The Man who Defeated
Discusses Judo and Life with
Translated with notes by Roberto Pedreira
18, 2020 (JST)
taidan ( 対談) is a
formal, public conversation on a circumscribed topic for the benefit of audiences, readers, or
reporters. Such a taidan took place
between Kimura Masahiko （木村政彦) and Yamashita Yasuhiro
in 1981 sometime shortly after the Maastricht 12th World Judo Championship (第十一回世界選権). Judging
from Kimura's references to Yamashita's match with Saitō
Hitoshi ( 斉藤仁),
parts of the taidan must have taken place after the Japan International Championship (日本国際大会)
It, or some part, of the taidan was initially was published in the November 1981
issue of the magazine Kindai Jūdō
(近代柔道, Modern Judo), and
was later included as a supplement to Kimura's second memoir 我柔道
(My Judo, originally published in
1985 and 1988).1
few older Japanese judoka know about Kimura. Younger practitioners don't recognize his
picture and know nothing about him. Anyone in Japan who has heard of him is either in their
60's and remembers him as a pro-wrestler with Rikidozan, or is a BJJ fan who
has read that he beat Helio Gracie and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. In 1951, Kimura made Helio Gracie famous in Brazil
who by that time was forgotten after a
brief and over-hyped career during the 1930's. For brief background see here.) These young Japanese BJJ stylists will certainly know the
term "kimura" to describe the familiar ude-garami arm-elbow-shoulder lock, but they won't
know that it refers to Kimura Masahiko (until someone tells them). Later Helio
Gracie, via his son Rorion, (unintentionally) repaid the favor, making Kimura famous
(again) in Japan. The 2001 reprint of Waga Judo (我柔道)
with added material was stimulated by the Gracie Revolution, as the subtitle
Man who defeated Gracie Jiu-Jitsu"). The back
time he smashed Gracie Jiu-Jitsu").
consists of 40 statements or questions by either Kimura or
Yamashita followed by a response by the other (in one case, an
unidentified person asks Kimura to comment on Yamashita's judo). They are not numbered
in the taidan but are numbered here for clarity. A glossary
is included at the end.
by Roberto are written in italics. The kanji 笑 is
used in the original text to indicate that the speaker laughed.
Kimura: Mr. Yamashita,
you aren't only good at judo, you're also talented at singing, aren't you? You
have the body for it. You have a loud voice.
Yamashita: No, not at all. I don't
dislike singing, but I can't sing well. Rather than having a voice, in my
case, I sing when I feel like it. 笑
Kimura: I wonder? I heard you made a record. 笑
that's no good. My singing isn't good enough for anyone to listen to. By
the way, Geesink and Ruska who came to the tournament [World Judo
Championship in Maastricht, Netherlands], they were
tremendously popular. Foreigners make heroes out of people who were born
in their own (the same) country. They
treat them like heroes no matter what they end up doing after their competitive
glory days are finished.
We don't see that in Japan.
Geesink was open champion in 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Ruska was heavyweight and open
champion in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Like Kimura, Geesink and Ruska also became pro wrestlers in Japan.
Kimura: They are superstars.
They are always worshipped as heroes.
=always worshipped as heroes.
Yamashita: At this time, there's something I'd like to ask you.
After all, among your best
favorite techniques, isn't it ōsoto-gari (大外刈り)?
Note. 一番得意 (ichiban
mean either favorite (most liked) or best (strongest) technique,
seoi-nage (背負い投げ). Well, after that,
tsuri-komi (釣り込み). And,
Yamashita: Well, that, with the
jiku-ashi, like this [puts finger on table, simulating a standing
Note. Jiku-ashi 軸足
is the stepping leg, supporting
leg, non-reaping leg. The reaping leg is the kari-ashi 刈足.
"Stepping in" is fumi-komu 踏み込む.
Kimura: That, I'm not as strong as you
are. So if I (don't) concentrate all my
power onto my jiku-ashi, the
opponent won't fall
Note. Opponent won't fall, 相手が倒れないからね.
