Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 20 - Jan de Jong Self Defence School: Towards 2000

Jenny Armstrong wrote an article that was published in Blitz magazine circa 1999 titled: 'Jan de Jong Self Defence School: Towards 2000'. She provides, in my opinion, one of the best descriptions of Jan de Jong.
It is soon evident that while martial arts may be his (most-valuable) 'hobby', as he will describe it, a variety of topics hold an interest for him. He has a keen and probing mind, yet open to life's new experiences. Although in his seventies, Jan de Jong has an iron firm hand-shake and the mental engagement of a much younger person. His appearance is like that of a sturdy unquailable, colonial gentleman - wearing a button-up top in a life-essence red, his grey beard adds a distinguished frame to his face; his eyes are attentive and sharp.

Yet there is none of the pompousness that the word 'colonial' tends to evoke. Rather there is a tendency for laughter, a certain irreverence even, which makes him instantly likable.
Armstrong nailed it. She also writes that 'immediately on meeting him he is easy to talk to.' Too true. I recall a letter De Jong once showed me. It was written by a young mudansha ('one without a black belt';kyu-level practitioner) who had attended one of his seminars in Europe. The letter expressed the author's surprise and gratitude that De Jong had paid him personal attention during the seminar. De Jong paid mudansha and yudansha (black belt holder) the same amount of respect and attention.

De Jong had a way with people, but not in a manipulative or self-serving way. There wasn't a person on a grading day, the student or the guests they invited, that didn't feel special and appreciated. De Jong paid as much attention, if not more, to the guests the student had invited. The comments directed toward the student at the end of the grading were often for the benefit of the student's invited guests.
Other possible applications of jujutsu techniques fascinate him, as does any phenomena or new technique he feels may be added to jujutsu to make it stronger (he describes himself as a postage stamp collector, collecting new techniques).
De Jong's reference to himself as a 'postage stamp collector collecting new technique' can, I believe, be found in his grading system, if not the grading system itself, as I've argued in previous blogs.

Armstrong wrote of my role as uke (receiver) to De Jong's tori (taker):
His explanation of the concept is enforced by demonstrations on his (apparently) hapless instructor John Coles. Fortunately, John is aware of the techniques and seemed to know what to expect (a rather painful demonstration of a wrist-lock had earlier given me a decent appreciation for his methods and I was happy for him to demonstrate on John and not me).
Recall Armstrong's reference to 'iron firm hand-shake'. A student of De Jong's in Holland during WWII, Kees van Deijk, also remembered De Jong's grip when he wrote to me in 2004: 'I knew Jan during the years 1944-1947. The first thing that struck me was that he was rather thin, but it appears that he was a strong person, in particular his hands/fingers.'

I recall the 'hapless instructor John Coles' tapping-off before De Jong could apply the joint-locking technique he was proposing to demonstrate for the participants of his European seminar one year. De Jong was a little annoyed and asked me not to tap-off before he had applied the lock. I informed him I was tapping-off because his grip was crushing my hand. For the record, he didn't ease up on either his grip nor his expectation that I wouldn't tap-off before he'd applied the lock.

I will always remember the last time I saw De Jong. I visited him at home about three weeks before he passed away on 5 April 2003. I was shocked to see the ravages that cancer had exacted upon this once vital man. He was skin and bone. We chatted, as we often did, and the conversation turned to jujutsu, as it often did. As soon as the conversation turned to jujutsu, he propped himself up into a sitting position on the couch he had been lying on. He thrust his emaciated arm in direction and instructed me to grab it. Feeling more than a little self conscious, I grasped his forearm. No sooner had I done so than he had adroitly disengaged my grip and applied a lock. I wasn’t surprised at the skill, that was a given, even under these circumstances. What I was astonished at was the strength of the grip of this man who was quite obviously being ravaged by this horrible disease. This was still the grip that could force me to tap-off from the pain of the grip alone. This was still the grip that Armstrong referred to as, and found it sufficiently memorable to remark upon, an 'iron firm hand-shake'. This was the same grip that Van Deijk remembered from more than 50 years previous, being applied by a 'rather thin [person], but it appeared that he was a strong person, in particular his hands/fingers.' His grip, for me, has come to represent his life force. Forever strong, and unreliant upon the physical limitations of the human body.

