Sometime shortly after the Maastricht 12th World Judo Championship
in 1981 Kimura
sat down with Yamashita Yasuhiro (山下泰裕) to talk about
judo and life. Judging from
Kimura's references to Yamashita's match with Saitō Hitoshi (斉藤仁), parts of the
must have taken place after the Japan International Championship (日本国際大会) in November.
conversation was initially 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 January 31, 1985, reprinted
July 20, 1988 and again November 16, 2001).
Notes by Roberto are written in italics. The kanji 笑
is used in the original text to indicate that the speaker chuckled or
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
Yamashita:No, 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
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.
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)?
Kimura: Ōsoto-gari. Ōsoto-gari to seoi-nage (背負い投げ). Well, after that, tsuri-komi (釣り込み). And, ōuchi-gari
Yamashita: Well, that, with the jiku-ashi, like this [puts finger on table,
simulating a standing leg]. Your ōsoto-gari.
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
Yamashita: There's one thing I would like to hear about. After all, the
image one has of Kimura-sensei is of arm-entanglement (腕がらみ、aka 腕絡み, and others).
Kimura: Arm-entanglement? That was one that I personally developed.
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. Tsuppari 突っ張り
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.
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?
Note. Kimura and Yamashita 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 (藤壺清喜), and 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 skinny man.
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).
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
Yamashita: That is said to be an effective technique 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.
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.
It was tough for me in middle-school. In primary school in
Kumamoto-ken, (?) was first-ranked. In KumamotoCity there was a teacher,
Shiraishi sensei. All of the older student/judokas in the judo club were
strong. In my primary school in the countryside.I won the championship. 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
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. I wrapped it with a bath
I was living apart from
my parents, with my grand-dad. My grand-dad went to bed early and got up
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 sensei.
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 opponent?
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 your shoulders.
After that I hoped I wouldn't have to do it again. 笑
By the way,
one of your teachers was Satō Nobuyuki 佐藤宣践
if I'm not mistaken. He was a great man.
Note. When Yamashita was a student at the Sagami High School attached to
Tokai University [東海大付属相模高校], he trained at the
Tokai University Judo club, which was supervised by Satō Nobuyuki.
Kimura: Don't be arrogant. He told you not to be arrogant, if I'm not
Yamashita: That's right. That was the first thing I was told when I
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
Therefore, 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 being arrogant.
Right. When you are feeling good, and relaxed, and not
training seriously [half-playing training, 遊び半分稽古].
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 overconfident.
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.
My grand-dad 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..
Kimura: Yeah, yeah.
Yamashita: When 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], hiding it is the
best. 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....
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 toJapan. 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, I
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 "人生勝利者.
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
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 up coming closer.
Aa, I see.
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 neck control.
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.
Note. Higo [肥後] is the old name for
Kumamoto where both Kimura and Yamashita came from.
Yamashita: That must have been frustrating.
Kimura: I 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.
Yamashita: 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.
Note. 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 the next 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 like that.
Unidentified person: By the way, what was your impression of Yamashita [山下選手] in the recent World Judo Championship?
Kimura: 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
Kimura: [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."
Note. Here Kimura 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, you should smoothly slide your foot forward parallel to the opponent's
foot. Because then you can slam the man down more effectively.
Yamashita: 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].
Note. 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.]
Kimura: That's right. That was at Kokushikan [国士舘] with Saitō [斉藤]. You made a small
Yamashita: Yes, yes.
Kimura: 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 your
Note. tsuri-te 釣手 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).
1. Originally published April 18,
2020 in Global Training
Report. The taidan was
included in the original 1985 edition.
大外刈り ōsoto-gari, large
large inner reap
背負い投げ seoi-nage, shoulder
tsuri-komi , lift pull
hip throw 釣り込み腰 Kimura didn't mention the
払い腰 harai-goshi, hip sweep
Other useful judo-related vocabulary used by Kimura and Yamashita:
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, shaft).
= Kei-tsui, cervical
= hitai, forehead
= taimingu, timing
ashi-koshi - legs and
= tsuri-te, angling,
fishing, lifting grip "pull and lift, in a circular
motion" (usually the collar grip)
= hiki-te, pulling hand
(usually the sleeve grip)
姿勢) = shisei, posture
= eri, collar
= sode, sleeve
= kunren, training
= yōsei, training
There are many words in Japanese that refer to learning, training,
practicing, developing skills. Others include 稽古 (keiko) ,
修業 (shūgyō), 修行