Freestyle Judo South African Organization Alliance
Kosen Judo arose with this aim during the Meiji Era (1868–1914).
Kosen judo (高專柔道, Kōsen jūdō) is a variation of the Kodokan judo competitive ruleset that was developed and flourished at the kōtō senmon gakkō (高等専門学校) (kōsen (高專)) technical colleges in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. Kosen judo’s rules allow for greater emphasis of ne-waza (寝技, ground techniques) than typically takes place in competitive judo and it is sometimes regarded as a distinct style of judo.

Currently the term “kosen judo” is frequently used to refer to the competition ruleset associated with it that allows for extended ne-waza. Such competition rules are still used in the Nanatei Jūdō / Shichitei Jūdō (七帝柔道, Seven Imperials Judo) competitions held annually between the seven former Imperial universities. Similarly, there has been a resurgence in interest in Kosen judo in recent years due to its similarities with Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Kosen Judo Consist out of the following Kodokan Techniques:

 Katame-Waza(Grappling Techniques)

Katame-waza (Grappling techniques) in most cases are applied when both opponents are on the ground/mat, as opposed to Tachi-waza (Standing techniques) which are applied from a standing posture. The Ne waza further divided into 3 types of techniques:

 

Osaekomi-Waza (Pinning Techniques)

Osaekomi-waza (Pinning techniques) is one of the groups of Katame-waza (Grappling techniques).

These pins represent different types of hold down techniques when holds another one on his back.

Shime-Waza (Choking Techniques)

There are three fundamental manners for chokes: compression of the neck-veins which restricts the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, compression of the trachea, and compression of the chest and the lungs which prevents breathing.

Kansetsu-Waza (Joint Locking Techniques)

Kansetsu-waza (Joint locks) techniques includes joint lock techniques against many joints of the body, contemporary judo only involves kansetsu-waza against the elbow. And one can using legs, arms, and knees, to grasp the opponent’s joint, and bend it in the reverse direction to lock the joint, thereby rendering him virtually helpless.

Judo competitive ruleset

Sankaku-jime (三角絞) applied at a modern kosen judo tournament in 2010.

History

Modern kosen training in Japan.

Judoka applying kuzure-kesa-gatame at the Nanatei league in 2010.

Kosen (高専, kōsen) is an abbreviation of kōtō senmon gakkō (高等専門学校), literally ‘higher speciality school’, and refers to the colleges of technology in Japan that cater for students from age 15 to 20. The kosen schools started holding judo competitions in 1898, four years after their opening, and they hosted an annual event of inter-collegiate competitions called Kosen Taikai (高專大会, Kōsen Taikai) from 1914 to 1944.

The rules of a kosen judo match were mainly the ones codified by the Dai Nippon Butokukai and Kodokan school prior to 1925 changes. However, they differed in that they asserted the right of competitors to enter groundwork however they wished and to remain in it as long as they wanted, as well as perform certain techniques which were forbidden in regular competition. Naturally, this kind of rules allowed to discard tachi-waza and adopt a more tactical style of ne-waza, which was developed profusely under the influence of judoka like Tsunetane Oda and .Yaichihyōe Kanemitsu

t is believed that the popularity of those strategies was the reason why Kodokan changed its competitive ruleset, restricting ground fighting and entries in 1925 and replacing draws for decision victories or yusei-gachi in 1929. Jigoro Kano was reportedly unsatisfied with kosen rules, and was quoted in 1926 as believing that kosen judo contributed to create judokas more proficient at winning sport matches at the cost of being less skilled at self-defense. Despite his posture, the kosen movement continued on, having barely changed its rules through all its story.

In 1950, the kōtō senmon gakkō school system was abolished as a consequence of education reforms, but the kosen ruleset was adopted by the universities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Tohoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido, Osaka and Nagoya, collectively known as Seven Imperial Universities. They hosted the first inter-collegiate competition, Nanatei Jūdō (七帝柔道), in 1952, giving birth to another annual tradition.The Tokyo University abandoned the Nanatei league in 1991 in order to focus on regular judo, but it was reincorporated in 2001.

The Kyoto region is particularly notable on the kosen judo scene, having schools entirely specialized on this style until around 1940.  Among the seven universities, Kyoto has the highest number of victories at the Nanatei league, counting 22 wins and 3 draws (against Nagoya in 1982 and Tohoku in 1982 and 1983) out of the 66 editions celebrated as of 2017.

