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The history of judo is the history of the shift from a martial art to a modern sport. It tells first how a man, Jigoro Kano, devoted himself to the education of the youth of his country, blending traditions and modernity, by using individual prowess for collective benefits.

The beginnings of judo are closely related to the specificity of Kano's life and personality. Jigoro Kano was born in the year of the monkey, on October 28th, 1860, in what was then the little village of Mikage, currently the East Nada district of the city of Kobe. Kano's birthplace was well known for sake brewing, and members of the Kano family were wealthy sake brewers. Today, the name of the company Kiku Masamune, is still widely-known. Western influences were added to Eastern traditions and teachings very early in Kano's rigorous education. One of his grandfathers was a well-known poet and a scholar of Chinese language. During the 1860s Kano's father, Kano Jirosaku, a high-ranking official, worked for the shogunate government. A born organizer, with a strong sense of social responsibility, he contributed to the modernization of Japan, along western lines, opening Hyogo harbour to foreign trade and suggesting western-style ships. Young Kano, in whom the same qualities were to be found later in life, was deeply influenced by his father's spirit of enterprise.

In 1870, soon after the death of his mother, his father decided to move to Tokyo. It was then a time of great cultural and social ferment in Japan, from which Kano benefited. In Tokyo, already brought up on Confucian classics, he was put into another Confucian school. At the same time, he was sent for English lessons to Mitsukuri Shuhei, a renowned scholar who was to belong to a group of influential thinkers dedicated to educational reforms. In his early teens, Kano developed a strong taste for math and showed a particular affinity for languages. His language abilities were exceptional throughout his entire life. During his study of jujutsu his notes were written in English, probably to secure the confidentiality of his research at a time of intense rivalry among jujutsu schools. In his old age, he kept also his diaries in English.

As a boy, Kano was frail but quick-tempered. Being extremely gifted, he studied with boys who were older and bigger, and he soon understood the need to find a way to defend himself. At the age of 14 (15 according to Japanese tradition), he entered the Foreign Languages School, which was part of the Kaisei Gakko. There, Kano was one of the first Japanese to play baseball, introduced one year before by two American teachers. He loved the spirit of the sport, a new concept in Meiji Japan, and certainly found some inspiration in it later on. In 1877, he entered Toyo Teikoku (Imperial) University, currently Tokyo University. Many of the teachers and students he met there were to become leading figures in Meiji life. Because he had to deal with well-built young men coming from all over the country, he decided to learn more about the art which enabled the weak to overcome the strong. In Tokyo, it was at this time very hard to find anyone who knew how to teach the ancient art of jujutsu. The Kobusho, the school of martial arts, where samurai youths had been taught jujutsu in the old days, had disappeared with the Meiji Restoration movement. Besides jujutsu had been a composite of different systems, and this fragmentation had also been detrimental to the "pliant art" as it was called.

In 1877, Kano was eager to learn more about this ancient practice. After months of patient research, he finally managed to find a former Kobusho jujutsu master, Fukuda Hachinosuke. Fukuda became his first teacher, who was reluctantly accepted by his father, who saw no future in this old tradition. Two years later, when General Ulysses Grant came to Japan, Kano was wise enough to take part in a jujutsu demonstration.

Kano took over Fukuda's school when he died, in 1877. He kept on studying with Fukuda's teacher, Iso Masamoto, but his interest for the academic subjects he studied (philosophy, political science, economics) never flagged.

In 1881, he began to study the jujutsu of the Kito school, the spiritual side of jujutsu, with another Kobusho teacher, Likubo Tsunetoshi, who replaced Iso after his death. This time, the stress was put on the spiritual side of judo. Likubo, an expert at throws, gave less importance to kata, but the main kata originally performed with armour, koshiki no kata, was kept. It was one of Kano's favourites; he performed it in front of the Emperor in 1929. The Kito school is also at the origin of the name judo. Kano deliberately chose it to underline the moral side of his system.

1882 was a landmark year for Jigoro Kano. He was appointed lecturer in politics and economics at Gakushuuin (the then private school for the nobility) where he was to teach for some years and then served as a director. He also enrolled in a private school, the Kano Juku, as well as an English language school. Kano Juku was a preparatory school whose main goal was to build up the characters of the pupils who lived there. However, 1882 is said to be essentially the year of the formal beginning of his judo academy, the Kodokan, in a space rented from a small Buddhist monastery in Tokyo. The number of his students increased rapidly, coming from all over Japan. Many left old jujutsu masters to train with Kano. The Kodokan moved several times. Kano's method was adopted by the police and the Navy, introduced to schools and universities and rapidly spread overseas. What came to be known as Kodokan judo was a synthesis of several schools of jujutsu to which he added ideas taken from interviews, readings, and forgotten techniques. In 1889, after his first foreign trip, during which he inspected educational facilities in Europe, eventually he got married and had eight children.