The last thing De Jong gave me was a series of photocopied images he'd pasted together to form a series of moves. He wanted me to study and demonstrate them at the pencak silat instructor's class. The last thing he asked me to do was to bring him what I'd written on my then proposed how-to book on his jujutsu because he wanted to contribute to it. His mind was still active, and he was still working on his martial arts right up until his death. His body may not have been up to the task, but that didn't stop him.

Through writing these blogs I've had the opportunity of studying the 'school of Jan de Jong'. This study has been revealing, and it has led me to a greater appreciation of De Jong's legacy. It provided the wonderful opportunity of making contact with students from De Jong's past, like Van Deijk and Harry Hartman. This led to their generous donation of their photographs taken during those times (including De Jong as a boy scout in pre-WWII Indonesia).

Writing these blogs provided me with the opportunity of discovering a copy of the Jan de Jong: the man, his school, and his ju jitsu system booklet that I wrote for De Jong, in which he wrote: 'Thanks for all your help! Jan de Jong OAM, 9th dan'. This booklet was a self-published affair and was sold by the De Jong organisation throughout Australia and Northern Europe. The content forms the base for much of the content on the Jan de Jong Martial Arts Fitness website, albeit unattributed.

I think I'll leave the story here. However, the story will be updated from time to time I'm sure. I'll sign off the Jan de Jong story with Van Deijk's words:
Now that I'm writing (typing) I see Jan before me (often with his smile), who gave me jujutsu lessons, which formed a part of my character in my life. I will never forget him!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 19 - What Does a Black Belt Mean?

The photograph to the right was taken in the mid-1990s of Maggie de Jong demonstrating a hojo jutsu (rope tying art) technique on me at a seminar given by Jan de Jong in Sweden. Firstly, it was the 1990s, so both Maggie and myself have aged somewhat. Secondly, the very blond hair of mine is explained by my desire to assimilate with my very dear Swedish friends, or, maybe I was bored one day in Helsingborg and was talked into a 'dye-job' by Maggie and a very cute blonde female Swedish hair stylist. As a footnote to this story, De Jong was not happy with my new look.

What does a black belt mean? The above photograph suggests it might be useful for tying someone up. Mr Miyagi, from the classic Karate Kid (and don't dismiss that movie) explains to Daniel that, 'In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.' All very practical observations, but belts are also symbolic in the martial arts. Symbolic of status, proficiency, knowledge, ... mastery?

Recall from previous blogs that Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo, was the initiator of the black belt to signify ... something. When I was researching the development of the coloured belt system for the kyu grades, I came across these comments regarding the black belt from the International Judo Federation(IJF):
The ranking system in judo includes two types of ranks -kyu and dan grades. The dan grades are the more senior grades of judo, and are signified by the wearing of the black belt. High dan holders from 6th to 8th dan have the option of wearing a checkered red-and-white belt instead of their black belt; 9th and 10th dan holders have the option of wearing a red belt.

The kyu grades are signified by non-black belt colors. The original system of judo developed in Japan included 6 kyu ranks. In current-day judo around the world, however, each country is recognized to have its own ranking system, and its own promotion policies and criteria. ... The only common denominator across countries and organizations is that all beginners begin at white belt, and all dan holders wear a black belt. ...