Yamashita: There's one thing I would like to
hear about. After all, the image one has of Kimura-sensei is of
腕絡み, and others).
Note. According to Gracie marketing
and internet stories, the
Gracie family named ude-garami after Kimura in his honor after the 1951 fight.
Actually, Brazilian sportswriters named it Kimuriana (noticing that he often used
it to devastating effect), in 1959 in his second Brazil tour. See Choque 2 for
details of both tours.
Kimura: Arm-entanglement? That was one
Note. Kimura uses the words 作りだした/作り出した
(= produced), introduced and ぼくが独身に
(I myself, personally).
Yamashita: Is that so?
Kimura. That's right. When an opponent
tried to shove me off with tsuppari,
I grabbed both hands and threw him. That's what I developed.
Note. Tsuppatte kita-toki 突っ張ってきたとき.
is a sumo style thrusting-pushing technique designed to drive the opponent out
of the competition area, or avoid him to get close enough to grab you.
Kimura means he developed that particular
application, not the arm-entanglement itself.
8. Kimura: The process of developing it
was extremely interesting. Alright, I didn't sleep after eating, I went to bed
with my opponents' movements etched onto my eyelids. In
a match, or in training, I researched, always keeping my mind on the fights ahead.
I looked at it critically, as though from an objective observer's point of view.
In that way I developed a new technique. You must have done something similarly
difficult, right? Tell me a bit about that. It couldn't have been easy to become
such a strong man.
Well I guess so [Yamashita answers affirmatively but hesitantly, as though he hadn't really
thought too much about it before]. Me, after all, when I was a middle-school student I
learned judo from a teacher named Shiraishi-sensei (白石先生).
Would you happen to be familiar with him at all?
were both from Kumamoto). Shiraishi-sensei was
Shiraishi Reisuke (白石礼介),
who was the second of Yamashita's three judo teachers, according to Yamashita's
1991 book 山下闘魂の柔道: 必勝の技と心,
p. 18. His first teacher in Kumamoto was Fujitsubō Hiyonobu
his teacher in Tokyo at Tokai Daigaku (東海大学) was
Satō Nobuyuki 佐藤宣践).
Fujitsubō sensei's first name is uncertain
but probably was pronounced Hiyonobu.
Kimura: I know him. He was a
Yamashita: Yes. He was small.
The first thing Shiraishi-sensei) told me, you know, the first thing he said
was, "you, now you're big, but in the future when you are representing Japan in
the world, you won't be big." I was already big in
middle-school. By my first year I weighed almost 100 kg. Even if you are big
there are judo techniques that can be applied by grabbing from above and
rolling. A small person who is running away is the easiest to grab (取りやすい).
That's what I did. I was told it wouldn't work against a big opponent. Instead
you can (or should) grab from underneath, and change the grips (組み手).
Note. Yamashita recounted in
his 1991 book 山下泰裕闘魂の柔道 (p.
19) that he was 78 kg when he entered middle-school and weighed 120 kg during
his third year.
Yamashita: That is said to be an
even against a big opponent. Harai-goshi, you know. If your timing is good, it's
possible to throw a big man. But if he's a considerably big man, it's difficult.
Kimura: That's true.
Yamashita: That means it's good for a big man to
use harai-goshi to throw a smaller man, but the opposite isn't true. Shiraishi-sensei
told me never to try to throw a big man with harai-goshi.
Kimura: That's a good teacher. From a
middle-school and high-school coach's point of view, you should use your
favorable physical attributes to win matches. That's quite a good thing.
Yamashita: In my case, I think it always
worked well for me.
Kimura: There's no need to be concerned
about having your harai-goshi countered. You can feel secure. It's ok to go that
way. Your teacher was a good teacher for correcting what you
were doing. Also you made a big effort. It
wasn't easy. To throw big guys with harai-goshi.
Yamashita: It was tough for me in
middle-school. In primary school in Kumamoto-ken, (?) was first-ranked. In
Kumamoto City there was a teacher, Shiraishi sensei. All of the older
student/judokas in the judo club were strong. In my primary school in the
won the championship [優勝]. I was even
successful against middle school students there..
