Best Book Winner: Professor Kano Biographies in English
What English language biography of professor Jigoro Kano does Martial History Team recommend?
When I (Richard) started Martial History Team in late January 2020, I said that the goal of the project was to promote martial arts history based on sound evidence and sourced research.
Since then, readers have been able to consume a lot of content from the project, through a Facebook page, this blog, Instagram, Twitter, and, thanks to team member Matthew Krueger, via a podcast.
Along the way I published a post on the criteria I use when evaluating sources. That guided my selections.
Today, I'm happy to present the first reading recommendation. Here I will list the 8 biographies of professor Jigoro Kano that I read, and share the title which I believe is the best English-language biography available to the average reader.
The following are the 8 titles in consideration. The title links to an Amazon page, if available, or to the publisher. The rating links to my review at Martial Journal, if available.
- The Father of Judo by Brian N. Watson, 2000, 4 stars
- Three Budo Masters by John Stevens, 1995, 4 stars
- Mind Over Muscle by Jigoro Kano; Compiled by Naoki Murata; Translated by Nancy H. Ross, 2005/2012, 5 stars
- The Way of Judo: A Portrait of Jigoro Kano and His Students by John Stevens, 2013, 5 stars
- Saving Japan's Martial Arts by Christopher M. Clarke, 2011, 3 stars
- Jigoro Kano And The Kodokan: An Innovative Response To Modernisation by Kanō Sensei Biographic Editorial Committee; Compiled and translated by Dr. Alexander Bennett, 2009, 5 stars
- The Legacy of Kano Jigoro: Judo and Education by The Committee for the Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Jigoro Kano; Translated by Tom Kain, 2020, 5 stars
- Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano by Brian N. Watson, 2008, 5 stars
Removing a Few Contenders
Although I read these 8 books, and others which contain biographical material, not all 8 really qualify as "the best English-language biography available to the average reader."
Three Budo Masters is a biography of three people, so its coverage of Kano is too short compared to the full-book titles.
Mind Over Muscle is a fine book that I recommend reading, but it is a mix of autobiography and writings.
Jigoro Kano And The Kodokan: An Innovative Response To Modernisation is another fine book, but it is not easily available to the average reader. One would likely have to buy a copy from a small number of vendors through auction or specialty book sites, as I had to do.
The Legacy of Kano Jigoro: Judo and Education is another great book, but it is similarly not easily bought. Vendors appear to be starting to carry it, but the price is still high and supply is limited.
Aside from Three Budo Masters, however, I would recommend that Kano researchers buy and read all three of these titles.
The Runners Up
From lowest to highest recommendation, we now have:
4. Saving Japan's Martial Arts received 3 stars, mainly due to relying on shaky secondary sources like Wikipedia and various unsourced articles on the Internet. It's still an interesting book.
3. The Father of Judo received 4 stars, mainly due to the use of invented dialogue. That was very frustrating for anyone trying to determine if the scenarios in the book actually took place.
2. Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano received 5 stars, but it does not make the top spot because it is, like Mind Over Muscle, a mix of biography and writings. It is still a must-read as a 5-star book, and I own it in Kindle and hardcover format because I like it that much.
|The Way of Judo by John Stevens
While I suggest reading nearly all of the books in this post, if I had to pick a single English-language biography of professor Jigoro Kano, it would be The Way of Judo: A Portrait of Jigoro Kano and His Students by John Stevens.
It spends the right amount of time leading the reader through professor Kano’s life. However, it also explains how he founded and grew judo. It then explains key students and associates. Most unusually, compared to other books, it spends time talking about the sort of person Kano was. The book is one of the few I’ve found that names his children and shares a few words about each. In that sense it felt more like a rounded-out biography.
I enjoyed reading all of the books listed in this post, and I hope it helps guide your reading choices. My reviews contain more details on all of these titles. They are available at Martial Journal and Amazon. The latter requires that Amazon sells the book, which might not be the case for some titles.
I'm aware that there are many excellent biographies in other languages on professor Kano, particularly in Japanese. Unfortunately, they are out of the reach of my current language skills. I can work with some texts in French, as I posted earlier.
What do you think of these books? Do you have any other recommendations?
The picture at the top is from the Kodokan.