The Kodenkan Judo of Master Okazaki

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The Meaning of Kodenkan

Professor Okazaki's 

"School of the Ancient Tradition"

One of the difficulties in translating anything is in conveying the full meaning of a word or an expression into the target language. There are certain words and expressions that remain untranslatable. Many of these terms are to be found in philosophy but just as often the differences in language structure makes the work of a translator an unenviable task.

An example is the simple expression, “I have a watch.” One might think that were we to translate this into Russian we would have no difficulty whatsoever. This is true, but we would not convey the same meaning from English into Russian. The reason is that the Russian language no longer conjugates the verb “to have”. This is because in Tsarist times the populace lost all their freedoms and most all their possessions so the verb “to have” fell into disuse. The structure provided is “By me there is a watch”. This indicates the transitoriness of having something yet not owning something. This is not the same meaning as the English “I have a watch” but it is the closest equivalent. So, though words are often translated, their full meaning remains to be discovered.

If we have these problems dealing with Indo-European languages, then how many more can we possibly have in dealing with Japanese? Indeed, many aspects of the Japanese language seem to have adopted the motto of the Cheshire cat in “Alice’s Adventures in wonderland”. The cat is noted to have said, “Words mean what I want them to mean, nothing more and nothing less.”

Thus we find words as Mushin, Munen, Musow, and Sutemi. All these words mean the same thing! Mushin = Munen and Musow = Sutemi. This is the concept of “No-mind, no form” found in Zen, the attainment of which indicates mastery of self. Is this the same Sutemi by which we call our falls and rolls. Yes, of course it is. Is this the same Munen Musow that completes the Shinyo list. Why yes, of course it is. And they mean the same thing? Why yes, of course they do!

The first thing students must do when they enter the Dojo and begin to undertake their practice is to learn how to fall and roll. And when they begin their rolls, the first thing they see is how quickly the mat approaches their face. Thus, they must forget their fears. They must relax and let their mind go. They must exhale as they bend and roll and forget about falling. They must “abandon themselves”. After years of practice and learning myriad things, the student is often confused as to what technique to use in any given situation. There are so many available, which one to choose? Again, forget everything, abandon everything and relax. Only then can the genuine response come. So, in the beginning we are taught to unclutter our minds and then after having our minds cluttered with techniques over the years, we are reminded again to unclutter our minds. So, the last thing we learn in Shinyo is the first thing we are taught, to unclutter our minds and do things naturally, spontaneously.

Now, this simple exposition of meaning may provoke several into saying they never heard of such a thing. Indeed! Such things have been taught for years - only the association with the words has been missing. We hope to correct this so the words and the teaching are brought into line and all can view Danzan Ryu a little clearer.

One of the most misunderstood (or shall we say least understood) words has been Kodenkan. Everyone knows this means “School of the Ancient Tradition” but no one can say what comprises this “Ancient Tradition”. We hope to provide this explanation for the benefit of all, but first we should like to develop the meaning of martial art.

Definitions: (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd. College Ed.)

  • Martial: adj. 1. Of, pertaining to, or suggesting war. 2. Pertaining to or connected with the Military profession. 3. Characteristic of or befitting a warrior: “a bull-necked, martial-looking man” [Dickens].

  • Art: n. 1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. 2.a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty; specifically, the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. B. The study of these activities. C. The product of these activities. 3. High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value. 4. Any field or category of art, such as music, ballet, or literature. 5. A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts. 6.a. A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building. b. A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: pursing the baker’s art. 7. A specific skill in adept performance, conceived as requiring the exercise of intuitive faculties that cannot be learned solely by study: the art of writing letters.

Thus, a Martial Art is an activity in which a person utilizes conflict to create something beautiful through the skillful coordination of mind / body / weapons.

  • If there is no sense of conflict or struggle, then it is not Martial, rather a system of exercise.

  • If there is no sense of beauty, then it is not Art, rather it is a science of conflict.

Martial endeavors have also been referred to as a Science. On many diplomas awarded to students of eastern martial skill is the following (using Jujutsu as the example):

For Outstanding Achievement in the

Advancement in the Arts and Sciences of

Judo & Jujutsu”

What is the meaning of Science in this context? And how is the study of martial skills a science?

  • Science: 1a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena. b. Such activity restricted to a class of natural phenomena. c. Such activity applied to any class of phenomena. 2. Methodological activity, discipline, or study. 3. An activity that appears to require study and method. 4. Knowledge, esp. knowledge gained through experience.

From the definition above, clearly the first meaning is not the one commonly understood. However, the practice of a martial skill does entail the meanings found in 2 and 3 above. It a methodological activity, discipline and study. It also is knowledge that is gained through practice, which is experience.

Since most western schools teach only the technique side of martial skills, they are in effect teaching the Science of Martial skills. Not understanding the oriental philosophy and how Art can be found in all endeavors and activities, Westerners do not understand how they themselves can become Art. Thus, that which is taught in the West is for the most part not Martial Arts but rather Martial Science.

