Maximum Efficiency: Jigoro Kano and Buckminster Fuller

In Judo, we often hear the phrase, “Maximum Efficiency, Minimum Effort.” Judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano, spoke about the concept in 1932 during a speech at the University of Southern California. He said that for anything to be ideal, it must be performed on the principle of maximum efficiency.

Throughout the speech, he argued about using the concept in many human endeavors, not just Judo. He listed a few examples: improving the human body, intellectual and moral education, diet, social contexts, and business. In this way, Judo was a way for him to teach others in both mind and body, in life and “moral conduct” as well.

According to Kano, applying the maximum efficiency/minimum effort principle to life generates “order and harmony” in the social context. This process leads to the second maxim in Judo: mutual benefit and welfare. Maximum efficiency/minimum effort may mean concession, giving in during a conversation, or compromising in a board meeting. This strategy can lead to better social cohesion, benefiting each group member collectively and individually. 

Buckminster Fuller was another enigmatic figure who, like Kano, believed in efficiency. He was driven by it, literally, in his design of the Dymaxion car. His notion of “dymaxion,” a combination of parts of the words dynamic, maximum, and tension, illustrates Fuller’s aim: “maximum gain of advantage from minimal energy input.” He applied the calculations to many items such as the Dymaxion car, the Dymaxion house, and a massive application in the numerous geodesic domes he engineered across the globe. The Epcot Center at Disney World is an example of such a dome.

Like Kano, Fuller was also an educator who saw his efforts as attempts to improve humanity’s various institutions. He saw our existence as citizens of the “Spaceship Earth.” For him, it was all-hands-on-deck. Fuller once wrote, “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully, nor for much longer, unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” Marshall McLuhan built on the Spaceship Earth notion saying, “On Spaceship Earth there are no passengers; everybody is a member of the crew.”

The idea of maximum efficiency was, for Fuller, a way for there to be more of the world to go around, more of it to share with others, as opposed to only the elite few having control and access to the earth’s scarce resources. He often spoke of how war-time efforts led to new technological innovations and streamlined processes. He chose to see the positive outcomes as hope that we would no longer need war as an impetus for efficiency.

His wish was for humanity to grow together through generalized efforts instead of specialization, where people are limited to minuscule societal roles. He argued against the specialized nature of industrialization and the education system of his youth. In his summation, people were made for more than simple tasks on an assembly line.

The uniting ethic of both Kano and Fuller was their desire to see humanity grow through better processes, combining our mental abilities with our physical prowess, and the application of our collective understanding. While Kano founded Judo, numerous individuals have added to Judo’s system through the years, such as Kyuzo Mifune, Masahiko Kimura, and Toshiro Daigo, to name a few. Fuller borrowed from Einstein and general systems theory, among many other things, to grow his global insights.

In both of their philosophies, we better others through bettering ourselves and simultaneously improve our situations through improving those of others. When you think about maximum efficiency and minimum effort, remember that Kano and Fuller both believed in mutual benefit and welfare. Both saw the concept as encouraging humanity to reach its full potential.

Photo Credits:

Jigoro Kano – Unknown (Asahi Shinbun), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

BuckminsterFuller – Steve Yelvington, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Published by The Philosophical Fighter

I love being on a mat. I've trained in Karate, Kickboxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and Sumo. I currently teach Jiu Jitsu and Judo at Redemption Martial Arts Academy in Tifton, Georgia. I also love to read, write, and philosophize about life.

2 thoughts on “Maximum Efficiency: Jigoro Kano and Buckminster Fuller

  1. I was often reminded of Kano’s admonition about maximum efficiency as a workflow analyst at a large insurance company. Not only does efficiency help minimize waste, it also gives employees a greater sense of accomplishment.

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