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The Value of Old Knowledge in the Martial Arts

The Value of Old Knowledge in the Martial ArtsA couple of weeks ago, I went to Powell’s Book Store, a huge bookstore in Portland that had the biggest martial arts section I’ve ever seen with a variety of new and used books on every topic. I bought half a dozen books, but my most valued find was an old book, The Complete Jujitsuan, that was originally published in 1915.

I am always on the look-out for old martial arts books like that for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they’re interesting to read from a historical perspective. The writings reflect the unique attitudes toward training and combat of the time and place during which it was written. The demonstrators wear clothes that are customary for the era, which can make for differences in movement strategy. The techniques sometimes comprise of different moves or even weapons that have fallen out of favour. And sometimes you find different techniques or ways of applying familiar techniques that are new to you.

Old knowledge has a way of becoming new again. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu lays claim to a wide variety of ground fighting techniques, but many of them are not unique to the style. Many “new” BJJ techniques can be found in old Judo tomes that are no longer in circulation. It’s not that BJJ guys are necessarily copying Judo. Much of the Judo ground game has changed over the decades as the rules of the sport changed to de-emphasize ground fighting. As a result, much of what was once taught as part of the art of Judo has faded into obscurity, limited in appearance to the books that were printed in earlier times when it was more in favour. So many of the ground techniques that appear in BJJ are old Judo techniques that were taught at the time it was introduced in Brazil. (*To be clear, Judo was a “new” name for a lineage of Jiu-jitsu in Japan in the 1910’s and the man who brought the art to Brazil, Mitsyo Maeda, decided to call what he taught “Jiu-jitsu” so as to separate his teachings from Jigoro Kano’s Judo even though his teachings were very much from that lineage.)

Check out Higher Judo Ground Work written by Feldenkreis in the 1952. You can download it here. You’ll notice many techniques in this book look a lot like what is taught in BJJ. This is not to say that BJJ hasn’t evolved the ground game over the decades. It most certainly has with its intense focus on this aspect of fighting. It’s just nice to know the roots of a style.

The Complete Jujitsuan AuthorThe Complete Jujitsuan

Originally printed in 1912, it offers some of the history of the style as it developed in England. Everyone has old school moustaches and trains in gis with short pants, very different from the gis worn by BJJ and Judo practitioners these days. While the photography is less than ideal, as would be expected for the era, I found some interesting techniques I intend to experiment with.

Handbook of Self-Defense for Law Enforcement Officers

This is a booked I picked up at a used book store last year. Written in 1955, the demonstrators wear suits and fedoras, which makes sense from a self-defense point of view as that is what you would likely end up having to defend yourself in, cop or civilian. The book also includes a information on the use and defense against old school weapons like the blackjack and the 50s style police club.

Handbook of Self-Defense for Law Enforcement Officers

I have other books like this, and will keep expanding my collection as long as I keep finding these types of books. Printed books are starting to fade as a medium, so I want to get as much of this old knowledge as possible before everything goes digital.

Do you have any old school martial arts books you would recommend for my collection? If so, let me know in the comments so I can keep an eye out for them.

Comments (5)

5 thoughts on “The Value of Old Knowledge in the Martial Arts

  1. Excellent post! I’m envious that you were able to visit that particular bookstore. I, too, head straight for the martial arts section of any bookstore I enter. 🙂 I have a limited budget when it comes to purchasing old texts or reprints of old texts. Reading your post has given me a kick in the pants regarding old knowledge. I do have two great re-prints of the following (and I assume that you have these two in your collection):

    (1) The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) By H. Irving Hancock and Katukama Higashi. Dover Books. Originally published in 1905. Great pics.

    (2) Jiu Jitsu Combat Tricks by H. Irving Hancock. Published in 1904. Reprint by Dragon Associates, Inc.

    Besides the books mentioned in your blog entry, what other early 20th century books do you have?

    1. I’ve got a few books from mid last century. Kyozo Mifune’s Canon of Judo, and two Bruce Tegner books, Nerve Centers & Pressure Points, and Complete Book of Self-Defense from the 60s. Wish I had more of those earlier tomes, like the ones you have! 🙂 I’m always on the lookout though.

  2. Years ago I picked up _Dynamic Karate_ by M. Nakayama, which was first published in 1966, at the Strand Bookstore in NYC. I don’t know if the Strand is still around, but I imagine it is/was somewhat comparable to Powell’s. _Dynamic Karate_ has great photographs. It has action shots from tournaments in Japan in the early 1960s; lots of photos of techniques, step-by-step; and some psychedelic-looking ones where they superimpose an arm or a leg at five or six different stages in executing the technique but the rest of the body is kept at the beginning stage. Yeah, it’s fun to look at old martial arts books.

  3. I have a copy of ‘The complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu’ by Irving Hancock and Katukama Higashi. The Shiatsu-like techniques at the back of the book are fascinating, as are the incredible array of techniques, many of which are no longer practised. When you read terms like jiudo for judo, you get the feeling you are privy to an important moment in the development of a new sport.

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