De Jong only graded students in the kyu system until the late 1970s. Apart from De Jong, all the instructors were either purple belt (2nd kyu) or black and white belt (1st kyu). He graded Piet Hesselink 1st dan during WWII, but in what is unclear. He did not grade anyone 1st dan in Perth until Robert Hymus in the late 1970s.
Why didn't De Jong grade any of the other instructors in his school 1st dan prior to Hymus? It definitely wasn't because they were not of sufficient ability. Hymus and Greg Palmer often referred to the ability of their instructors. Hymus would motivate/chastise us based on the technical excellence and efforts of his instructors. I've had the good fortune to train with some of these instructors - Warwick (Zak) Jaggard, Tony Chiffings, and Peter Canavan - and they are as good as Hymus and Palmer (and De Jong) suggested. Given my current interest in being the unoffical historian of the 'school of Jan de Jong' (until someone else would like to assume the role), I've taken the opportunity of exploring these resources when I can. Zak visited the 'land of Oz' in the mid 90s and attended an instructors class for the first time in 20 odd years. Apart from being extremely sore the next day (and impressing those who were currently training), I asked Zak if what we were doing was the same as when he was training. He said it was, apart from this 'circular shit'. A recent conversation with Hymus suggests that he has devolved De Jong's teachings to a more 'direct approach' which presumably means he has turned away from this 'circular shit'.
There are a number of people from the pre-dan days that are a little bitter and a little disillusioned. They put in as much work and were as good, if not better (according to many), as those in later years who were awarded dan grades. These jujutsuka were not even given the opportunity of attempting dan grades. Why? Various theories abound as to De Jong's motives. Economic imperative is a frequently espoused explanation. De Jong didn't want to grade anyone black because they might leave and set up their own school in competition to his, which was his livelihood after all. Some suggest it was in connection with keeping the 'secrets' of the school secret as they were contained in the dan grades. That he didn't want to relinquish his monopoly of the 'knowledge well'.
These theories/explanations do not reconcile with the man I knew as De Jong. And remember, I'm a qualified accountant, so I am big on reconciliations. After much research, analysis, and deliberation, I propose an alternate theory. De Jong didn't grade anyone black because ... he didn't have any dan grades.
This, I am sure, will be controversial. I've already received criticism from some about my chronicling of De Jong's life and work, but this is the first time I'm referring to any criticism of De Jong, and, I am looking at a 'sacred cow' - the grading system.
Some need for what we do, including the grading system, to be predominantly handed down from at the very least the Saito brothers, if not the Tsutsumi family. This need is not unprecedented as so many in the martial arts need to associate their teachings with those of the past to gain credibility and/or authority. What I'm suggesting is that we don't need this link. In fact, what I'm suggesting is that one of De Jong's greatest achievements, one of his greatest legacies, is his grading system. It is a thing to celebrate, to study, and not simply something to be taken for granted (as it is).
De Jong's kyu grading system is only remarkable in that it uses the shinken shobu no kata method. What we refer to as the 'reflex' method. The use of shinken shobu no kata is a major 'point of differentiation' with other schools/systems. Most gradings/teachings are demonstration (technique or kata) based and/or randori (free fighting, sparring) based. Shinken shobu no kata combines elements of both. The kyu gradings contain specified defences against specified attacks, hence the kata element. However, where the uniqueness comes in, where the 'reality based' element comes in that so many emphasise these days, is that the attacks are randomly presented. This is the randori element.
During the grading, the student stands with their back to the examiner(s). The chief examiner signals an attack which is then executed. The candidate must defend themselves against the attack. Minimum, the candidate must defend themselves. If the candidate defends themselves with the required response, marks are awarded based on technical merit. If the candidate defends them self with another defence, the attack will come again. If the candidate fails to defend them self, they fail that 'question'.
Shinken shobu no kata is not just used as a grading method. It also used as a training method. Brazilian jiu-jitsu refer to 'drills' in which they train techniques, and then they rely on randori to train a person for combat. Jan de Jong jutsu uses 'drills' but then rely on shinken shobu no kata to train a person for combat. Each class usually ends with shinken shobu no kata, except that unlike a grading, no defence is specified against any specified attack. This method is also used in many different ways to train the student. It is modified by specifying an attack but requiring the student to respond with only one specified response. Alternatively, the response is specified but the attack is chosen at random. This is not unlike the story told in The Fighting Spirit of Japan were the jujutsuka/judoka would go into the red light district to confront individual yokuza and limit themselves to only one technique.
Major Greg Mawkes MBE (retired) had this to say on this method of training when working with De Jong to develop a close combat system, including training system, for the Australian Army including the SAS (Special Air Service Regiment):
What was created during the months of early morning starts and hard work is a system of unarmed combat that has Tsutsumi ju jitsu as its cornerstone. The reflex method of training and testing is particularly appropriate to the instinctive reactions that must be developed in unarmed combat exponents. (Jan de Jong: the man, his school, and his ju jitsu system)Given the limited attention span that most of us are suppose to have in this electronic/world wide web age, and given what I consider to be one of De Jong's major legacies, this subject will be continued in future blogs.