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Roberto Pedreira











Masahiko Kimura 木村政彦

Discusses Judo and Life with

Yasuhiro Yamashita 山下泰裕

Translated with notes by Roberto Pedreira

July 1, 2022



Sometime shortly after the Maastricht 12th World Judo Championship in 1981 Kimura Masahiko (木村政彦) 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 conversation must have taken place after the Japan International Championship (日本国際大会) in November

The 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 is used in the original text to indicate that the speaker chuckled or 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.

Kimura: I wonder? I heard you made a record.

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 in Japan .

Note.  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 ( 大内刈り).

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.

Yamashita: Hahaa.

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.

Yamashita:  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).

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.

Kimura: Yeah.

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.

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 countryside. I won the championship. I was even successful against middle school students there..

Kimura: Probably.

Yamashita: That middle school was the best of the best. So, whenever I tried to throw someone, they threw me instead. Well, I suppose that's natural, right? Anyway it was a shock for me the first time it happened.

Kimura: Yes.

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, ) 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 towel. 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 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?

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 your shoulders.

Kimura:  After that I hoped I wouldn't have to do it again. By the way,  one of your teachers was Satō Nobuyuki 佐藤宣践 if I'm not mistaken. He was a great man.

Yamashita: Yes.

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 mistaken.

Yamashita: That's right. That was the first thing I was told when I transferred schools.

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. 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.

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 overconfident.

Note. Obina Den 大日向伝, 1907-1980. Lived in Brazil and Hawaii .

Yamashita: Yes.

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. He would say to me, "Ah, Yasuhiro, you might pursue a fleeing opponent like Kimura did, won't you, I think." 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. 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 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, I think.

Kimura: Aa.

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 "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 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 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 neck control.

Yamashita: Yes.

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.

Note. 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.

Kimura: Yep.

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" () 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 ippon.

Yamashita: Yes.

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].

Kimura:   However, if you want to hear my thoughts about that......

Yamashita: Yes.

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 mistake.

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.

Yamashita: Where do you apply your tsuri-te?

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 [], the sleeve, [] 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 outer reap

大内刈り ōuchi-gari,  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 depends on what it is combined with, for example, axis, axle, holder, stalk, scroll, shaft).

頚椎 = Kei-tsui, cervical spine

= 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)

引き手 = hiki-te, pulling hand (usually the sleeve grip)

姿勢) = shisei, posture

= eri, collar

= sode, sleeve

訓練 = kunren, training

練習 = renshū, training

養成 = 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 (shugyō).

努力 = doryoku, effort, exertion, endeavor


Additional supporting information comes from:

山下泰弘闘魂尾柔道:必勝, 1991.

Mifune Kyūzō, The Canon of Judo, 2004 edition.

三船久蔵, 柔道の真髄:道と術, 1965.

木村政彦鬼の柔道: 猛烈修行の記録. 1969.

木村政彦. 我柔道. 1985, 1988, 2001.


(c) 2020, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Updated July 1, 2022.




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