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Reviewed by:
  • Martial Arts and the Body Politic in Meiji Japan by Denis Gainty
  • Walter Skya (bio)
Martial Arts and the Body Politic in Meiji Japan. By Denis Gainty. Routledge, London, 2013. xvii, 186 pages. $135.00.

The topic of Japanese martial arts is very personal to me. I first encountered Japanese culture and Japanese history through Fred Sato, a terrific jūdō coach and a wonderful human being, while I was a student at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle. Inspired by Coach Sato’s dedication, outstanding instruction, and personal interest in me, I progressed to the point that I was awarded a First Degree Black Belt from the Kōdōkan, the center of world jūdō, while still a junior in high school. I later received a personal letter from U.S. Olympic jūdō Coach Yosh Uchida, inviting me to join his group of jūdōka at his training center at San Jose State University.

What makes this review in the Journal of Japanese Studies still more special for me is the fact that during my senior year, Coach Sato chose me to be his assistant for a jūdō class he was asked to teach at the University of Washington in place of Shūzō “Chris” Kato, who had been regularly teaching a very popular jūdō course there, which was once attended by the world-renowned Chinese martial artist Bruce Lee. After graduating from the University of Washington, I attended the University of Tokyo as a graduate research student for six years, and I regularly went to work out at the Kōdōkan, which is just one subway stop away from the University of Tokyo Hongō campus. Needless to say, I am delighted that Denis Gainty has had the nerve and perseverance to insist on doing an academic study of Japanese martial arts “despite the well-meaning advice of many [academics] who suggested kindly [to him] that Japanese martial arts did not constitute a topic for serious scholarly attention” (p. xiii). I am mystified as to why anyone would try to discourage such research. Apparently, those [End Page 396] “well-meaning” academics are unaware of the fact that there is a very old and deep tradition of martial arts in Japan and that martial arts have been a central topic for discussion by prominent academics in Japan since the Meiji revolution. Kanō Jigorō, the founder of modern jūdō, for instance, was a graduate of, and later a professor at, the Imperial University of Tokyo. Kanō also worked to popularize jūdō internationally and even demonstrated it to former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant when Grant visited Japan in 1879. Also, “Hoshino Senzō noted that President Theodore Roosevelt was studying jūdō” (p. 115).

Denis Gainty’s Martial Arts and the Body Politic in Meiji Japan is a study of the history of the Greater Japan Martial Virtue Association (Dainip pon Butokukai). He states that the association, which began its formal existence in 1895 with some 60 members, was the inspiration of Kyoto city tax collector Torimi Kōki (1849–1914). This Japanese bureaucrat had lamented the decline of martial arts in Japan and accordingly sought to “revitalize the practice of Japanese sword, bow, bare-handed combat, and other disciplines in the face of enervating Western modernity” (p. 16). Gainty further states that the “Butokukai was largely responsible for the codification and nationalization of martial arts practice, especially kendō and jūdō, by staking a symbolic and practical claim to martial arts practice and performance and through its successful efforts to insert martial arts into public school curricula” (p. 35). Gainty does note, however, that the association was not the only martial arts movement in Japan at the time. For example, “Kanō Jigorō’s famous Kōdōkan jūdō was already flourishing well before the creation of the Butokukai” (p. 58). Nevertheless, while other agencies such as the Tokyo Police Training Program also made efforts toward codification and centralization of martial arts, “the Butokukai represents the most powerful and successful move to claim and exert national control over the definition of martial arts” (p. 60).

Gainty states that by 1904...


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