Kano was presented as an exceptional and brilliant educator. He occupied several positions as headmaster of various schools and Tokyo Teachers Training college. He was considered to be the most articulate speaker in educational matters. Kano's genius essentially lies in the fact he saw judo as closely linked to education and adapted it accordingly. He saw and developed the guiding principle behind jujutsu where others had just seen a mere collection of techniques. The ultimate goal was to make the most efficient use of mental and physical energy. Each combination of movements represented a set of ideas. He rejected the techniques which clashed with his vision of life. He paid attention to every single aspect of judo and to its potentialities: judo etiquette and the aesthetic side of judo were as much a part of this mental and physical discipline as the methods of defense and attack. Judo was, from the start, a sport, because of its competitive nature and a way of life in the founder's mind. The teaching of judo became a means of fighting lethargy, negative frames of mind, anger. Contests in judo and the lessons derived from them had to be used as a reflection of the social atmosphere.

The principles of judo worked inside and outside the dojo, in the workplace, at school, in the political world - everywhere. What is fascinating about Kano's life is that, apart from the exceptional qualities of the founder of judo, the forces that eventually caused the international success of this discipline were already present in the early days of his teachings. In 1919, in Tokyo, Kano met John Dewey, the founder of the American educational system who was then a guest lecturer at the Imperial University. They exchanged views on education. Various parallels could be drawn from their philosophical concepts. On a Sunday morning, Kano took Dewey to the Kodokan to show him how his ideas could be illustrated on a mat. Dewey was fascinated: "It is really an art". He admired the way the laws of mechanics were blended with old practices and added to Buddhist Zen teachings. He immediately saw the importance of Kano's teachings: "It is much better than most of our inside formal gymnastics. The mental element is much stronger. […] A study ought to be made here".

Kano's method derived from old-style jujutsu techniques, but it definitely differed from the methods of the past. Getting rid of all dangerous, killing or maiming jujutsu waza, Kano forced opponents to grapple with one another. Thus, he restricted violence. In order to make them safer, he improved falling techniques. Whereas it had always been understood mainly as a goal, victory now became a means of building people's characters. But this method differed mainly because it referred to science and rationalism. Turning his back to the traditional ways of teaching, Kano liked to explain judo techniques scientifically, studying attitudes, forces at play, problems of equilibrium, center of gravity moves. In 1895, in order to facilitate the learning process, throwing techniques were classified into five sets (go kyo no waza).

In his study of Kano's life, David Waterhouse emphasizes the complexity and the diversity of his philosophy of education. He showed how Kano borrowed heavily from a long tradition of thought in which mostly Confucian and also Buddhist elements merged with Taoism and Shinto. A Neo-Confucian philosopher of the sixteenth century already claimed that "knowing" implied "doing”. This heritage was common to Kano and his contemporaries who equally drew from contemporary national and Western studies on education. Jigoro Kano’s strategy in the field of education was three-pronged: the acquisition of knowledge, the teaching of morality, and the training of one's body by physical education. The san iku shugi, or "principle of the three educations" was a popular theory at the time, certainly adapted from Herbert Spencer, one of the most discussed Victorian thinkers, and others.

As an educator, Kano advocated the "three culture principle". He made this point clear when he wrote: "A healthy body is a condition not only necessary for existence but as a foundation for mental and spiritual activities." He insisted on the purpose of physical exercises: "No matter how healthy a person may be if he does not profit society his existence is vain". Taiiku, physical education, was an important factor of the Kodokan judo. In the Kodokan magazines, Kokushi (1888-1903) and Judo (1915 to the present), articles about physical education were numerous. Kano saw the training of physical education instructors as essential. When Kano was in charge of the Teachers Training College, he established a physical education department there, with a wide range of sports.

Kano designed judo as a way to develop harmoniously the intellectual, moral and physical aspects of the education of young people. Kano repeatedly showed how the efficient use of one's mind and body was the key to self-fullfilment. However, he added to this the Confucian concept of social obligation and consequently helping others to learn or teach was part of the process. Kano's principles were summed up in the two mottoes launched by the Kodokan Cultural society founded in 1922: Seiryoku Zenyo and Jita Kyoei, one must make good use of his spirit and physical strength for the common good and to reach self-realisation.

