Mifune – The Essence of Judo

Mifune left, with Kano

Kyuzo Mifune has been categorized as one of the greatest exponents of the art of judo after the founder, Kanō Jigorō. He is considered by many to be the greatest judo technician ever. 

After 15 months of training, Mifune achieved the rank of shodan (‘beginning dan,’ indicating 1st dan ranking) in Kodokan judo, and after the remarkably short time of four more months, nidan (2nd dan).  Through timing and speed, Mifune quickly gained a reputation, and was never defeated at the annual Red and White Kodokan tournament.  By 1912, he was ranked rokudan (6th dan) and an instructor. He was already being called the ‘God of Judo.’  He was 30. His father recommended a girl in his hometown, and, for only the second time since he had left home, he returned to marry.

During the next 20 years, Mifune’s reputation continued to grow. When he was 40, he was challenged by a 6′ tall and 240 lb. sumo wrestler. Mifune, 5′ 2″ tall and 100 lb., finally slammed the wrestler with his trademark ‘airplane’ throw (kuki nage or uki otoshi). He ate sparingly, slept on a Western-style bed, and did not smoke. In 1937, Kano promoted Mifune to the rank of kudan (9th dan).

With Kano’s death in 1938, Mifune became the most influential instructor. Students had long complained that Mifune would get carried away with lectures, and he was “feared more than loved.” On May 25, 1945, he was promoted to judan (10th dan), the fourth of 18 judoka to ever be so honored. In 1956, he wrote his classic book, The Canon Of Judo, still a remarkable exposition of judo history, philosophy, and technical description. To E. J. Harrison, he wrote a book foreword that was simple but expressed Mifune’s philosophical nature: “Freedom in continuous change!”

Trevor Leggett, a frequent visitor to the Kodokan over many years, remarked that judo was much ‘rougher’ at the Kodokan prior to World War II than afterward; this was, perhaps, the influence of Mifune.  Mifune died on January 27, 1965, in the Nichidai University Hospital in Tokyo.

This extremely valuable old 8mm footage of Mifune as a 10th dan was converted to DVD and released in 2005. It features him going through all the basics of Judo including his explanation as to what is the essence of Judo. Plus, see his famous Kuki Nage! Techniques include Kuzushi, Tewaza, Koshiwaza, Masutemiwaza, Nage no Kata, Nageura no Kata, Katamewaza, Itsutsu no Kata, Ashiwaza, Yokosutemiwaza, Shimewaza, Kensetsuwaza, Goshinjutsu

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