While each country and organization has its own criteria and policies for the conferral of rank, there is a general consensus that the change from kyu to dan, that is, from 1st kyu to 1st dan, represents a qualitative development in the student. The student awarded the black belt has developed some degree of proficiency in the various techniques of judo. In particular, he or she will have developed one or several tokui waza [favourite technique], and will have demonstrated its effectiveness in competition against same rank opponents. More importantly, this student will have shown enough maturity, commitment, and fortitude to be a serious student of judo, having internalized some of the values and ethics of the educational system of judo. While the general public often believes that wearing a black belt means that one is an expert, in reality the awarding of the 1st degree black belt in judo signifies instead that the student is now truly ready to begin learning judo.
The acclaimed Neil Ohlenkamp expresses similar sentiments:
Professor Kano was an educator and used a hierarchy in setting learning objectives for Judo students, just as students typically pass from one grade to another in the public school system. The Judo rank system represents a progression of learning with a syllabus and a corresponding grade indicating an individual's level of proficiency. Earning a black belt is like graduating from high school or college. It indicates you have achieved a basic level of proficiency, learned the fundamental skills and can perform them in a functional manner, and you are now ready to pursue Judo on a more serious and advanced level as a professional or a person seeking an advanced degree would.
OK. According to the IJF, a student who attains a black belt is ready to begin learning judo. And according to Ohlenkamp, it indicates a basic level of proficiency and that the fundamental skills have been learnt and can be employed in a functional manner, and now the student is ready to pursue the study of judo. Does this describe the qualities of an expert that the IJF suggest the general public ascribes to the holder of a black belt?

What does a black belt mean? Is it the equivalent of a high school diploma as Ohlenkamp suggests, or is it the equivalent of an undergraduate degree? Should we be replacing the word is with should be? This also raises the question of what do higher black belts mean? Are they suppose to be the equivalent of post graduate degrees?

What does a black belt mean? Recall from previous blogs on the Jan de Jong jujutsu grading system that shodan includes practical, revision, theory, teaching, first aid, and more gradings. Is this a belt/qualification that signifies a student is ready to begin learning, or, is this a grading that is designed to produce a teacher, or an expert.

In the latter part of his life, De Jong expressed the concerned that the quality of his instructors/black belts may not be appreciated because of the different perceptions of a black belt in the world. He was toying with the idea of including the grading requirements on the black belt certificates to advertise the extensive requirements to obtain a black belt under his grading system. Unfortunately I had to rain on his parade and, while I acknowledged the merit of what he was trying to do, I had to suggest that nobody actually looks at most martial arts grading certificates.

Is this just a theoretical discussion? Absolutely not! Those who have continued teaching after De Jong's demise have assumed a responsibility for what they teach, and their grading system. THEY have to answer the question, what does a black belt mean in their grading system. Most adopt what was handed down to them from De Jong (although I suspect it was also developed by De Jong). But some, or only one that I know of, Peter Clarke of his Tsutsumi Jugo Ryu, is looking critically at the grading system he inherited. Clarke is like an ice berg. He is a powerful force of nature, but dear God in heaven he moves slowly. Not physically, because I vividly remember seeing him move so fast with a particular technique in our instructor's class that it is embedded in my memory as a slow motion, flicker frame movement. Clarke is a lawyer by profession, so everything he does is considered, but then everything he does is considered. We've discussed the disproportionate length of time it takes to get a black belt in Jan de Jong jujutsu compared to most other martial arts. At the heart of the discussion, at the heart of the solution, is, what does a black belt mean.

A logical extension of this argument which is suggested above is, what do the gradings past shodan actually mean. If, as the IJF and Ohlenkamp suggest, shodan is the beginning of one's learning experience, then it's obvious ... sort of. You should question, what is each and every grading contributing to my knowledge base or proficiency. And I don't exempt De Jong, or his instructors that have followed on to head their own schools. What does each and every grade from shodan onwards contribute to the knowledge base or proficiency of the student? I have to confront this question as I am in the position of grading the prospective sixth person to complete the Jan de Jong jujutsu grading system - Jamie Francis. We both, initially, wanted him to go through all of the gradings that I and the other four sandans went through. However, as I critically examine these gradings, I ask myself, and wonder, what is this grading adding to his knowledge base or proficiency. In turn, this causes me to reflect on the entire grading system.