 

Kosen Judo – The original BJJ

Due to the history of Judo and its undeniable influence on BJJ, some Judoka expand the acronym BJJ to Basically Just Judo“.

Mitsuyo Maeda, Carlos Gracie’s original sensei, was a Kodokan Judo instructor who’s specialty was ground fighting (newaza).

This type of ground-only fighting is often referred to as Kosen Judo. While BJJ did not directly come from Kosen Judo, it is important to understand that Judo has always included all of the ground fighting techniques that are popular today in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Kosen Judo (高專柔道) refers to a set of competition rules of Kodokan judo with particular emphasis on ground grappling techniques such as pinning holds (osaekomi-waza), joint locks (kansetsu-waza) and chokeholds (shime-waza), referred to as newaza in Japanese martial arts.

The Ko in Kosen (高専 kōsen) actually meant High School judo, and based around the Budokuden Martial Arts hall in central Kyoto. Schools started holding their own judo competitions from 1914. The rules of a Kosen judo match were mainly Dai Nippon Butokukai and Kodokan rules prior to 1925 changes. They allowed direct transition to newaza, enabling scenarios where one less skilled judoka could use hikkomi to drag down the other into newaza (a tactic now known as “pulling-guard” in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), and this was exploited by some teams that matched their less skilled students against the more skilled students of the rival teams, aiming at a draw in newaza. To achieve victory under the judo rules of the time the judoka had to score ippon as there were no intermediate scores, or a draw was declared at the referee’s discretion.

The 1925 Kodokan Judo rule changes were largely a reaction to Kosen Judo’s competition emphasis on newaza. As opposed to earlier ruleset, transition to groundwork was limited by much stricter rules and by 1929, yusei-gachi rule was introduced to end draws in matches. However, Kosen schools continued to hold interscholastic competition (高專大会 kōsen taikai) tournaments with former rules.

Differently to modern Judo rules leg-locks were allowed. (Leg-locks started being prohibited by Kodokan rules in 1914 in shiai and randori as well. By 1925 all joint-locks except elbow locks were totally prohibited together with neck cranks).

The matches had no time limit and were usually contested on a mat 20×20 meters in total size. A starting zone 8×8 meters was marked on the mat as well as a danger zone which ended at 16×16 Meters.

− If a Judoka went out of the danger zone the match would be restarted. If they were actively engaged in newaza the referee would call sono-mama to freeze them into position, drag them to the middle of the competition area, and call yoshi to restart the match in the same situation. This device was common in Judo in general and is still part of the official Judo rules, addressed in article 18 – Sono-mama, but has since fallen into disuse, allowing modern Judoka to escape newaza by going out of the competition zone.

Kosen judo, as a distinct “style” focusing training towards the Kosen ruleset, flourished in the Kyoto region until around 1940. The style and the peculiar ruleset is still studied for “seven imperials judo” (七帝柔道 Sichitei jūdō / nanatei jūdō tournaments of (former) imperial universities and is taught especially in Kyoto.

 

Several organizations abroad such as the Freestyle Judo Alliance in North America, South Africa (Freestyle Judo South Africa Organization Alliance) , International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Foundation (IBJJF) in South America and the European Sambo Federation, have adopted similar competition rules based on a combination of the more permissive ground fighting Kosen Judo rule set, blended to some degree with the stricter Olympic/Kodokan Judo rule set (some being even more permissive to allow striking, others adhering closer to Judo principles of using only throws and holds).

Unlike Sambo or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) though, Kosen Judo is neither a different Martial Arts “style” nor is it simply a set of competition rules; rather, it is a spirit of preservation of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu traditions within the modernized sport-focused Judo community.

Most who tried this approach failed to gain any significant following, save for the Fusen-Ryu Jiu-Jitsu school which succeeded by teaming up with several other faltering Jiu-Jitsu schools under the banner of “Kosen Judo”. Kosen Judo, which allowed for a greater focus on Ne Waza (ground grappling) quickly found favour with the Tokyo and Kyoto National Police Associations for its inclusion of a broader set of techniques for handling attackers or those resisting arrest in a wider variety of situations (ie. both standing and on the ground). It also found favour in elite technical High Schools and Universities, who were often run by conservatives and nationalists whom despite their political mandates towards advancement, were in fact acting to preserve as much of the old Japanese culture as possible.

