Sunday, March 21, 2010

seiryoku zenyo 精力善用 in judo

Kano Jigoro Sensei, the founder of judo, taught the core ideas behind the practice of judo are jita kyoei 自他共栄 (calligraphy on left) and seiryoku zenyo 精力善用 (calligraphy on right). My previous discussion of jita kyoei 自他共栄 is

精力善用 Seiryoku Zenyo read from right to left.  I assume this is a Kano original.

Above, 'seiryoku zen'you' 精力善用 read right to left.

'Seiryoku zen'you' is a phrase the founder of judo Jigoro Kano often wrote as a calligraphy piece. Generally the idea is translated as "maximum efficiency with minimum effort." This is idea is generally regarded as one of the core driving philosophies of the noble art of judo.

Recently I have started working out with a sports focused Judo group again, and their ideas about this are very different than the teachers I have had before. They are trying to use and increase strength and power in order to score their throws. I feel this is a prevailing attitude in much of the judo world. It is also one that has a lot of proven success. On the other hand there is also an approach to judo that focuses on using minimal use of power while gaining maximum effect. I have had some teachers that successfully do Judo with less than 8 ounces of pressure. The great judoka Mifune was said to have 'air technique' or technique that was so soft it felt like you were fighting air.

So let's turn our attentions to this guiding principle of seiryoku zenyo 精力善用. I have found typically there are many ideas that can be found in these Japanese sayings that one translation alone cannot capture. Often too we accept other people's translations without investigating for ourselves the deeper lessons the characters might have to offer.

a spirit, a soul, energy, vigor, be expert, refined, fine

strength, might, power, force, authority, influence, agency, assistance, support, effort, exertion, energy, vigor, ability, capacity, resources

So these first two characters combine to form the idea of energy.

精力 - seiryoku - energy; vigor; vigor; vitality

good, goodness,virtue, a good deed

business, use, service, employ, take, adopt, apply, for

善用 - zenyou - good use

So probably the most basic translation seems to be 'good use of energy'. Using a bit of poetic license I thing we could say "efficient energy'.

Interesting the idea of 'minimum effort' really is not mentioned, rather is poetically implied as being a necessity of 'good use of energy'.


  1. Although I have limited knowledge and understanding of Judo, the noble art of which we speak, I love the concept of maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Too many time I've seen people try to power their way through a technique, idea, or life in general. On the other hand I've seen some people try and take this concept to the other end of the spectrum by equating minimum effort with no effort to only wonder why the goal at hand was not achieved. Perhaps we should borrow a little from Aristotle and practice/apply everything in moderation. Use just enough force to acheive maximun efficency but not an ounce more.

  2. Any tips on reading hand written script? I can pick apart kanji from printed fonts ok, but I have a devil of a time making out the hand written variety.

  3. Rick,

    no tips except more experience than I have. It took me a heck of a lot of research to figure out what the kanji were. I would have never figured it out by Kano's version. That being said, knowledge of calligraphy and especially stroke order are useful in decoding the handwritten stuff. A lot of the artistic styles are like reading 'tag' art - graffiti. You have to be educated in the style before you can decode it.

  4. I like - vigor support good deed service

  5. minimum effort comes from the pre-weight class days when guys like Osawa were still actively competeing against the super heavy weight giants-- to the smaller fella, more power was definatly not the answer--timing,speed,finesse-- lots of ashi waza--and attacking on the move with every move--these were the equalizers-- power judo as an efficent concept is really only possible in the context of weight classes which flatens the field and highlights small differences in relative power and blurrs the downside (namely the loss of sensitivity) by adopting a sniper like offensive/defensive strategy -- the old fashioned minimum energy player is doing an almost entirely offensive strategy by comparison

  6. Interesting post Eric! I mentioned in class that for competitive judo, you need strength, speed, conditioning, technique, tactics and strategy. The people you see using 8oz of energy may have less strength then their opponent in shiai, but they may have more in one of the other categories to overcome. Usually to avoid being manhandled, you would stay at arm's reach in a defensive posture (tactics) and move around (speed) until your opponent gets tired (conditioning) and makes a mistake (technique).

    Everyone's particular style has a place in judo, it's the people's ability to adjust to their opponent that makes the difference.

  7. Sir you are one step ahead of me, and I've been doing judo for 13 years or more. Thanks for an elegant dissection of an elegant principal. If you have not already done so, a similar post on "jita kyouei" (the second part of Judo's guiding tenet) would be just as worthwhile.

  8. Sports betting system generates +$3,624 PROFIT last week...

    Z-Code System winning bets and predictions for NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL!!!