Yamashita: That middle school was the best of the
best. So, whenever I
tried to throw someone, they threw me instead. 笑
Well, I suppose that's natural, right? Anyway it was a shock for me the first
time it happened.
Yamashita: The, at that time, one of my
school-friends [or judo club teammates]
had a copy of the book written by Kimura sensei. The friend treated it as a
valuable possession. I had never heard about you because I lived in the countryside. He showed me the book. Then lent me the book and I read it.
You wrote about ōsoto-gari and various things. For sure, I read about
punching a pillar (or post, 柱) and a tree,
with the sound of "gan gan, gan gan". Gosh, I was naive in
middle-school. When I went home, the pillar/post of my house, it was
rectangular. The edges were sharp and painful.
wrapped it with a bath towel. 笑 I was
living apart from my parents, with my grand-dad. My grand-dad went to bed early and
got up at 4:00 a.m. After going to bed I exercised my arm without thinking
about anything. For sure sensei [Kimura] withered a tree [by punching it to
train his arms].
Note. Yamashita mentions that his 同級生 dōkyūsei,
had Kimura's book and treated it as a precious possession. Dōkyūsei means classmate but
under these circumstances he was probably a judo club team-mate. Yamashita
respectfully addresses and refers to Kimura throughout the taidan as sensei, or
Kimura: Well, even a little at a time, it all
adds up. I did it today.
Yamashita: when you were active,
how much did you weigh? How many kilos?
Kimura: 85 [kg]. One time, I weighed 87. More than that,
I'm, too heavy, I can't move quickly. At my height, 85 kg is exactly right. But
I once threw a guy who weighed 201 kg.
Yamashita: 201 kg!? Was that your biggest
Kimura: Yes. That was at a pro wrestling
venue in São Paulo. The guy was both huge and covered with muscles. I heard he was
strong so I trained one time with him, for the chance to experience such an
enormous powerful man. I threw him with seoi-nage several times. The next morning, I couldn't move, my back.
During the training I heard strange sounds. I thought my back
was broken. That's how heavy he was.
Yamashita: You lifted 201 kg completely onto
Kimura: After that I hoped I wouldn't have to do it
By the way, one of your teachers was Satō
Nobuyuki 佐藤宣践 if I'm not mistaken.
He was a great man.
When Yamashita was a student at the Sagami High School attached to Tokai
he trained at the Tokai University Judo club, which was supervised by Satō
Kimura: Don't be arrogant. He told you
not to be arrogant, if I'm not mistaken.
Yamashita: That's right. That was the first
thing I was told when I transferred schools.
21. Kimura: Yeah.
Yamashita: When I transferred to the new
school, everyone had only positive things to say to me. About the
same as now. Like you, but not to the same degree. I was taught that many
athletes before me had been strong, but they didn't stay strong. There were two reasons for that. One was
being arrogant. There was a commotion around. The person takes the acclaim too seriously and
skimps on training and gets a long nose.
I was safe because
anytime I became arrogant my teacher broke my nose. That teacher didn't flatter me.
Another thing was injuries. No matter your attributes, or how strong you are, you can't defeat injuries.
do not neglect the warm-up exercises. And be careful to avoid injuries in daily life.
These are the two bits
of advice that are given to promising athletes who are being fussed over by
adoring fans. Even today, I always keep these words in mind.
Note. Having a long nose, or being a
goblin [tengu, 天狗] in Japan means
Kimura: Right. When you are feeling good,
and relaxed, and not training seriously [half-playing training, 遊び半分稽古].
When you finish training, you go somewhere and play, your mind wanders that's when an
injury happens. I know what you mean. That sucks. That reminds me, when I was a
student-------[goes off on a tangent]---Obina Den, the actor. He was a friend of mine. We were talking a stroll in
Ginza. Then, you know, like, we were just mobbed by fans. People lined up. They
wanted autographs. I was more popular than Obina Den. Like you are, now. Judo was
extremely popular. Anywhere I went, people offered to buy me drinks and meals. I
didn't need money. I started to believe the hype about me.
