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JR Cespedes: Jiu Jitsu, Judo and the effects of martial arts on its practitioners


J.R. Cespedes

J.R. Cespedes and his better half

Mr. Cespedes and his better half
Dr. J. R. Cespedes, (Ph.D.) is an individual with unique national and international credentials in the martial arts community. For nearly three decades Dr. Cespedes has studied the martial arts, Oriental philosophy, sports-related psychology, and education and management methodology. His doctoral research at Barry University (in Miami Shores, Florida) involves the physical, psychological, and ethical background of the martial arts in the Orient. Dr. Cespedes is a member of United States Judo, (the national governing body for judo in the U.S.) and is also one of a limited number of Westerners registered in the renowned shrine of judo, the Kodokan in Tokyo, Japan (the founding organization for judo throughout the world).

What made you want to learn martial arts?

The origins might be traced to Mr. Lee and his family, Chinese who would sit me on their store's counter when I was a very little boy and feed me pieces of ham. Yes, perhaps it's due to Mr. Lee's early impact on my childhood psyche that I developed positive perceptions of Orientals. Or was it because I wanted to wear the "fancy pajamas" and have lightning fast reflexes and superhuman abilities? 

Though I don't think you have acquired any superhuman abilities, I am pretty sure that martial arts brought you some benefits.

What has it brought me? A warrior's pride; a teacher's compassion; a bit of the Buddha's wisdom; a monk's equanimity, centeredness, and poverty (since I have yet to make any money from the martial arts).

You have trained in Kodokan Judo and currently teach it. What is Kodokan Judo?

In the United States and the West this form of self-defense has become known by the generic description of "jujutsu." The Kodokan is historically recognized as the synthesizer of all jujutsu techniques. Jujutsu is currently being rediscovered as a well-rounded and complete self-defense system that incorporates throws, locks, grappling, pressure points, Oriental weapons, and chokes, as well as kicks and punches. 

I don't understand. What do you mean when you say that Kodokan Judo is the generic description of Jujutsu?

I am saying that the roots of all classical jujutsu techniques can be found in Kodokan Judo. I am endlessly amazed, and a bit amused, at the "jujutsu" practitioners who show me a "new" technique they have discovered, which is in reality a variation or combination of judo katas. 

The famous aikijujutsu practitioner, Sokaku Takeda's grand-father once said:"Jujutsu is the origin of all martial arts and mastering jujutsu will enable the martial artist to master other arts easily."

Jujutsu (who's ideograms translate into "techniques of pliancy") is central to all of the Asian martial arts, therefore mastering the techniques of pliancy will enable the martial artist to learn the essence of other martial arts more easily. The theme of pliancy, redirection, and suppleness is as ancient as the Dao De Jing and the "Art of War." In this context, the term "to master" is being used as in "acquiring expertise." I have witnessed this theme of pliancy/redirection when practicing with a Gungfu practitioner and former Marine friend. I have even witnessed it in Shotokan karate, which seems absolutely linear to the untrained eye. Consider ude uki, gedan barai, and jodan barai, to mention a few Shotokan techniques--they are redirectional in nature! Shakespeare would have said "A rose by any other name smells just as sweet." 


Sokatu Sakeda, famous aikijujutsu practitioner

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Why do you say "Jujutsu" instead of "Jujitsu"?


Jujutsu Ideogram. Taken from

"Jujutsu" is now considered by academicians as a more accurate westernization of the Japanese-language sound. "Jujitsu" and "jiujitsu" are considered archaic.

So what is the difference between Kodokan Judo and Jujutsu?

As practiced in the occidental world today (and to an increasingly large measure in Japan), the difference between Kodokan Judo and jujutsu is that the former has become a sport, while the latter has retained a greater degree of it's purity as a means of defense mano-a-mano. In this case, we must use the term jujutsu with a lower-case "j" to indicate it's generic application (remember: "techniques of redirection"). Professor Kano studied, and synthesized, the techniques from many jujutsu ryus (schools) to form Judo. As a form of budo (warrior-way), judo was intended to be a combat form (which included kicks and blows, as well as throws, strangulation techniques, pressure points, locks, grappling, etc.), a health and physical fitness enhancer, a way of life (do), as well as a sport. 