This blog is intended to encourage the reader to reflect on what a black belt means to them. It's not meant to take anything away from the endeavours or achievements of those aspiring and tirelessly training towards their black belt. It's simply meant to encourage the reader to critically evaluate what their black belt means, and what other people's black belts mean, and to not ascribe any preconceived notions to those who are wearing black belts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jan de Jong Pt 18 - Logo

A big part of the Jan de Jong story is his logo. His logo was based on an ex libris he commissioned during WWII. An Ex libris, or bookplate, is a small graphic label or print that is glued to the inside cover of a book with the purpose of identifying its owner. The Latin phrase 'Ex libris ...', means 'the books of...', and is usually followed by the name of the owner of the book. The designer De Jong commissioned to design his ex libris was Wim Zwiers. In researching this blog, and yes, I do research these blogs, I came across this explanation of why an ex libris is made:
Ex-libris have been a constant tradition for over five hundred years. They are a challenge to an artist to produce a small graphic art work for a friend, for a customer or for himself with a special purpose: identifying the owner of a book. Pasting a beautiful ex-libris in one's books not only discourages theft and reminds borrowers that a book must be returned, but is also a way of paying tribute to the book, which despite modern communication technology remains a primary vehicle for the transmission of knowledge and a constant source of pleasure and interest. As an object of collection, ex-libris are a wonderful way of acquiring, with time and patience and without being a millionaire, a small-format art museum which reflect the artist's skills and the collector's taste.
The theme or image of De Jong's ex libris speaks volumes. It is a graphic representation of his original jujutsu instructors, and reflects his love of, and identification with, the art of jujutsu. The image is based on a photo taken of his original instructors, the Saito brothers.

Zwiers was born in 1922, and would have been in his late teens when De Jong commissioned his ex libris. He went on to become a teacher of fine arts after WWII and is a respected artist utilising many mediums. There are so many stories like this associated with De Jong. Zwiers reconnected with De Jong through an amazing coincidence. They had not had any contact with each other since WWII, but, for whatever reason, in the mid 1990s, Zwiers was visiting Perth, 'the most isolated capital in the world'. He was on a train and saw a van through the window. The van had the ex libris image he'd designed 50 years ago on it, along with a phone number. He phoned the number, and, he and De Jong were reconnected nearly 50 years after their initial meeting, and half a world apart. De Jong would always try and visit Zwiers each year he visited Europe to conduct his seminars. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Zwiers. He showed me how he created his copper engraved ex libris. He engraves them into a copper plate, backwards, and uses a hand cranked press to print off a limited edition.

The image above of De Jong's ex libris was taken from the ex libris Harry Hartman generously sent me. The fact that the ex libris are printed in a limited edition, by necessity, tells me the esteem with which De Jong held Hartman.

Zwiers is an amazing character. He looks like your traditional grandfather, albeit your traditional Dutch grandfather. But five minutes with him will tell you he is different. He is a true artist in that he has a different view of the world, but, he doesn't have to dress or act different to advertise his different perspective. He lives in this great old house, with a basement that is built into a dyke. The art on the wall of his main living room, a two story affair without the second story, was split 50:50 between his art and those that had been gifted to him by fellow artists when his wife passed away. Those artists had drawn, painted, etc their expressions of grief for a fellow artist. Amazing! And his art ... he told me the story behind many of the pieces he'd chosen to hang on his wall, the art was incredible, but the stories even more so. Obviously, I am a fan ... and I'm proud to say that I have a piece of his work taking pride of place in my home.

De Jong used his ex libris-based logo for his school from when he first started teaching in the early 1940s until 2002. He used it on his badges, as the badge that Hartman sent me shows.

He used it on the membership cards as Hartman's membership card shows from the 1950s when De Jong first started teaching in Australia.

He used it on his badges which signified his gradings rather than belts (see previous blog).

Hartmen sent me a photo where I think that De Jong is attempting to replicate the original Saito photograph.

