Shiro Saigo

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In this Japanese name, the family name is Saigō.
Saigō Shirō
Born February 4, 1866
Aizu Wakamatsu, Japan
Died December 22, 1922(1922-12-22) (aged 56)
Native name 西郷四郎
Nationality  Japan
Style Judo, Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu
Teacher(s) Saigō Tanomo Kanō Jigorō
Rank Judo: 6th Dan

Shiro Saigo (西郷四郎 Saigō Shirō?, February 4, 1866 – December, 1922) was one of the earliest disciples of Judo. Saigo, together with Tsunejiro Tomita, became first in history of judo to be awarded Shodan by the founder of judo Jigoro Kano, who established the kyu-dan ranking system.[1]


Shiro Saigo was born in Feb 4, 1866 in Aizuwakamatsu, in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, the third son of a samurai, Shida Sadajiro. In 1882, Saigo moved to Tokyo and in August of that year, he enrolled at the Kōdōkan, becoming Jigoro Kano's second student.[2] In 1883, along with Tsunejiro Tomita, he became one of the first two to be awarded yudansha rank in any martial art. The very day of their graduation, he would take up the challenge of Sakujiro Yokoyama, a much heavier jujutsuka, and defeated him.[3] Yokoyama joined Kodokan as well.

Saigo was responsible for an early surge of popularity for Kodokan Judo, when he demonstrated its superiority by easily defeating a much larger opponent:

Saigō also took part in the 1886 Tokyo Police tournament in which students of Kano demonstrated their superiority over the Yōshin-ryū jūjutsu.[5] He had a famous match with the jujutsuka Terushima Taro, an opponent with a weight advantage of 25kg and a lot more of experience. The fight was even, but after 15 minutes Taro left himself open, and Saigo capitalized on with his personal technique "yama-arashi" (not to be confused with the modern judo technique of the same name). Taro was thrown down with such a force that he suffered a concussion and had to give up the match.[3] Saigo also defeated Kotari Enchi in another police tournament.[3]

In 1890, Saigo was forced to leave the Kōdōkan due to his involvement in a street brawl. According to sources, a drunken Shiro challenged a sumotori named Araumi, throwing him down and knocking him out, which caused a brawl between Shiro's entourage of judoka and Araumi's sumo stable.[6] According to one version, he would have actually killed the sumo by striking him with an atemi blow in the chest.[3] In any way, Saigo continued with the brawl and attacked many policemen who attempted to break up the brawl, injurying them and even throwing some of them into to a river, which got him in jail until Kano could get him out.[3] He retired to Nagasaki, devoting the rest of his life to kyūdō.[7] As a sign of pardon, however, Kano conceded him the 6th dan after his death.

The main character in Akira Kurosawa's 1943 directorial debut, Sugata Sanshirō, was based on Shiro Saigo, the film being based on the novel of the same name written by Tsunejiro Tomita's son, Tsuneo.

Four Guardians of the Kōdōkan[edit]

For more details on Four Guardians of the Kōdōkan, see Kōdōkan Shitennō.

When Jigoro Kano 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 Shiro Saigo along with Yamashita Yoshiaki, Yokoyama Sakujiro, and Tsunejiro Tomita.[8]


  1. ^ Linhart and Fruhstuck (1998) p85
  2. ^ Kano (2008) p20
  3. ^ a b c d e John S. Nash (2012-12-08). "The Forgotten Golden Age of MMA – Part II: The Rise of Judo & the Dawn of a New Age". Cage Side Seats. Retrieved 2016-04-28. 
  4. ^ Kano (2008) p42
  5. ^ Takahashi (2005) p ix
  6. ^ John Stevens, The Way of Judo: A Portrait of Jigoro Kano and his Students, Shambala, 2013
  7. ^ Stevens and Shirata (1983) p5; Ohlenkamp, Neil, "The story of Shiro Saigo", Judoinfo, retrieved March 15, 2010 
  8. ^ Takahashi (2005) p ix


  • Kano, Jigoro (2008), Watson, Brian N., ed., Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano, Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing 
  • Linhart, Sepp; Fruhstuck, Sabine (June 1998). The Culture of Japan As Seen Through Its Leisure. State University of New York Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-7914-3791-4. 
  • Stevens, John; Shirata, Rinjiro (1983), Aikido, the way of harmony, Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications, Inc. 
  • Takahashi, Masao (2005), Mastering Judo, Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics 

External links[edit]