Reflecting on Mind Over Muscle

Kano, Jigoro. Mind Over Muscle: Writings from the Founder Judo. New York: Kodansha USA, 2013.

While practicing judo during the early stages of the pandemic, I found myself feeling like I was missing something in my training. There was an extra layer that eluded me when I attempted to throw my partner in nage waza. Physically, I was missing the randori aspect, however, the fluctuation of health and safety standards and guidelines has left many weary committing to such an intensive training regimen. Rather, I was seeking something more philosophical than physical. The art cannot only be throwing and randori; the first Asian sport/martial art to be accepted into the Olympics had to have something extra – something that made the gentle art more appealing and lasting. I found what would become the foundations of judo philosophy, written straight from Jigoro Kano’s hand. 

Throughout this text, he continually stresses the benefit of judo not only on the physical level but on the mental level. Sure, the art can create a physically fit practitioner but can also lay the foundations of following a mentally and morally fit life. He explains this conclusion by his term of seiryoku zenyo – maximum efficiency. Seiryoku zenyo, to Kano, forms the basis of every judo application one can think of, both on and off the mat. In this sense, judo makes for a complete and holistic person and practitioner. 

However, Kano laments that while there are efficient, effective, and powerful judoka in Japan and overseas (mainly Europe and America), these practitioners do not use the foundations judo has given them in their personal lives. Without saying it directly, Kano infers that these judoka do not walk the straight and narrow, but lead immoral lives that could be approved upon. In another one of his laments, he discussed his concern with judoka worldwide focusing more on the sport/randori aspect of the art. While he enjoyed the propagation and popularization of his martial art, he felt that sole focus on randori makes for lopsided judoka and a slow deterioration of the art. 

Kano goes on to reason that he found the idea of a holistic martial art from the arts and systems before the Meiji Restoration. He reasoned that these arts, far removed from the chaotic nature of the battlefield, provided a way for the samurai class to live their lives accordingly. To lose that aspect, Kano implied, was to lose a major foundational pillar of judo. 

In spite of these negative aspects that have seemingly perpetuated through the growth and spread of judo, Mind Over Muscle nevertheless provides the eager judoka a philosophical basis to apply judo to their daily lives. Kano’s writings can also allow the practitioners to view the art as something much more than a physical activity; it can be a mental activity as well. 


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