As late as the 1950's, Judo practice in Japan was preceded and ended with Shinto ritual. This was a natural consequence of it's ties to budo, and in turn, budo's ties to the spirituality and ethics of the bushi. As the martial ways have evolved in modern society their sporterized aspects have prevailed, and judo is no exception (perhaps it can be argued equitably that it was the harbinger of this trend). But judo can still reclaim it's traditional roots. That is the way it is still practiced in my dojo.

Should a martial art be viewed as a sport? What do you think of the martial arts as a sport?

There is no argument that the martial arts can and have been sportarized. It is well known that Judo and Taekwondo are now Olympic sports. Corollary to building self-esteem within organizations, and consequently within individuals, are studies which show that martial arts training can be applied to teaching, human relations, business, socio-managerial situations, and sports as well. In Japan the martial arts are part of the regular curriculum of the educational system from secondary school to the university. The Japanese police have found Kendo and Judo a favored means of keeping in excellent physical condition. However, the true practice of the Asian martial arts (amply documented from the Chinese and Japanese perspective), lies beyond simply performing techniques. 

Regardless of the purpose that brings individuals to the martial arts, sports included, the nature of the practice should be that both physical and psychological benefits accrue. Proponents of classical or traditional martial arts training see sports as lacking in the holistic approach they value on emotional, ethical, and mental development of the individual participant. The aforementioned research reveals that although sports programs do increase measurable changes in self-esteem variables, equal or greater changes in self-esteem and anger reactivity result from traditional or classical martial arts training, and significant changes are obtainable when the said curriculum stresses and incorporates the ethical, humanitarian, and nonviolent principles found in Taoist and Buddhist thought. 

The Analects of Confucius, writings of Lao-Tzu and Dr. Jigoro Kano, study of koan, and chronicles of Buddha were an integral part of the curriculum in the Traditional Judo Test Group in my 1996 study. The practice of the martial arts can be a physical extension of Asian philosophy. Conversely, accumulating points to win matches is the primary and logical objective of all sports, not philosophy. 

Can you get those benefits in any other sports?

Physical education programs have long been the investigative focus of interventions to decrease anger reactivity and increase self esteem. The most current data is, at best, inconclusive as to the positive effects of sports. There is increasing evidence that participation in sports is often conducive to increased anger reactivity and violence. There are consistencies in the data relating to sports spectator aggression, aggressive identification/bonding with and within a group, and changes in values resulting in antisocial behavior. Sports related interventions have additional constraints. For example, not every child or adolescent has access to an established and ongoing sports group. Many researchers believe that youngsters need a more comprehensive ethical standard of reference in order to accept a humanistic and nonviolent life view. Sports have been, at best, have been circumspect in implementing a significant standard of ethics in their curriculum.


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What social and psychological benefits does martial art training offer?

Previous studies concerning psychosocial changes in martial arts instruction have demonstrated a positive correlation and indicate that the martial arts could be applied as an intervention for increasing self-esteem and other positive and societally beneficial behavior, and thereby reducing anger, violence, and other negative or antisocial expressions. In 1996 I concluded a study ascertaining what connection there is between the study of traditional judo, other martial arts, and potential increases in self-esteem scores and/or corresponding changes (increases/decreases) in the scores of other related psychosocial variables such as anger reactivity, body concept, life satisfaction, and knowledge of the martial arts. This study was preceeded by pilot studies. 

Two hundred and ten non-deviant young adults belonging to either a control, physical education, combined karate style martial arts, or traditional judo group completed a series of questionnaires prior to, and after, twenty-four weeks of their specified type of instruction. Although no significant changes occurred for the physical education and control groups, the combined martial arts and traditional judo groups experienced significant increases in self esteem and anger reactivity scores. The mean change for the traditional judo group was higher than for the combined martial arts group. Part of the traditional judo group training consisted of zazen, discourses on redirection and on the Tao Te Ching and other texts of Asian philosophy. The results suggest that individuals with high scores on self-esteem and other related psychosocial variables may not experience a correspondingly proportional decrease in anger reactivity when using training in the martial arts alone as an intervention. There is appurtenant evidence that greater decreases in anger reactivity are possible when the nonviolent philosophical aspects of martial arts culture are interconnected and emphasized in their curriculum.
Last Updated on Sunday, 28 February 2010 21:25  

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