Zen Judo International

Vern Borgen, 6th Dan Zen Judo

Zen Judo and Kyushindo Judo are the only remnants of the Butokukai, a Martial Arts Teachers College established in 1895 in Kyoto, Japan. The Butokukai taught Judo, Karate and Kendo. Kenshiro Abbe was one of the leading students of the Butokukai.

What is interesting to me is the involvement of Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan in the establishment of the Butokukai. In one of the pictures taken in front of the Butokukai there sits front row center Jigoro Kano. We also know that the Kodokan sent instructors to the Butokukai to teach kata. So we are left to wonder.

It is my opinion that Kano, as an educator and a believer in the scientific method would have supported alternative judo programs to see what could be learned by an alternative approach.

I had been complaining to Phil Porter and then Ed Szrejter about the over emphasis, in my opinion, of the USJA on competition judo so was surprised when I received a letter from Keo Cavalcanti, the executive director of Zen Judo in America. Ed Szrejter had forwarded one of my letters to Dr. Cavalcanti.  Keo lived in Richmond and I was going to be traveling to Washington DC for work in a few months so we got together for a workout and food and beers afterward. I was fascinated with the Zen Judo program and wanted to learn all I could so I invited Dr. Cavalcanti to Fargo for a seminar, the first of two.

I adapted the Zen Judo syllabus in my dojo and used it straight for about 8 years. We had great success with the syllabus and several of the Gentle Ways, Inc. Judo Clubs continue to use it exclusively, the other clubs use it for beginners, because it is for beginners that the syllabus really shines.

Zen Judo has several features that set it apart from Kodokan Judo.

1. The syllabus is fixed, students are allowed to learn only the techniques within their grade. Students who work with lower ranked students are required to use only the techniques that the lower ranked knows.

2. The gokyu syllabus contains no “air” throws.  All the throws are takedowns.  This is great way to teach throwing to beginners while their ukemi skills catch up.

3.  The order of techniques taught is arranged in strings. For example, at gokyu, the first beginner rank, ashigake is taught, at yonkyu osotoguruma, at sankyu osotootoshi and at nikyu otosogari. The way the techniques are structured leads the student from one movement pattern, adding the next until reaching the desired final movement.

4. Combinations and counters are introduced from the first level using a set of drills: combination one and counter one; combination 3s, 4s, counter two, counter two by two are added later. A combination and a counter are practiced to each and every throw in the syllabus.

5. The concept of half sacrifices are introduced. Half sacrifices are when a throw is executed by dropping to a knee, such as the techniques in the Koshiki no kata.

Below is a biography of Kenshiro Abbe by Keo Cavalcanti. Following the article are links to the Zen Judo syllabus and the Tao of Judo, also by Keo Cavalcanti.

About Gentle Ways, Inc.

I taught Judo at North Dakota State University from 1980 to 2012. The Judo program consisted of a credit class and a judo club. Over 32 years about 3,000 students took the judo class.
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