In 1909, Japan received an invitation to take part in the International Olympic Committee from Baron de Pierre Coubertin, the father of the modern-day Olympics. Jigoro Kano was chosen as Japan's representative. Thirteen years had passed since the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. However, there was still no participation from an Asian country. Jigoro Kano was the first Asian member of the IOC.

As yet, there was no general sports organization in Japan that could send athletes to the Olympics. Thus, in 1911, the Japan Amateur Athletic Association was founded and Jigoro Kano was installed as the first president. At this meeting, it was decided that Japan would participate in its first Olympics at the 5th Olympic Games to be held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912.

This served as the basis for the development of all varieties of sports in Japan. After that time, Jigoro Kano continued his work as an IOC member, and for that purpose he travelled relentlessly within Japan and abroad. He turned all his energies into the internationalization of sports in Japan. In 1938, in Cairo, the International Olympic Committee accepted his proposal, Tokyo was to be the site of the 12th Olympic Games. However, on May 4th,1938, Kano died of pneumonia aboard the S. S. Hikawa Maru on his way home. He was 79 years old. Because of the War the intended Games were cancelled and was not to be before 1964 that Kano's dream became a reality when judo was accepted as an Olympic discipline at the 18th Olympic Games in the capital of Japan.

Kano Overseas

  • 1889 : Kano toured educational facilities in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin.
  • 1912 : 5th Olympiad in Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, London.
  • 1920 : 7th Olympiad in Antwerp, Paris, London.
  • 1928 : 9th Olympiad in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Rome.. travelled to China.
  • 1932 : 10th Olympiad in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Seattle, Hawai.
  • 1933 : Kano visited Europe to promote the choice of Tokyo as a site for the 12th Olympiad, Moscow, Stuttgart, Berlin, London, Paris, Madrid.
  • 1934 : Moscow, Warsaw, Vienna, Belgrade, Paris, London, Naples, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai.
  • 1936 : 11th Olympiad in Berlin, Seattle, Vancouver, New York, Bucarest, Paris, London.
  • 1938 : Singapore, Cairo, Vancouver.

10th Dan Holders

Yoshiaki Yamashita (1865-1935) was the Shihan's assistant from the very founding of the Kodokan. He is the first one to have been awarded 10th dan by Kano himself, in 1935.

Hajime Isogai (1871-1947) entered the Kodokan in 1891. He worked for many years training teachers at the Butoku Kai in Kyoto. He was a leading figure in Kansai judo. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1937.

Hidekazu Nagaoka (1876-1952) entered the Kodokan in 1893. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1937.

Kyozo Mifune (1884-1965) entered the Kodokan in 1893. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1945. In 1964, the Japanese governement awarded him the very distinctive honor of the Order of the Rising Sun.

Kunisaburo Iizuka (1875-1958) entered the Kodokan in 1891. He was judo instructor at Keio University (the oldest private university in Japan). He was awarded the 10th dan in 1946.

Kaichiro Samura (1880-1964) entered the Kodokan in 1898. In 1889, he became the head of the judo section of the Butoku Kai. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1948.

Shotaro Tabata (1884-1950) entered the Kodokan in 1900. He taught at the Butoku Kai in Kyoto. He was a leading figure in Kansai judo. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1948.

Kotaro Okano (1885-1967) entered the Kodokan in 1893. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1967.

Matsutaro Shoriki (1885-1969). President of the Yomiuri Shimbunsha, elected member of the House of Representatives, he served as State Minister. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1969.

Shozo Nakano (1888-1977) was awarded the 10th dan in 1977.

Tamio Kurihara (1896-1979) graduated from the Kyoto Budo Senmon Gakko. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1979.

Sumiuyki Kotani (1903-1991) was very active in promoting judo all around the world. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1984.

Anton Geesink (Netherlands), world and Olympic chanmpion, IOC member. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1997.

Charles Palmer (Great Britain), OBE, president of the International Judo Federation, 1965-1979. He was awarded the 10th dan in 1997.

The principle of gentleness is explained in brief as follows. Victory over the opponent is achieved by giving way to the strength of the opponent, adapting to it and, taking advantage of it, turning it, in the end, to your advantage.

