Tomita Tsunejirō

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Tomita Tsunejirō
Tomita Tsunejirō, the Guardian of the Kōdōkan.
BornYamada Tsunejirō
February 28, 1865
Numazu, Shizuoka, Japan
DiedJanuary 13, 1937(1937-01-13) (aged 71)
Native name富田 常次郎
NationalityFlag of Japan.svg  Japan
Style Judo, Jujutsu
Teacher(s) Kanō Jigorō
RankJudo: 7th Dan
Notable students Mitsuyo Maeda

Tomita Tsunejirō (富田 常次郎, February 28, 1865 January 13, 1937), born Yamada Tsunejirō ( 山田 常次郎), was the earliest disciple of judo. His name appears in the first line of the enrollment book of the Kōdōkan. [1] Tomita, together with Saigō Shirō, became the first in the history of judo to be awarded the rank of Shodan by the founder of judo, Kanō Jigorō, who established the ranking system that is now commonly used in various martial arts around the world. [2] Tomita was known as one of the "Four Kings" of Kōdōkan judo for his victorious efforts in competing against jujitsu schools. [3] He was awarded 7th dan upon his death on January 13, 1937. [4]


Early life

As the earliest student at the Kodokan, Tomita was known as Tsunejiro Yamada. He was adopted by a family named Tomita and his name was therefore changed. [5] He entered the Kodokan in June 1882 as an uchi deshi or live-in student at the recommendation of Jigoro Kano's father. He became Kano's usual training partner. Although he was the least physically gifted of Kano's earlier students, he was dedicated and strong-willed. [6]

Tomita had his first match on behalf of Kodokan in 1884, when Tomita was challenged by Hansuke Nakamura of Ryoi Shinto-ryu during a Tenjin Shinyo-ryu dojo opening in which they were both guests. A police instructor and a man of large size, Nakamura was nicknamed the "Demon Slayer" and considered the toughest man in Japan. [6] As he was much heavier and more experimented than Tomita, Nakamura dared him to fight, believing himself to be superior. [6] However, as soon as the match started, Tomita immediately scored a tomoe nage, and he repeated the technique two more times before his still shocked opponent managed to block it. [4] Nakamura further blocked an ouchi gari and attempted to counterattack, but then Tomita performed a hiza guruma and locked a juji-jime on the ground, making Nakamura pass out. Tomita was hailed by the spectators and heralded as a hero due to his victory. [4]

Four Guardians of the Kōdōkan

When Kanō Jigorō began to develop judo from jujutsu, his efforts met with opposition from jujutsu practitioners. However, Kano drew a loyal following that included exceptional fighters. Hence the term "Four Guardians of the Kōdōkan" came into existence referring to Tsunejiro Tomita along with Yamashita Yoshitsugu, Yokoyama Sakujiro, and Saigō Shirō. [7]

Introducing judo to the West

Arrival to the United States

Inspired by Yamashita Yoshitsugu's success in the United States (Yamashita taught judo to President Theodore Roosevelt, among others), the 39-year-old Tomita decided to move to New York City. [8] Like Yamashita, Tomita brought a young assistant with him as an exhibition partner. The young man was Maeda Mitsuyo, 26-year-old judoka who later became fundamental to the development of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Tomita, Maeda, and Soshihiro Satake arrived in New York City on December 8, 1904, just one year after Yamashita came to the States. [8]

Chronology of exhibitions

Jiu-jitsu is an almost extinct art, and a savage one that were better extinct. The real art of self-defense is ju-do. Jiu-jitsu was developed 350 years ago, at a time when there was tribal warfare in Japan. Then a man with a long sword and a man with no sword would meet in the streets. And out of their undying hatred for one another, tribally speaking, it became necessary for the man with no sword to learn a few tricks for dislocating the joints of his enemy, choking him, and rendering him unconscious, etcetera.

Other notable events

In April 1905, Tomita and Maeda started a judo club in a commercial space at 1947 Broadway in New York. Members of this club included Japanese expatriates, [20] plus a European American woman named Wilma Berger. [21]

During his return to Japan in 1910, Tomita visited Seattle. To celebrate his visit, the local judo club known as Seattle Dojo held a judo tournament on October 27, 1910, that was attended by local reporters. [22]


Tomita's son, Tomita Tsuneo (富田常雄), was a novelist, best known for his judo novels Sanshiro Sugata (1942) and Yawara (1964–65).

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