Even if these two founding principles weren’t officially enacted until 1922 when the Kodokan Cultural Society was founded (source: Judo for the World, IJF, July 2015), they were, from the invention of judo, at the very heart of Kano Jigoro Shihan's reflection. We will now take a special interest in Jita Kyoei. What is behind these two deeply felt words? What do they imply for all judokas?
Kano Jigoro Shihan said, “As long as we coexist, each member of society and the groups organised within must function in harmony and cooperation with the others. Nothing is more important than living prosperously together. If everyone acts with the spirit of mutual cooperation, each person's work benefits not only himself, but also others and attaining this together will bring mutual happiness. Activities should not be engaged in simply for self-interest.” (Source: Kodokan Institute)
This already says a lot and it lifts the veil a little on this mysterious Jita Kyoei. Kano added, “Once started, it is only a matter of course that a person will find goodness in harmony and cooperation upon realising that his efforts will increase the prosperity of all. This great principle of harmony and cooperation is, in other words, the concept of Jita-Kyoei, or mutual prosperity for self and others.”
So here we are. Judo may be an opposition sport, considered as an individual activity, where peaceful confrontation, particularly in competition, results in the designation of a winner. It is nonetheless an activity that cannot be practised alone and even less without worrying about the well-being of your opponent/partner.
Let's go back to what Kano Jigoro Shihan explained, “If one acts out of concern for his own wellbeing, there will inevitably be a collision of interests with others. Acts for the sake of self-interest will ultimately become a great inconvenience. In this way, sacrificing oneself without any purpose or reasoning runs counter to the greater good of humanity. If one merely enforces his own selfish claims, not only will he become hindered by opposition from others, but such selfishness will lead to self-destruction. When considered in this light, there is no other way forward but Jita-Kyoei in which all people play their part in society to prosper mutually." (Source Kodokan Institute)
It seems obvious that the founder of judo was thinking of judo when he wrote these words, but he also had a broader vision of the impact that the values of our sport should have on the whole society.
On the tatami, applying the Jita Kyoei principle involves judoka helping their training partners. For this, they must share there ideas and remarks, in a constructive approach, spoken with tact, so as not to offend the self-esteem of others, which would lead to discouragement and a reaction of self-preservation. Consequently, a judoka who refuses to help others cannot be worthy of the practice of judo.
Applying the principle of Jita Kyoei can therefore seem simple, in theory, but in theory only, because you have to be careful not to fall into the excesses of ‘I help you and you prosper’ or ‘you help me and I prosper.’ The notion of mutuality is essential and must be the object of all the attentions. This group work must be carried out in a climate of friendship and solidarity.
To illustrate this principle concretely, imagine two judoka practising their favourite sport. Tori (the one attacking) does so without really paying attention to uke (the one being attacked). He thinks only of himself and his technique. Uke, less experienced, falls and hurts himself. The most obvious consequence is that tori quickly won't find anyone to work with him, as he will have a bad reputation. He will not be able to progress any further, when, while working with a less experienced partner, tori could have given advice and could himself have learned from his partner.
The principle of mutual aid and mutual prosperity goes even further, since in judo the equipment we have, the judogi, is not made for the wearer, but for the partner, because it is the partner who grasps the fabric to perform the techniques and vice versa. Symbolically, we therefore offer our partner the means to throw us, while they do the same. The only difference will be marked by the knowledge we have, respectively, of the discipline.
Finally, it is not impossible that a weaker uke on the tatami will be more competent than us outside and that we will one day need them, hence the importance of respecting Jita Kyoei's principle in expanding beyond the tatami and the dojo.
It is on this basis that judo has become, over the years, one of the disciplines that is most involved in helping and supporting others. This is reflected at the international level by the establishment of large-scale programmes such as Judo for Peace, Judo for Refugees or Judo for All, while at all levels of practice, solidarity initiatives are initiated by the judo family members.
Jita Kyoei is therefore not just a simple slogan that we brandish without really thinking about it. It is a philosophy closely linked to the practice of judo, which is inscribed in the DNA of our sport. Explaining it is not always easy, because helping and being helped go without saying. As a judoka, we simply apply the principle. We learn this by doing and by experiencing from an early age. Thus, wellbeing is not only found in personal development but also in the search for harmony in life in society.
Let us leave the conclusion to Kano Jigoro Shihan, “Looking at the ways of the world, we find that all things great and small interrelate in this manner. If one acts in accordance with his own interests while refusing to recognise the needs of others, this will lead to mutual destruction and nothing is more disadvantageous or calamitous to society than this.
We should cease meaningless conflict and instead abide by the principle of Jita-Kyoei. I believe that if we follow the ideal of Jita-Kyoei, international relations will become more amicable and it will promote wellbeing for the entire human race. For this reason, I beseech you all to integrate and embrace all these teachings and proclamations, raise the flag of Seiryoku-Zenyo and Jita-Kyoei, notions that are based on the immovable principles of truth and move forward together with all the people of the world."
(Source: Kodokan Institute - ‘Why it is Necessary to Uphold the Principles of Seiryoku-Zenyo and Jita-Kyoei’ - Sakko Vol. 4, No. 12, 1925)