Given I'm a business/strategy professional, I find it interesting that the new management of the Jan de Jong Self Defence School rebranded the school with a new name and identifying logo. It is now called Jan de Jong Martial Arts Fitness and thier website explains that this change was introduced in 2002 to reflect a new direction. The new direction is not expanded upon. Possibly, the new direction is reflected in the new name, Martial Arts Fitness. De Jong was only ever interested in the practicality of what he taught; fitness only facilitated the practical. I recall De Jong questioning the idea of going to the gym to become better at what you were doing. His opinion was, do what you do, and you'll become fit doing what you do by doing what you do.

It is most definitely a coincidence that the new logo is very similar to the woolblend logo; which symbolises a blend between 50% wool and synthetics. Having said that, is this an unintentional symbol of the new direction that the new management of De Jong school has taken? A blend between self defence and fitness.

Why would you change your logo when your logo has equity? Would you consider changing the Coca Cola logo? You would, if you were persuing a new direction. Putting some distance between yourself and your origins. While De Jong was present at the 2002 meeting, I would suggest that he supported rather than initiated the new direction and the symbols thereof. I recall the many discussions I had with him concerning succession planing. I'm a business/strategy professional, so of course I talked to him about succession planning. He wasn't interested. The way he saw it, what happened after he passed, happened. He lived for the moment. As I've discussed with Hartman, that's not a perspective that is uncommon for those who have experienced war.

'Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.' That to me was De Jong, and it reflects his perspective on succession planning. He wasn't in the game to be followed; to inflate his ego. If you ever had the privilege of talking to De Jong or his former students/instructors, you'll find friendship is the concept that most often comes up. All of the old guys I've had the privilege of speaking to, focus on the relationships, the experiences, and not the quality of the instruction. This reinforces my argument that culture is the key to a successful martial arts school.

It seems appropriate that when De Jong died, the 996 Hay Street dojo was demolished. The name of his school, and his logo/symbol, his ex libris Saito brothers logo/symbol, was replaced. He wanted those who came after him, did so uniquely. He was not in the business of creating clones or librarians; he was in the business of creating teachers of a unique school of thought. But it also seems appropriate that his son, Hans de Jong, went on to use a very similar name and the symbol/logo of his father's school. After all, Hans is probably the longest serving student of his father having commenced training with him in 1955.

Jan de Jong Pt 17 - Kyu Grades & Coloured Belts

Harry Hartman's photographs and other memorabilia arrived. It is an amazing contribution to the Jan de Jong history and the history of his school of thought. I asked Harry to review my blog with the view to confirming I'd not gotten anything wrong, and, that it didn't contain anything he was uncomfortable with. Harry emailed me and, very satisfyingly, told me he was very happy with the blog and was going to refer his family to it. Thank you Harry, and, the photographs suggest you were a very capable and enthusiastic practitioner of the art. The photograph to the right is a wonderful photo of training at Edgehill Street, Scarborough. Harry is the person at the front applying the technique to the opponent on the ground. It is interesting that the technique being applied in the standing couple to the right was very much later included in the third dan practical grading.

As I'm finding, the school of Jan de Jong is becoming a classic case study for the evolution of the Japanese martial arts in the 20th century.

The previous blog included an image of Harry's 1954-55 membership card that refers to only four gradings - red, yellow, white, and green; in that order (see right).

His 1958 membership card increased the number of gradings to red, yellow, white, green, and, orange, purple, and black and white (see right). Were these new gradings De Jong developed? Or is this an administrative thing where the additional gradings existed but were not included on the 1954 membership card?