Another term commonly applied is “technique”. It is interchanged with art when in fact it is a precursor to art. Without techniques, there cannot be Art in the oriental framework.

  • Technique: 1. The systematic procedure by which a complex or scientific ask is accomplished. 2. Also technic. The degree of skill or command of fundamentals exhibited in any performance.

Any description of any martial technique begins with: step 1, step 2, step 3….It is systematic because many things must be working together for the effective accomplishment of the effort. Coordination, breathing, posture, body movement and concentration all have to b in sync, otherwise the technique is not effective. It is not technique until the various requirements are joined together in harmony to effectively accomplish the result.

From the second definition above we can see how technique and art have been interchanged. Technique is the fundamentals of the performance. The performance (when infused with the spirit of the player) is Art. Without technique there can be no Art. But mastery of technique does not create Art. Only when the spirit of the artist is infused into the work does the work become Art. This is the true meaning of Martial Art.

Also important in the above meanings (but omitted) is the word Harmony. Harmony can only exist if there is conflict of some sort, for harmony is the resolution of conflict. In the symbol for Yin / Yang there always remains a bit of Yang in the Yin and Yin in the Yang. This indicates that nothing is ever pure. And from the wave of the line separating the Yin from the Yang we find that even as aggression waxes it must wane or weakens and by proper application of principles can be brought into harmony or balance.

Ok, Ok. So, what has this to do with the Kodenkan? Everything! For Kodenkan means “Ancient Tradition” and these meanings are part of that “Ancient Tradition”. Are we trying to say that Kodenkan really is a body of instruction that can be identified and catalogued? Absolutely – still interested?

In Japan, to be considered an artist is nearly the same thing as to have obtained enlightenment. This is because art in the Japanese sense means the artist infuses his spirit into the work or effort. After long years of practicing only the basics and fundamentals of the art in conjunction with meditation, the artist one day miraculously creates something artistic. One of the more common examples used is in Sumi-e (or monochromatic painting which is sometimes referred to as India-ink). In this type of painting, the artist picks up his brush and begins to paint with confidence, for there are no opportunities for correction – no paint-over in Sumi-e. Once the brush is put to the paper, the creative power of the artist must guide the brush or be one with the brush. And this means that the artist must paint in a state of Mushin consciousness for the final product to display artistic expression. Any hesitation and the paper is ruined, the artist must begin anew. Any break in thought, and the brush stroke is wrong, the painting is ruined and again it must be thrown away. Only when the mind is free and spontaneous is it possible to create Sumi-e art. Only with the mind free and spontaneous is it possible to create art in general.

Thus, to be considered an artist means one must embark on the path of spiritual development. For only if the spirit has been developed can the artist give way to his artistic expression.

This is true in the martial arts, as well. Here, conflict is used as the vehicle for artistic expression. But again, true art is only possible after the spirit has undergone development. The method for this development in Danzan Ryu is the proper practice of Jujutsu.

So, Kodenkan (School of Ancient Tradition) incorporates within it the meaning that if something is done with the proper attitude in a repeated manner and requires one to “still the mind”, then spiritual development has been undertaken which will lead one into harmony with one's surroundings. Professor Okazaki used to tell his students who arrived early to meditate. Moreover, meditation was often done at the conclusion of class as well. This is “stilling the mind” and a prerequisite for success both in martial studies and artistic expression.

Also, to be a school of the ancient tradition means that certain other criteria be met. This criterion concerns itself with the manner and organization of instruction. Briefly, it entails a system based on Ku-den (oral tradition). Masters of the ancient schools never wrote down the “how-to’s” as we do today. At most, they would have a list (Densho), which together with some poems and possibly pictures formed a scroll (Mokuroku). The deepest meanings or mysteries of their school (Hiden or Okugi) were passed down only by oral teaching. This is one of the most underlying principles of ancient schools without which there can be no claim to ancient tradition. The reason is that the ancient masters had no desire to separate the principles of their teaching from the practice. To attempt to write about them would do this.

Thus, Kodenkan means more than “seniors teaching juniors”, much, much more. The meaning of Kodenkan embodies the idea of “perfection of character” (or spiritual) development as well as a specific methodology of instruction. It’s goal is the attainment of Mushin consciousness or “stillness in movement” and is in keeping with the full meaning of the practice of Judo (the Way of Yielding), which finds its full expression through the harmonious interchange between the participants that is the true resolution of conflict.

So we should no longer let other groups dominate words through misuse, but rather use the words as they were meant to be used. It is for this reason that this article is being presented. It is also presented with the hope that it may enrich the lives of those dedicated to the practice of Judo and the arts of Jujutsu. 


1991, 2002, 2009; David A. Scheid, All Rights Reserved


Prepared by: David A. Scheid