Monday, September 5, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 13 - The Dan Grades

The photograph to the right was taken circa 2000. From left to right are Peter Clarke, Jan de Jong, Robert Hymus, and Paul Connolly. I may be wrong but I think the photograph was taken around the time of their completion of sandan (third dan), the final technical grading in De Jong's jujutsu grading system. Like my MBA (Master of Business Administration), I'd characterise De Jong's grading system, particularly the dan (black belt) grades, as a 'war of attrition' rather than as being particularly difficult.

Hymus can rightfully be said to be the first shodan De Jong graded in his jujutsu. He was awarded this grade in the very late 1970s. De Jong emigrated to Australia in 1952 and it was more than 20 years before he graded anyone shodan. Why so long? Given the calibre of Tony Chiffings, Warwick Jaggard, Peter Canavan, and other instructors, it could not have been because of the lack of commitment or proficiency.

De Jong visited Europe for the first time since WWII in the late 70s. While there he had the opportunity of visiting various jujutsu schools and comparing the standard of his mudansha (kyu grade holder) instructors with the European yudansha (dan grade holder) instructors. In 1978 he accepted the position of Australian representative for the World Ju Jitsu Federation (WJJF). In 1982 he would return to Europe with a team of his instructors to attend and compete in a WJJF seminar and teach at various other European schools. Is the timing of the awarding of dan grades coincidental? Please don't get me wrong, these instructors are world standard. What I am suggesting is that maybe De Jong wasn't aware they were world standard because he'd been teaching in what has been described as the 'most isolated capital in the world', and without the benefit of the 'information highway'. He had no basis for comparison.

Why weren't the previous instructors graded shodan? I'm of the growing opinion that a major part of the reason may be because he didn't have any dan grades, at least any of significance. A contentious opinion, and one I am prepared to be corrected on. Is it a coincidence that the dan grades, which have more than a 'wiff' of Minoru Mochizuki's teachings, were taught for the first time just after Yoshiaki Unno (see a previous blog) had trained with, and taught for, De Jong for two years? This influence becomes even more evident when he developed and introduced the mon grades (see next blog).

De Jong was justifiably proud of his instructors. He's quoted in a number of articles expressing his pride in connection with the compliments he received domestically, nationally, and internationally about their quality. In the last few years of his life he toyed with the idea of listing the gradings that were required to be completed to be awarded a dan grade to indicate what is required to become a yudansha in his school.

Shodan (1st dan) - 9 parts: revision, practical part 1 and 2, kentai ichi no kata (kata of sword body agreement) and suwari waza no kata (kata kneeling down), shiai (contest), oral theory and terminology, history essay, teaching, and examining.

Nidan (2nd dan) - 9 parts: revision, demonstration, practical, hantachi waza no kata (kata one standing one kneeling) and kentai ichi no kata, defences with short stick and defences against jo (short staff), pressure points, shiai, oral theory, essay on topic approved by De Jong.

Sandan (3rd dan) - 12 parts: revision, demonstration, taisabaki no kata (kata of bodymovements), theory grading with sacrifice throws and takedown techniques, kodachi no kata (kata of short sword), hoju jutsu (art of tying), arresting techniques, searching and handcuffing, jo and tobitanbo (jumping stick), manriki-gusari (weighted chain), shiai, and project assigned by De Jong.

Mochizuki's teachings influence can be seen most evidently in the kentai ichi no kata which is also taught by Mochizuki. However, De Jong would not appear to have simply adopted it wholesale. No. It appears he used it as a template and modified it based on his own experience and purposes. The suwari waza no kata is seen in Kodokan Judo. When I raised this issue with some of the senior instructors (not De Jong), the suggestion was that maybe this was one of the contributions to Jigoro Kano's teachings provided by Tsutsumi Hozan ryu (the jujutsu style De Jong's instructors told him they were teaching). A member of the Tsutsumi family is credited with assisting in the development of Kano's teachings. That is a possible explanation. Another is that De Jong adopted it and included it within his grading system to fulfil a particular requirement of his.

There appears to be some gradings that are repeated. They are not. The revision gradings and certain others are not a simple exercise of demonstrating things previously done. No. The candidate has to demonstrate their understanding of principles, tactics, and techniques, and 'flesh out' the outlined grading. For instance, the taisabaki no kata requires the candidate to demonstrate a specified number of variations of the five basic bodymovements taught within the system. Up until this grading only the five basic bodymovements had been specifically identified within the grading system.

These dan grades definetly have a focus on knowledge and understanding, and not just proficiency. There is a major element in these gradings to produce high quality, world class instructors. Not everyone would become, or wants to become, an instructor. De Jong recognised this, along with the extensive requirements of the grading system, and was toying with the idea of having two different 'types' of black belts. One complete and one a modified version for those who would not teach. He didn't resolve the problems associated with implementing this idea before he died.

These gradings formed the basis for the dan grading system developed for and used by the Australian Ju Jitsu Association (AJJA). I confess I do not know if this system is still being employed by the AJJA, but, the format or content of the dan grades, and not the specific tactics and techniques of De Jong's jujutsu, formed the base for the AJJA dan grading system. I know there are other schools/systems in Australia and Europe that have 'improved' their dan grading systems by referring to De Jong's.

According to Greg Palmer, there are only 21 people who have been graded shodan in De Jong's jujutsu. The first, Hymus, and the last Jamie Francis. Both instructors are now principals of their own schools. It is Francis' (and my) intention that he will be No. 6 to have completed sandan within the De Jong jujutsu grading system.

The more I study De Jong's grading system - study it as opposed to simply grading it - I see the hand of 'intelligent design' by De Jong. Not just modifying his teachers' grading system, but developing it totally, or at least a major portion of it. If so, it is a grand achievement as he didn't have a lot of other grading systems to refer to. I would suggest it is one of De Jong's most outstanding legacies if, and only if, he had the type of hand in developing it as I have suggested.


  1. I was under the impression that Hymus graded Shodan in December of 1981 not the late 1970's, but perhaps I am mistaken?

  2. John, did you ever have an aswer for this guys question?

  3. I'll get back to you guys on that question.