I became a bit arrogant. If you get arrogant, your skills level will drop. If you are
a 5-dan, you'll be a 4-dan. If you are a 4-dan, you'll be a
3-dan. When you go
to Kodokan, you won't
be able to execute even the basic techniques.
It isn't just a temporary "slump."
You're real ability is actually declining. That's what happens when you're
Note. Obina Den 大日向伝,
1907-1980. Lived in Brazil and Hawaii.
Kimura: Praise is a problem. People will say, like, "Oh, you're strong." That's no good. You should
always think of yourself as weak. Think of yourself as a perpetual sho-dan,
always in need of improvement. Avoid people who tell you how good you are.
That's very important.
Note. Shodan [初段]
is the first step or level in the dan ranks. As Kimura suggests, it
is a low level.
Yamashita: For sure, indeed, I get it.
used to very much like judo matches and often went to watch. He saw your matches in
Kyushu [九州]. They left a lasting impression on him.
At that time, the opponent was tremendously big, but he made a huge effort to run
away. You lifted his hand and threw him [手を上げてかけていかれて、逃げるのを捕まえて投げ飛ばして].
Kimura: Yeah, yeah.
I was just beginning judo my grand-dad would talk about that when he was drinking
sake. 笑 He would say to
me, "Ah, Yasuhiro, you might pursue a fleeing opponent like Kimura did,
won't you, I think." 笑
But I don't have any idea how you raised your hand.
Kimura: A ha ha. That makes your
body look bigger. I reached out to take hold of the opponent the way you would
catch a rabbit. Lately competitors avoid coming to grips. If you would reach out
for them they would withdraw into a small ball to avoid contact (demonstrates by
slightly shrugging his shoulders). Many do it. What is really
strong, don't show fighting spirit on your face [自分の闘志を顔に表わすんじゃなくて],
it is the best [strongest]. Well, like you, where the wind blows. 笑
That's really strong. You keep winning tournament titles.
Note. Kimura is recommending to be
"expressionless" or "poker-faced," avoid giving the opponent
any information from your facial expression.
Yamashita: ha ha ha. However, I would like to
continue winning. As for you, during your era,
even if you won, if you used the same techniques the next year, you would have
faced tough fights.
Every year you tried to create new techniques, or something, I suppose....
Note. Tough fight(s) = 苦戦, kusen
Kimura: Right, right, That's
right. Well, it seems to me that normal judo teachers are hesitant to innovate
and step out of their comfort zone and try new ideas. They tend to teach what
they personally know. Progress
can't be made that way. Everyone trains a lot and competes when they are young
to develop their abilities. But the time comes when they get old and it's all
over. Then they return to ordinary life. It's different in other fields of
endeavor such as politics and medicine. They continue to develop based on the
skills and spirit they acquired when they were young. They keep in step with the
changing times, and continue to develop and contribute in various ways such as
discovering new medicines. When they get older they continue to be successful.
So I want to say to you, Yamashita-kun, from now on, make an effort to provide
guidance to Japanese judo from a high point of view. I would like to see you
playing a role in leading the country into the future. Don't settle for
ending up as a school judo teacher like me. Judo can be a benefit to Japan. I
think it will be your mission from now to develop that. I really do.
Yamashita: Thank you. Udo Torao-sensei (宇土寅雄)
from Kumamoto told me the same thing. You know him,
Yamashita: He always said that. The most
important thing, he told me, is to train judo hard and win. In that way while
being a judo "champion," you'll become a "champion" in life
too, he always said.
Note. Yamashita uses the English word
"champion", チヤンピオン. Probably
because the idea that winning a tournament (優勝する)
would make one a "winner in life" in
general, is not indigenous in Japan, as Kimura and Yamashita discussed above in
regard to Geesink and Ruska. In fact the idea of being a "life winner"
is rather an exotic foreign notion in Japan. "Winner in life" is
Kimura: Yeah. That's very true. You'll be a
winner in life. If you
don't then whatever else you apply yourself to will have no value. If in the end
people refer to you as "aitsu" and say he [Yamashita] was [just] a
judo teacher, that would be disappointing to me. Don't disappoint me.
