Feldenkrais Was Not The First (But Close!)

In the Feldenkrais community, there is a common myth that Moshe Feldenkrais was the first European to earn a black belt in Judo. You will often see quotes like this one below:

In 1936 he became the first European to earn a black belt. He subsequently founded the Judo Club of Paris and later the Judo club of France.

He was a pioneer. And he was one of the first, but at least one other person came before him.

To give you some background, after leaving Palestine in 1930 to study in Paris. Moshe studied Judo under the guidance of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. His dedication and skill led him to earn his black belt (1st Dan) in 1936. This accomplishment was notable, and to me, amazing.

But several decades before Feldenkrais earned his black belt, at least one European had already earned a black belt in Judo, E.J. Harrison. And Harrison earned his black belt while in Japan.

Ernest John Harrison was a British journalist and author and was one of the earliest Europeans to practice Judo under Jigoro Kano (the same person who trained Moshe). In 1911, he became the first non-Japanese person to earn a black belt in Kodokan Judo. In 1912, he wrote "Fighting Spirit of Japan," (Kindle version is only a couple of dollars) one of the first English-language books to describe Japanese martial arts from a foreigner's perspective.

Also, Judo was already being taught in Europe when Moshe left for Japan in 1930. For example, Gunji Koizumi, a Japanese native, established a dojo in the United Kingdom in 1906. He is repeatedly called the "Father of British Judo" online.

Moshe was first to teach Judo in France?

Moshe create a Judo club and association, but he was not the first to teach Judo in France. There was a Japanese Judo master, Mikinosuke Kawaishi, who traveled and taught in the United State and the U.K. in the 1920s and 1930s. And he ended up creating a dojo in France in 1935. And, of course, as Moshe earned his Black Belt in Paris with Kano, he could not have been first!

Does it matter? Not to me. It is simply a matter of historical interest and historical context.