Judo Blog: Early Women’s Judo and Traditional Japanese Dance

Cheryl Hari & Gary Goltz
Last month following a judo event a bunch high ranking older sensei were sitting at a table enjoying lunch and our conversation touched on how successful women have been in in the grappling arena in recent years. Cheryl Hari whose family has been connected to judo for several generations mentioned having to learn the judo dance as a young female judoka. Blank looks were on everyone's faces which led Cheryl to share her amazing insights on her early day involvement in Women's Judo.

According to Cheryl the judo dance or judo buyo played an interesting role in the history of women's judo. Nihon Buyo – a Japanese dance performance, was popular entertainment for the samurai in premodern times, flourishing from 1660's to the 1900's. Often called Kabuki or Noh theater today, Nihon Buyo is its own independent, highly imitative performance. The dance combines three traditional categories of body movement, Mai- lateral movement, odori- vertical, jumping movement and furi- mimetic or imitational movement. These classifications of movement come from the Japanese martial arts, including jujitsu and later judo.

Father Daughter training

Cheryl with her Dad at an early age

After the time of the samurai and for a while after WWII, Martial Arts were banned. So, to maintain the knowledge, Martial Artist disguised their arts into Odori as folk dances. This allowed them to continue their training without interference from opposing forces. As Kano developed and continued to promote judo to the world, he presented the sport as a form of culture that had both a certain nationality- Japanese- while also being impressive and useful enough to be accepted as a sport, especially in the west. Kano's goal was to cultivate patriots who would dedicate themselves to national development. During a lecture in 1889 he insisted that judo was a means to strengthen patriotism, and that Judo would help earn Japan the admiration of the rest of the world.

The Nihon Buyo also played its part in the effort to rest a European and Western cultural hegemony. The dance functioned as a distillation of Japanese aesthetic practice, conservatism, and masculinist privilege. As women began to practice judo, many had already learned some of the body movements through dance as parents often used the dance forms to train normative femininity, instilling discipline, and beauty along with balance and smooth body movement. The concept elegance, grace, and refinement were of great importance in playing upper-class women's roles. In judo practice, Kano emphases that " a right posture should be always maintained so as not to be unbalanced in the time of motion." The women of judo incorporated the techniques and movements they were learning in judo kata and self-defense into a Nihon Buyo Judo dance.

The late Keiko Fukuda Sensei, often said, "There are two types of judo that can be learned. The first is narrow and emphasizes judo techniques. With competition, this is how men do judo. The second approach is much broader and deals with the development of a human being." This is the approach Miss Fukuda believed to be the true goal of judo. With this goal in mind and the desire to show the women of the world how judo would benefit them, the judo buyo found a place in the dojo women's classes and as part of the opening ceremonies at the men's tournaments alongside Kata.

Once women started competing and women's judo began to focus on technique and wins, the judo buyo faded into history. Several attempts have been made to revive this hidden legacy of women's judo. Keiko Nagasaki from the Kodokan taught a several women for a while. In 2017 Sawtelle Judo gave a performance of their version of judo buyo incorporating the GoshinJutsu no kata during a tournament

Figure 1 - The Weaker (?) Sex is Organizing Anthony De Leonardis, Black Belt Magazine

Old picture of female martial artists

Figure 2 - The Weaker (?) Sex is Organizing Anthony De Leonardis, Black Belt Magazine

Female martial arts demonstration

Figure 3 - The Weaker (?) Sex is Organizing, Anthony De Leonardis, Black Belt Magazine

Female Judoka Judo Dance

Figure 4 - Women’s Randori Contest Rules from 1954

contest rules
contest rules
contest rules
contest rules
contest rules
contest rules

Today Cheryl is rather busy between her position as Nanka's Secretary, taking over managing Jerry Hays' Judo Archives, rescuing wayward dogs, plus teaching judo at her dojo and at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Coastal ronin Judo Class
September judo

I'm always looking for new subjects to write about regarding judo as well as contributions from my readers. Please send them to gary@garygoltz.com, thanks.

gary goltz

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