Where this discussion becomes interesting is when the history of the coloured kyu belts is included in the analysis. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, is often attributed with the introduction of coloured belts to judo, and thereafter the rest of the martial arts world. Incorrect. Kano introduced the kyu/dan system in the 1880s, and he introduced the black belt for the dan grades. The white belt was used for all the kyu grades. From Neil Ohlenkamp (
Mikonosuke Kawaishi is generally regarded as the first to introduce various colored belts in Europe in 1935 when he started to teach Judo in Paris. He felt that western students would show greater progress if they had a visible system of many colored belts recognizing achievement and providing regular incentives. This system included white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple belts before the traditional brown and black belts.
1935! De Jong is still training with the Saito brothers in Semarang, Indonesia. He commenced training with the Saito's in 1928, so, the Saito's have been in Indonesia for a number of years prior to 1928. The Saito's and De Jong would, in all likelihood, never have been exposed to the coloured belt system ... until De Jong does a little training in Holland during the WWII years. He then becomes relatively isolated when he returns to Indonesia before he emigrates to the 'most isolated capital in the world', Perth, Western Australia in 1952. Then within a year a coloured belt kyu grading system appears.

De Jong was a voracious collector of martial arts books. He would tell the story that in the air raids on Rotterdam, Holland, during WWII, he would be considered mad because the only possessions he'd take into the air raid shelter was his suit case of martial arts books. Having said that, these books would have been very few and very limited.

This is pure conjecture, albeit based on logic and reason. De Jong may have been exposed to the kyu coloured belt system, but only superficially. He develops his own kyu coloured belt system in Australia in 1952 without a full understanding of the coloured belt system. Hence, the inclusion of the white belt mid-way through his grading system. When I say belt, I mean symbol as they didn't use belts in the 1950s. They used badges. The image to the right is of Harry's red and yellow badges. I'm not sure how white embroidery on a white badge affixed to a white uniform would have worked. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who graded white belt/badge and received a white badge just to see how it worked. Seems a little inconsidered from a purely practical point of view.

Most use white belt for the complete novice. After a bit of research, I found some actually use it for the sixth kyu belt. If so, what does one wear when starting out and before the first grading? Kawaishi's purple belt seems to be the least adopted colour. The six kyus come from Kano, and De Jong followed suit. If you adopt Kawaishi's coloured system and take out purple, you're left with white which then becomes an actual grade.

De Jong later changed his kyu grade colours to yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, and black and white. It has been suggested that Kawaishi's system went from light to dark symbolising a progression from novice to experienced. De Jong, like many others, do not appear to adopt the same progression to the same degree. I am so intrigued as to the motive behind De Jong's choice of colours. You hear so much nonsence associated with the colours of the belts these days. Much of it is 'shoe-horning'; making something fit.

Why does De Jong's jujustu system have a black and white belt? It is a black belt with a white stripe running the length of the belt. Judo used this belt for women yudansha (black belts). Is the inclusion of this belt because De Jong did not know it was used by the Kodokan only for women? A senior instructor in my time would explain that black and white signified black but without becoming an instructor. The black grades included instructor type of grades (theory grades) which turned the fighter into an instructor. Maybe it is a considered decision by De Jong, or maybe it is an example of shoe-horning by the senior instructor.

I asked Harry about the gradings he did. He provided the following response: 'At the exams the students got on the mat and did not know what attack was coming. Sometimes it was surprising and we had lots of laughs.' I haven't pressed him todate to explain further. What I'm hearing though is (a) the shinken shobu no kata (see previous blogs) method is being employed, and (b) there are no specific techniques included in these early gradings. This then starts to lend weight to the suggestion that De Jong developed the entire grading system.

When I referred to this as being a case study; there are those that need what they are teaching to be a direct transmission from the warriors of the past. They were warriors. They were not necessarily teachers. And they didn't have the benefit of modern teaching methods. Instead of suggesting otherwise, as possibly De Jong did himself at times, I think his prestige is enhanced immeasurably if the entire grading system is a product of his own design.

This is a moving feast. I'm to have dinner with an instructor who was my instructors' instructor. He's going to give me a complete set of the grading sheets that existed before my grading sheets. I'm also going to be discussing these issues with Hans de Jong as he commenced training in 1955 and would be a living history resource, albeit untapped.

Do you have a detailed history of your school or style? Has anyone actually studied your school or style, or are 'stories' passed down from generation to generation with no real study of the subject matter? I appear to be the first to do so with respect to the school of Jan de Jong.