Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 5 - The Perth Years

In the last blog we left Jan de Jong and his young family emigrating to Perth, Western Australia in 1952. There are various subjects of interest during this period until his death in 2003 which will be discussed in detail in future blogs.

De Jong arrived in a very provincial Perth in 1952. When discussing this subject he would use as an example that Perth had only one Chinese restaurant at that time. His physiotherapist qualifications weren't recognised in Australia so he initially worked as a labourer. It wasn't long before his work colleagues started to ask him to teach them martial arts. He initially taught them during his lunchtime break for no charge on what has now become the site of the West Australian parliament. This then laid the seed of an ambition to teach martial arts as a full-time profession. In the forward to my Jan de Jong: The man, his school, and his ju jitsu system, De Jong explains:

Looking back at my own early years in Australia (1952-1963), self defence was often considered a rather peculiar and odd thing to do. The term 'judo' was known by some, but most people had not even heard of 'karate' or 'kung fu,' let alone 'jujutsu'. My expressed intention to make the teaching of this art into my living was almost always met with doubt, if not ridicule. The idea that anyone could teach an oriental self defence professionally was not considered possible. However, I had the confidence that I could and would do this. When I did make it my full-time occupation in 1963, to the best of my knowledge I was the only full-time martial arts instructor in Australia.
Later that year he took his first steps in realising that ambition by offering classes in a premises located in North Perth. That same year he relocated his school to Victoria Park and then finally to his residence in Scarborough. Hans de Jong, his son, who would go on to make teaching jujutsu his full-time profession as well, recalls students being inadvertently thrown over balconies and through walls during lessons held at the Scarborough residence.

In 1955, De Jong's school was relocated to Swan River Rowing Club located on the city's foreshore. Attending the first class were ten students. After demonstrating a bridgefall and putting both his feet through the floorboards into the river, only three students returned for the next lesson. It was suggested that the use of mats may encourage more people to take up jujutsu, so, as mats were not available in those days, they made some mats by hand. Rodney Miller, a student in the 1960s and later an instructor, recollects training on these home-made mats: 'Can you imagine training on canvas mats? Well, that's what we had in the early days. They were especially good for mat burns and broken toes.'


In 1960, the school was relocated to 870 Hay Street, Perth, which is located in the Perth central business district. The photograph to the right is of training at the 870 Hay Street dojo. You might note how thin the room is. One can only imagine the difficulties this imposed on training. Also look closely and you'll see the home-made mats that Miller was so fond of. De Jong is kneeling centre.


In 1963 the school was moved to 996 Hay Street where it remained until De Jong's death in 2003. The building was full of character ... which is another way of saying it was a dodgy old building. It was a large building with four (five in the earlier years) separate large matted areas.


It was around this time that De Jong imported a large number of tatami from Japan. Towards the end they were moved around and tapped up due to the wear and tear they sustained over the decades. The photograph to the right was taken around 1963 according to Warwick Jaggard (aka Zak), a colourful character who went on to become an instructor for De Jong. He joined the school in that year and said that he 'always always loved the smell of the tatami as you walked in off the street.'

The building only had a ceiling in the upper area. Down stairs in the main training areas there was no ceiling, only a tin roof. On hot summer days when it was 30 degrees plus outside, it was another 5 or 10 degrees hotter inside. On some Saturdays you could not stand still in one place on the mats because of the heat radiating off the mats onto your bare feet.

Classes were held at the 996 Hay Street dojo six days a week. The dojo was open from morning until late at night so there was always somewhere to train. For whatever reason, when I commenced training in 1983 I attended two lessons a day, six days a week and took the opportunity of also doing training at the dojo in addition to the classes.

In 1965 the first branch was opened and over the years there would be many more branches opened throughout the Perth metropolitan area. In 1975 the name of the school was changed to 'Jan de Jong’s Self Defence School'. The school grew to, at its peak, having 800 to 1,000 students, without sensationalisation nor inflated promotion. Standards were never lowered as De Jong had a qualitative rather than an economic imperative when it came to his teachings.

From 1955, attendance at De Jong's pencak silat classes was by invitation only. In 1968 he offered classes in pencak silat to the public for the first time. Given the informal nature of pencak silat, De Jong would have to develop an entire grading system which he did. He placed an age restriction on admittance to the class as he considered jujitsu, and later aikido, provided a more appropriate ethical foundation for young people as they emphasised acceptance and control rather than initially teaching a child to punch or kick another person.

In 1968, De Jong was introduced to aikido by Phillipe Boiron. Boiron was a student of Minoru Mochizuki and taught his Yoesikan style of aikido. De Jong said that he was very impressed with Boiron's technique and Boiron began teaching for him in that year. After training with Boiron, De Jong developed an ambition to visit Japan to train. Professional development if you will. In 1969, age 48, he realised that ambition. While he was in Japan he visited a number of schools before finally becoming a live-in student with Mochizuki. More will be said of the 'Mochizuki influence' on the 'school of Jan de Jong' in a future blog.

