I am from Japan. It seems Japanese traditions are so attractive. I often hear words aestheticizing Japan from European people. Japanese traditional lifestyles and beliefs such as craftsmanship, martial arts, and the customs of Buddhism and animism remain mysterious and attractive to Western people. I might betray the expectations of audiences who love Japanese culture by saying that I am uncomfortable with its perspective. It is because I know well another side of the tradition with its tough hierarchies behind strict religious beliefs, which have already been commercialized and subsumed in a capitalist circulation.

What people see are only the shadows. By being here, dealing with the shadows, I struggle to confront my origin, the rich culture I inherited.

When considering Japanese martial arts, judo and aikido should be mentioned at first. Jigoro Kano (1860–1938) created judo on the basis of ancient Japanese jujitsu in 1882, as a physical, mental, and moral pedagogy. Not much later, aikido was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969) as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. They are generally categorized as modern martial arts, and judo later evolved into an Olympic sport.
In international competitions, French players first turned their strong physique to their advantage and they became very strong in judo. Japanese players who are relatively smaller, and consider winning the game technically and aesthetically by turning the opponent’s power, couldn’t compete with them. Ashamed of losing a national sport, the Japanese studied international techniques and now they are slowly returning to the podiums as winners. However, the original aesthetics and spirit of judo have been lost on this stage. In contrast, aikido has never been in the Olympics and is preserved in its original form. It reflects the voice of its founder forever and will never be a modernized sport.

In order to consider the path of development that judo went through, I want to tell a story from the country of Georgia, situated between Europe and Asia. I met a Georgian judo player who told me how Japanese judo became popular in Georgia. Georgians were very good at wrestling sports in the Olympics because of the heritage of a traditional form of combat called chidaoba, which was gradually disappearing. However, the international rules of wrestling sports were modified by several political powers, mostly Russia, and chidaoba’s essence disappeared from international wrestling. Afterwards more people began to play judo in Georgia because they found the same spirit of chidaoba in Japanese judo.

All martial arts are in a process of transformation and adaptation in different conditions and contexts, and the only fact that is predictable is that they are all changing. Loss of detail due to translation will be constant, and in the meantime, this may be called an evolution.

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