It’s great being a judo vagabond. I get to travel to places in the judo world that most are not able to. I’ve been able to work out in both Korea and Japan the past five years of my life and consider myself fortunate to have seen first hand the inner workings of this great Olympic sport and self-defense system in those powerhouse nations.
My recent travels brought me to Kyoto, Japan for vacation. As I planned for the excursion, I reached out to the Kyoto University Judo Team. As I visited their webpage, I came to realize that this was one of the small number of university programs that still practice the mysterious version of judo called “Kosen”.
I don’t want to get into the historical specifics of Kosen judo here, but in essence what it is is a style of judo where emphasis is placed on newaza, or ground fighting techniques. By contrast, what we see in the Olympics is loosely referred to as Kodokan judo and is based on tachi waza, or standing techniques that consist mainly of the big throws we see in the Olympics.
Kosen judo is not widely practiced anywhere in the world. Even in Japan. Just a select number of universities and maybe some one-off clubs. Judo in Japan is as we know it. Throwing and sport-specific newaza.
In fact, I have a friend from Tokyo that I queried once about where Kosen judo can be found and she had no idea what it was. She has no idea about anything having to do with martial arts, so there’s that. However, when I asked her if I could find Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Tokyo, she said, “Oh, you can find that easy.”
So there you have it.
But Kosen judo is not to be overlooked for what it is. It’s judo’s foundational, traditional approach to high-level newaza. And these seven (or so) universities make up the main body of practitioners. And it’s not going anywhere.
The night that I went was a three hour session and it was as HOT as you can imagine even though it was at night. I happen to go on vacations ONLY during the most extreme weather conditions for that given region. It’s how I roll.
When I went to Seoul, for example, it happened to be during the coldest snap that had hit Korea in many years. I felt like Lloyd Christmas on his scooter when he was in Aspen. (let’s see who gets that one!)
But there I was watching this amazing three hour workout session with some of the only practitioners left of this original ground grappling style. Many of the sweeps and turnovers are indicative of those you’ll learn in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, if you’re familiar with that sport. On this night I saw what is now more commonly referred to as X-Guard, De La Riva, and Spider Guard. I don’t know what those are called in judo terminology.
One departure from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the inclusion of tachi waza in training. Though not nearly as extensive as a standard collegiate judo program, there was still a good portion of practice devoted to uchikomi and standing randori. I did see seoi nage and osoto gari, but there was far more frequent use of tomoe nage and yoko tomoe nage. It was clear to me that the goal was just to get to the ground.
Have a look at the practice in my video below. It was great, once again, to see the judo world first hand as I continue down the road as a judo vagabond.