Mataemon Tanabe, Fusen-Ryu Jiu-Jitsu master & early Kosen Judo pioneer performing Ude Hishigi Juji Gatame (or “Cross-Armbar” in BJJ)

One reason for the Kodokan’s own popularity was their success in competition and challenge matches, however Kano was surprised by the Fusen-ryu Jiu-Jitsu .vs. Kodokan Judo challenge matches where Fusen-Ryu either won or drew the majority of the matches by avoiding Tachi-Waza and applying Ne Waza holds, pins and submissions. Kano acknowledged the benefits of this Kosen approach to preserving more than just standing techniques from the old Jiu-Jitsu, and convinced Fusen-Ryu master Mataemon Tanabe to take a post as the Kodokan’s Ne Waza coach. Tanabe’s tenure at the Kodokan attracted some of the finest “old guard” Jiu-Jitsu ground specialists in Japan, including Hajime Isogai, Tsunetane Oda, Yataro Handa (who ran the famous Handa Dojo in Osaka that produced most of the original Jiu-Jitsuka who went abroad to challenge Wrestlers) and a young man from a lineage of Sumo wrestlers by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda.

After his father’s passing, Hélio Gracie was chosen to inherit the academy and soon became known as the first progenitor of “Gracie Jiu Jitsu”. He was also the first Gracie to gain international fame when he beat a world champion of Judo named Yukio Kato (known as Japan’s second best Judoka at the time). Kato, while formidable, had been a means to accessing the true master Masahiko Kimura (then #1-ranked Judoka worldwide). Hélio studied and trained hard every day, and eventually challenged Kimura who stated that if Gracie could even last a round with him then it should be considered a win. The match did go two rounds, but ultimately Gracie lost by Gyaku Ude Garami (henceforth dubbed in BJJ circles as the “Kimura”).

Kimura-vs-Gracie

Useless arguments about “which style is best

As a result of the family’s efforts to prove their capabilities and marketing expertise, for a time, the spread of BJJ was meteoric. It was proclaimed as the best thing to come to the Martial Arts since Bruce Lee put the striking arts on the map with Kung Fu flicks in the 1970s.

Royce Gracie was heralded as a hero to the common man by defeating beasts and giants twice his size during those early UFCs – and the mainstream media along with general public – bought it, hook, line and sinker. In the onslaught of attention, the Gracies continued marketing not just their schools but the art itself as “Gracie Jiu Jitsu”. However, many Brazilians who were part of the early Maeda, Tanabe & Omori schools while not detracting from Gracie accomplishments and contributions, vehemently opposed their marketing and preferred either simply “Judo” or at least the more generic and nationalistic pride infused label of “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” to describe their art, which is today the term most commonly used to describe the martial art. Even though he defeated Hélio Gracie, Kimura himself was trained primarily in the Kosen style of Judo under Jiu-Jitsu master Tatsukuma Ushijima before taking on the Kodokan banner.

So which style is best? Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, BJJ, Judo, Kosen Judo, or other styles?

In the end it’s a pointless debate. The practitioner of a particular art or style is whom determines the outcome of a particular bout, and individual contest outcomes can never unilaterally denote any art or style’s quality.

It always comes down to the common denominators of youth/age, skill/experience, and yes – despite BJJ’s best efforts to eliminate its advantages – strength/size.

 

Due to the history of Judo and its undeniable influence on BJJ, some Judoka expand the acronym BJJ to “Basically Just Judo“.

 

The fact of the matter is that modern day BJJ does owe much to Judo & Kosen Judo (as well as a number of other Martial Arts). By the same token, the Judo of today can gain much from incorporating the modernizations and advancements in BJJ’s Ne Waza repertoire, particularly the guard, sweeps, and submissions.

The way to do this is not to throw out the tradition and strict rules of Kodokan Judo, but rather to embrace the spirit of Kosen Judo during training, much in the same way that Kano embraced Kosen Judo to improve the Kodokan in the early 1900s. With a focus on learning and application of techniques within the context of excelling at Kodokan Judo rule set competitions and, of course, challenges or conflicts life throws one’s way in general, Kosen Judo  & BJJ can certainly benefit any Judoka and vice versa.