Note. By "aitsu" (あいつ)
Kimura means "just an average ordinary person" and "not
special" which is what he is advising Yamashita to strive to be. Kimura
several times refers to himself as "ordinary Kimura" 凡人木村).
Yamashita: I understand. By the way, as I thought, when you were active in
competition, your posture was probably upright.
Kimura: Yup. It was upright.
But the same as you, like this [demonstrates]. Leaning back [のけぞりはしなかった].
To some extent leaning to the side. I grabbed from above. I
grabbed the opponents neck [頚椎] with my
right hand. Then I pulled the opponent's neck forward.
The opponent will try to resist in the opposite direction. Because the normal
human psychological reaction is to resist in the opposite direction. He will end
Note. He will end up coming closer:
Yamashita: Aa, I see.
Kimura: Then the opponent is afraid of ōuchi-gari or some other
technique, he senses danger both coming in and going away in a direct line. So he
moves to the side. What I want to say is, gripping from above, it's a battle for
Kimura: To do that, I practice karate on a
tree, as we talked about. I did training to toughen myself up. Like
this. Then when I grab from above the opponent I will never be pulled up from
below. I piled muscles onto my bones [he rubs his arm].
Yamashita: If someone holds from the bottom and
can't even lift it up, he has no chance of winning..
Kimura: Right, right. So I said "yoosh," grabbed a carving
knife, went to his house, and barged in without being invited or knocking. Then I
snapped to my senses. What the f*ck am I doing!? I thought to myself. If I
kill him here his parents will certainly be unhappy.
So instead I decided to try to develop a new technique.
Higo [肥後] is the old name for
Kumamoto where both Kimura and Yamashita came from.
That must have been frustrating.
did it to make my ashi-koshi stronger because I hate to lose.
Ashi-koshi: Lower body, legs and waist, 足腰. For
Kimura the key to winning was having strong legs and waist. Previously,
above, he stressed that he also trained his arms. Although he didn't
mention chest and shoulder development in the taidan, his book Oni
no Judo 鬼の柔道, p. 97 included
pictures of him doing bench presses with heavy weights.
I heard from an OB at Taku-Dai that you
always thought about your next opponent before you went to bed the night before
the contest and after you got up the next day before the contest.
OBの方 = Old Boy = one of Kimura's
schoolmates at Takushouku University. Taku-Dai = Takushoku
Daigaku (拓大). Daigaku =
University. Kimura was a student in the College of Commerce [商学部予科]
at Takushoku University 拓殖大学from
1935 to 1941 and was a judo teacher [柔道部範師]
since 1961, and finally the head [会長]
of the Judo-bu OB Kai at the time of the taidan.
Yamashita: So then, of
course, what I heard was that you thought about how you could win, or various ways that you
could lose, everything considered, and knowing how much you trained and studied
your opponent, you felt that you certainly wouldn't lose. Is that right?
Yes. Well, that's how I felt. I closed my eyes, turned out the light, got into a
mediation posture (座禅組んだ).
Considering my training I did everything I needed to do, I reached the point
where there wasn't anything else I needed to do. Victory and defeat flickering
in my mind. It was like a Zen experience (禅味).
The word "victory" (勝) was
slapped onto my forehead in gold letters. Even the strongest man with a lever
couldn't peel them off [expressing the absoluteness of his confidence]. At that time I was confident of victory in
day's contest. I turned on the lights, and respectfully hung up my new gi [道衣] in
the Shinbutsu [神仏に捧げて.] I prayed for
victory (requested victory from the gods, like Miyamoto Musashi before the duel
in the Pines under the Ij尊び] to the gods, not asking for
help in a judo match.
Miyamoto Musashi 宮元武蔵] wouldn't do that. But I'm not Miyamoto Musashi, I'm just
ordinary Kimura [凡人木村]. So I asked the gods to help me win my match. It was just a
contest, so it was only a formality. I already prepared well so there was no
problem about the match. In my heart the match was finished after I prepared
myself mentally. I didn't care who stepped out in front of me. If it was a big
guy, I saw him as small. If it was a heavy guy, I saw him as thin. Well, it was
person: By the way, what was your impression of Yamashita [山下選手]
in the recent World
Judo Championship? [今回の世界選手権].
