Shiro Saigo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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. During his childhood, he trained in the fighting style of the Aizu clan, called oshikiuchi.[2] In 1882, Saigo moved to Tokyo and in August of that year, he enrolled at the Kōdōkan, becoming Jigoro Kano's second student.[3] 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, which moved Yokoyama to join the school as well.[2] Takisaburo Tobari is also believed to have been defeated by Saigō before he joined Kōdōkan.

A man of extreme agility, Shiro was known for the nickname of "Cat" due to his skill to land on his feet when thrown, a skill he had observed in actual cats and that he trained by jumping off the second floor of a building.[4] He was also known as "Octopus Feet" for his ability to avoid losing his footing.[4] He developed a personal technique called "yama arashi", possibly related to the modern judo technique of the same name, though according to Tsunejiro Tomita it was lost after his death.[4]

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

Similarly, Saigō fought on behalf of Kodokan in 1884, when three fighters of the Yōshin-ryū jūjutsu school named Matsugoro Okuda, Daihachi Ichikawa and Morikichi Otake came to challenge their members. As Kano was out at the moment, they only found Shiro and his colleagues Yokoyama and Tsunejiro Tomita, but those decided to answer the challenge by themselves. The three Kodokan members defeated their opponents in respective matches, with Shiro throwing down Okuda thrice before finishing him out with his yama arashi. Okuda suffered a concussion and had to be stretchered out.[6] Kano was not pleased with their behavior when he found out, thinking they had shown themselves too eager to fight, but anyway their victories helped to increase Kodokan's renown in Japan.[6]

Saigō also took part in the 1886 Tokyo Police tournament between Kōdōkan and the Totsuka branch of Yōshin-ryū hosted by chief inspector Michitsune Mishima.[7] This was the second time the two schools clashed, counting another police tournament hosted by Sadakiyo Osheko in 1884 in which Yōshin-ryū had been victorious.[2] Shiro was sorted to fight Taro Terushima, a jujutsuka with a weight advantage of 25kg and a lot more of experience. Controlling the match, Terusima tried to throw him with harai goshi and uchi mata, but Saigō slipped out and landed on his feet every time, making Taro increasingly tired.[4] Saigō then tried to capitalize on with ouchi gari, which Terujima blocked and tried to come back with a osoto gari with no success.[8] Finally, at around 15 minutes an exhausted Taro left himself open, and the judoka managed to execute his yama arashi. Taro was thrown down with such a force that he suffered a concussion and had to give up the match.[2] The Kōdōkan won 9 of 10 matches that day, and the rival school's master Hidemi Totsuka was forced to praise Saigō, saying to Kano "you really have a wonderful student."[8]

Shiro also defeated Kotaro Enchi (identified as Entaro Kochi in other sources) in a third and last police tournament against Yōshin-ryū in 1888, making it one of Kōdōkan's 13 wins and two draws out of 15 matches.[4][2] Following this victory, the Governor of Chiba Prefecture Mamoru Funakoshi personally travelled to the Kōdōkan dojo to attend a lecture in judo methods accompanied by the leading men of the Totsuka Yōshin-ryū, among them Hidemi Totsuka and Teisuke Nishimura.[9] After seeing Saigō perform a demonstration of randori, Totsuka increased his praises, stating "the 'genius' word might have been created for someone like Shiro Saigō."[10]

Saigō also fought against Shusaburo Sano, a Totsuka jujutsuka who was supposedly strong enough to bend iron rods with his arms and shatter thick boards with his fists.[4] Sano outweighed Shiro by 30kg and had trained specifically to counter his yama arashi technique. Indeed, he countered it, throwing Saigō down and pinning him with his weigh, but the judoka escaped and applied an armlock, making the jujutsuka surrender.[4]

In 1890, Saigō 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, knocking him out with a throw, which caused a brawl between Shiro's entourage of judoka and Araumi's sumo stable.[4] According to one version, he would have actually killed the sumo by striking him with an atemi blow in the chest.[2] In any way, Saigo continued with the brawl and attacked many policemen who attempted to break it up, injurying them and even throwing some of them into a nearby river, which got him in jail until Kano could get him out.[2] He retired to Nagasaki, devoting the rest of his life to kyūdō.[11] 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]

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.[12]


  1. ^ Linhart and Fruhstuck (1998) p85
  2. ^ a b c d e f g 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. 
  3. ^ Kano (2008) p20
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h John Stevens, The Way of Judo: A Portrait of Jigoro Kano and his Students, Shambala, 2013
  5. ^ Kano (2008) p42
  6. ^ a b Georges Charles, Dojo Yaburi : les Casseurs de Dojo
  7. ^ Takahashi (2005) p ix
  8. ^ a b "Judo - Pages of History Part 1" (PDF). Vladimir Gristchenkov. Retrieved January 7, 2012. 
  9. ^ Brian N. Watson, Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano
  10. ^ Jigoro Kano, Kokushi
  11. ^ Stevens and Shirata (1983) p5; Ohlenkamp, Neil, "The story of Shiro Saigo", Judoinfo, retrieved March 15, 2010 
  12. ^ 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]