Two more children were born in Australia before De Jong was divorced. Only Hans, born in Indonesia as explained in the previous blog, would go on to make teaching martial arts his full-time profession. De Jong remarried a few years later. Margaret, his wife, would go on to become his partner in establishing a thriving business teaching martial arts and selling martial arts supplies in Perth. Their first born, Maggie, would go on to make teaching martial arts her full-time profession and become principal of his school when he passed away. Maggie would accompany De Jong on most of his European teaching tours in the 1990s. Maggie would be followed by a brother who trained martial arts but never took it up to the same extent as his sister.

Jan de Jong began teaching aikido when he returned to Australia. In 1974, he sponsored Yoshiaki Unno from Mochizuki’s Yoseikan to become an Australian resident and to teach aikido and karate at his school. More will be said of Unno in a future blog.

Accompanied by his family, De Jong returned to Europe for a holiday in 1978. He took this opportunity to make contact with various jujutsu instructors throughout Europe and to peruse the jujutsu scene. The European jujutsu community was impressed with him, his knowledge and his expertise, and were quick to embrace and court him. When he returned home he was lobbied to become the Australian representative for the World Ju Jitsu Federation (WJJF) which he eventually accepted.

This began, what appeared to be, the political life of De Jong. In 1985, through General Eddy Nalapraya of the Indonesian Army, the man responsible for the promotion of pencak silat on behalf of the Indonesian Government, De Jong was appointed the Australian representative for the International Pencak Silat Federation. This was followed by his appointment as President and National Coach for the Australian Ju Jitsu Association (AJJA) in 1987, and Vice President of the WJJF in 1989. Whilst these were political offices, De Jong was anything but political. His focus was always on improving techniques and 'on strengthening both jujutsu itself and the image it holds'. Briely Baily OAM, National Secretary of the AJJA, credits the presence of De Jong within the AJJA as having brought jujutsu together around Australia and moved it forward in world circles. His achievements were officially recognised by the Australian Government when he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 1990.

De Jong had been graded third dan in jujutsu since 1939. After his initial visit and subsequent involvement with the hierarchy of the WJJF, he was awarded fourth dan in 1980. Following his first teaching tour of Europe in 1982, the WJJF awarded him sixth dan and then eighth dan in 1989. I've been advised that the AJJA also awarded De Jong eighth day in the same year though I am yet to verify this fact.

Actually, De Jong was 'awarded' numerous higher gradings from various individuals and organisation including a number of tenth dans. I was present when he and Margaret were both awarded tenth dans by a German instructor (who was not invited to the seminar but proceeded to take it over anyway). Margaret should have been chuffed because she never graded first dan under De Jong or anyone else for that matter. These certificates were put in the draw along with so many others.

De Jong wasn't concerned about higher grades for himself and lamented the increasing frequency with which higher grades were being awarded. In an interview published in 2002, De Jong said:

I never worried about [accepting the higher grade], you just know what you know. That's all you do, you do not worry about Dan grades very much. Dan grades don’t say very much anymore. In my time it said something. … I'm still learning too. Dan grades are not important – it is what you can give the people, that is what is important.
Following his initial visit, De Jong received many invitations to conduct seminars throughout Europe. In 1982, he returned with a team of his instructors for what became an annual tour. Over the next two decades, he would conduct seminars in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United States of America, as well as throughout Australia. As a consequence of his increasing international reputation, students/instructors from around Australia and Europe would travel to Perth in order to train with De Jong and his instructors. More will be said of these tours in a later blog.

Another watershed in De Jong’s professional life was his appointment as the Chief Instructor and Adviser to the Australian Special Air Service Regiment ('SAS') in 1979. Major Greg Mawkes MBE had been tasked with updating the Australian Army’s capability for unarmed combat training and after considerable research had identified De Jong as the man that could help him fulfil his mission.

I had very firm ideas of what was required. I needed a man with a vast knowledge of and skill in several martial arts. Someone who knew that unarmed combat has both offensive and defensive applications. A man who understood that aggression has to be developed but controlled. A man who could appreciate what works in the dojo may not be effective on the battlefield. And if possible, a man who had experienced combat. I approached several martial arts schools in Perth, but although they were willing to help, none could offer the total solution I was seeking. Without exception though, they felt that Jan de Jong was my man. In de Jong Sensei I found a man who was not only genuinely interested in helping me solve the problem, but a man with exceptional skill and knowledge. Before I even set foot on a tatami mat we spent many hours discussing the likely situations that SAS men could face in hostile environment. When training actually commenced I found him to be flexible in both mind and approach to the task, but above all patient.
The 1999 tour of Europe was the last tour for De Jong. He suffered heart problems during that tour and was hospitalised. From that time he was plagued with ill health until he passed away on 5 April 2003, coincidently, a couple of months before Mochizuki passed away.

PS: I have since been advised the photograph included above which was identified as being the 870 Hay Street school was not in fact that school. To date the location is unidentified and it would be greatfully appreciated if anyone can identify the location. This is one of purposes of this blog, albeit not originally intended, for the Jan de Jong story to be 'filled in' with other people's information which I have not contacted as yet.

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