Well, as far as contests, leaving aside the High School period, previously
Yamashita seemed to be content to win by yūkō
有効], but recently, I believe he is
intent on winning by ippon [literally, とことんまで相手を取らなくちゃいかんという
[At this point Kimura omits
the subject pronoun and is indirectly quoting/paraphrasing Yamashita]: "My life has reached the level where I'm devoted to judo, I
live judo, judo is my life. I'm overflowing with fighting-spirit [闘志].
There is nothing more to say about it."
abruptly changes the subject to Yamashita's execution of ōsoto-gari in the most
recent All-Japan Judo Championship, 全日本柔道選手権大会].
However, if you want to hear my thoughts about that......
Kimura: Of course, everyone has their
style so somehow, it might be rude to say this, but in the case of the way advancing
the foot, a little from the side, like this [Kimura demonstrates]. Then, if you
are strong enough you can pull the opponent. However if you are approaching from
the side, then the opponent won't follow you [he will be able to resist your
pulling]. You should approach [align yourself] a little more in a straight line
[まっすぐに], you should smoothly slide
your foot forward parallel to the opponent's foot. Because then you can slam the
man down more effectively [もっともっとガーんと刈れるとおもうわけだ].
Yes. I also think so. I tried my best to get my foot parallel but looking at
the I [see that I] actually approached from the side. I would have had
more power approaching more from the inside [内側].
Kimura and Yamashita
apparently are watching and referring to a video of the contest between
Yamashita and Saitō
Hitoshi 斉藤仁 which
must have been in November 1981 in
the Japan International Tournament [日本国際大会.]
That's right. That was at Kokushikan [国士舘] with
You made a small mistake.
Yamashita: Yes, yes.
Like this, if you had entered from inside [内側を向くようになれば絶対取られない] you would never be counter-thrown. On the other hand if you do that the opponent
would be in danger. He would suffer a concussion [脳震盪を起こす].
The contest might be stopped by the referee, saying it's dangerous. 笑
Yamashita: Where do you apply
is the collar grip, lifting grip.
Kimura: In the case of my tsuri-te for ōsoto-gari, I change
my grips according to the opponent's posture [姿勢].
I hold the collar [襟],
the sleeve, [袖] or anywhere (どこでもつかんだ).
Due to the official government response to the current COVID-19 situation in Japan, it is temporarily
impossible to verify in which edition of Waga Jūdō
the interview first appeared. We will update when circumstances permit.
large outer reap
large inner reap
背負い投げ seoi-nage, shoulder throw
釣り込み tsuri-komi , lift pull hip throw 釣り込み腰 Kimura
didn't mention the goshi).
腕絡み ude-garami, entangled arm-lock
払い腰 harai-goshi, hip sweep
Other useful judo-related vocabulary used by Kimura and Yamashita:
軸足 = jiku-ashi, supporting leg,
pivot leg (the meaning of jiku 軸 depends
on what it is combined with, for example, axis, axle, holder, stalk, scroll,
頚椎 = Kei-tsui, cervical spine
額 = hitai, forehead
タイミング = taimingu, timing
足腰 ashi-koshi - legs and waist
釣り手 = tsuri-te, angling, fishing, lifting grip "pull and lift,
in a circular motion" (usually the collar grip)
= hiki-te, pulling hand (usually the
= shisei, posture
襟 = eri,
袖 = sode,
訓練 = kunren, training
養成 = yōsei,
There are many words in Japanese that
refer to learning, training, practicing, developing skills. Others include
稽古 (keiko) , 修業 (shūgyō),
努力 = doryoku, effort, exertion,
supporting information comes
Kyūzō, The Canon of Judo, 2004 edition.
木村政彦, 鬼の柔道: 猛烈修行の記録.
1985, 1988, 2001.
More Kimura and other Judo Articles on GTR here.
(c) 2020, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.