in the process of demonstrating its use in every physical technique taught in the martial arts or used in violence generally in my book.

  3. Adaptability and situational/body awareness would be a good place to start. Refine the theory with application and discipline. These things require commitment that is rare to find. Those that find it have a real difficult time trying to explain something that must be experienced.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.