E.g. when a stronger man pushes me with all his might, I will be beaten if I simply go against him. If, instead of opposing his pushing, I retreat more than he pushes or turn aside the direction of his pushing, he naturally leans forward through his own pushing, and loses his balance. If utilizing his pushing strength, I apply a certain technique on him, it is quite easy to make him fall, as he is losing his balance. Sometimes he will fall merely, if I turn my body skillfully. This is one simple instance of how, by giving way, a contestant may defeat his opponent.

Therein lies principle of gentleness.

Kodokan, What is Judo,1947

What Western brain could have elaborated this strange teaching, - never to oppose force by force, but only direct and utilize the power of attack; to overthrow the enemy solely through his own strength, -to vanquish him solely by his own efforts? Surely none! The Western mind appears to work in straight lines; the Oriental, in wonderful curves and circles. Yet how fine a symbolism of Intelligence as a means of foiling brute force! Much more than a science of defense in this jiujitsu: it is a philosophical system; it is an economical system; it is an ethical system, (indeed, I may say that a very large part of jiujutsu training is purely moral); and it is, above all, the expression of a racial genius as yet but faintly perceived by these Powers who dream of further aggrandizement in the East.

Lafcadio Hearn, Out of the East, 1895

In 1891, on his return from Europe, Kano was appointed principal of the college at Kumamoto. He asked Lafcadio Hearn to join the faculty as a lecturer in English literature. While there, Hearn began a study of judo.

According to Kano, the word judo had two connotations. One is judo in the wide sense and the other one is judo in the narrow sense.

Judo in the narrow sense connotes that form which has evolved from the ancient military art of jujutsu. Kano stated : "Although Kodokan judo begins with the randori and the kata, unlike jujutsu, it is based on the principles of physical education and lays stress on the harmonious development of body muscles. The principle described as the way to use body and mind most efficiently is indeed the great principle of humanity. It is a moral doctrine." In other words it is judo in the wide sense.

Jita kyoei

Kano's ideals of judo and education consisted in perfecting one's self and benefiting the world. He wrote : "In order to perfect myself, I do not for a moment forget to be of service to the world[..] I will dedicate my future activities to the service of society and for this purpose I shall strive to build up my character and form a firm foundation for my life."

Seiryoku zenyo

The second principle of Kano's philosophy of education was the utmost use of one's energy or, in short, the maximum of efficiency. What Kano called energy did not simply imply physiological energy or physical vigor, it connoted the "living force" including both the spiritual and physical aspects of life.

From M. Maekawa, Y. Hasegawa, "Studies on Jigoro Kano, Significance of His Ideals of Physical Education and Judo", in Bulletin of the Association for the Scientific Studies of Judo, Kodokan, 1963.

Ryozo Nakamura, former director of the IJF Education Commission.

Although I became 8th dan, I am still going on with my practice and study of judo because I don't regard judo practice and study as just competition and a matter of winning and losing.

Of course, I tried my best to win during competitive meetings in my youth. I also spent lots of time with my students and younger colleagues in order to get results in competitions as a coach after I stopped competing. But I always believe that the final aim of judo practice and study is to form the best human beings for society.

Originally ju came from the principle of yawara or suppleness which means the way to control the opponent by using his power, without resisting his power. At first, Dr. Jigoro Kano used this principle to explain judo, but then he understood that this principle was not sufficient.

He concluded that we could develop our mental and physical fitness through judo practice and study, and experience the essence of judo. Furthermore, our final aim of judo practice and study is to make ourselves perfect and work for the benefit of society.

To achieve these aims, three different ways of practice, borrowed from former times, should be taken into consideration. It explains that practice must be changed according to the proficiency of the opponent while keeping in mind the purpose and aim.

Namely, the type of opponents can be divided into three:

1. Practising with opponents of a higher standard

You should try your own techniques with full strength for improvement of skill and should not consider defence. Defense towards the opponent should be with only tai sabaki or body management, but you should not mind being thrown if the skill of the opponent exceeds your defense.

2. Practising with opponents of an equal standard

You should try your own skill and strength as much as you can.

3. Practising with opponents of a lower standard

You should bear in mind the principle of techniques and try to throw the opponent with reasonable and suitable techniques. You should also give the opponent enough opportunities to try techniques so that the opponent can improve as well.

Moreover, when you practice with a teacher, you should be careful to learn the principles of techniques without excessive defense and do this relentlessly because you are learning for your own improvement.

When you practice with children, you should be careful to give them the chance to use the techniques they know and accept being thrown if the technique is applied with proper timing so that children can improve their skills in the future.

I hope that judo will flourish around the world, so as many people as possible can partake and benefit from this wonderful sport and way of life.