His discovery of martial arts and particularly jūjutsu, if at the beginning was intimately linked to his need for self-defence and affirmation, very quickly became another means of achieving his goals. He saw more and more in the practice of the martial arts a means of educating himself and the youth. To perfect his knowledge of jūjutsu, Kano therefore attended a first school, the Tenjin Shinyo-ryu School (天神真楊流).
Tenjin Shinyo-ryu meaning 'Divine True Willow School,’ was a so-called traditional school of jūjutsu (koryū). Founded by Iso Mataemon Ryūkansai Minamoto no Masatari (磯又右衛門柳関斎源正足) around 1830, it specialised in atemi-waza (hitting techniques), nage-waza (throwing techniques), osae-waza (immobilisation methods) and shime-waza (choking techniques).
In fact, Tenjin Shinyo-ryu is the combination of two jūjutsu systems, on the one hand Yōshin-ryū and on the other hand Shin no Shinto-ryu. The specificity of the school is the use of striking (atemi) with the objective to disturb the balance of the opponent. The training methods were based on fluid and flexible movements of the body, in opposition to what was then practised in other older schools of jūjutsu. Those older schools tended to use larger and slower movements to simulate combat with the use of armour on the battlefield. However, with the ancestral combat outfits no longer being used, the Tenjin Shinyo-ryu school concentrated on a practice without armour. The movements were faster and the strikes were mainly aimed at the vital points, these being exposed in the absence of protection.
The teaching methodology was mostly based on pre-arranged kata or forms of combat that the students had to repeat over and over again. There are thus more than 130 kata of this form of jujutsu, considered classic. Some of these kata were kept secret due to their lethal nature. They included bare-handed combat techniques from seated and standing positions and defence against armed attacks.
Jigoro Kano therefore studied Tenjin Shinyo jūjutsu carefully for several years with his first master, Fukuda Hachinosuke and then at his death with Iso Mataemon Masatomo. The learning of all these techniques played a major role in the development of future judo. We know, for example, that Kano simplified certain practices and eliminated anything that could prove dangerous for the physical integrity of practitioners. Nevertheless, it seems that we can affirm that certain techniques that we find today in the panoply of any judoka have their roots in the Tenjin Shinyo jūjutsu learned by Kano: seoi-nage (shoulder throw), harai-goshi (sweeping hip throw) or even o-soto-gari (outer reap), for example. The itsutsu-no-kata, or the kata of the five forms, is another example of the heritage of Tenjin Shinyo jūjutsu, which Kano has integrated into the development of judo.
The founder of Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, Iso Mataemon Ryūkansai Minamoto no Masatari, said, "The way of this technique is not to fight with force, it lies deep within one's nature. The way is to be master of victory based on the behaviour of the opponent,” undoubtedly a precept that Kano subsequently understood (source: Jigoro Kano, Father of Judo - Michel Mazac - Budo Editions, 2014) first of all under the direction of Fukuda Hachinosuke then Iso Mataemon Masatomo.
Jigoro Kano, while pursuing his university studies, quickly became an assiduous member of jūjutsu sessions. He trained daily with four or five other students. In the absence of the master, he practised alone and back at home, he repeated the movements with his friend Tomita Tsunejirō (富田 常次郎), who later became his very first judo student (Tsunejirō's name appears in the first line of the enrolment book of the Kōdōkan).
Among the students of the Tenjin Shinyo-ryu school, there was a certain Fukushima Kenkichi, a sailor by trade, reputed to be strong, whom Kano couldn't beat. He tried many solutions, studied books on the art of fighting and even learned from sumo wrestlers but nothing helped. Kenkichi remained intractable, until Kano discovered a move that perhaps could help him. This movement was a form of what is known today as kata-guruma and it worked wonders. Kano explained, "There was really nothing to say! It was fun to project Fukushima but mostly I was happy to see the result of long-term efforts come to fruition."
Kano progressed and in 1879, he found himself among the students of Fukuda who made a demonstration in front of Ulysses S. Grant, the President of the United States, visiting Japan. When master Fukuda died, Jigoro Kano succeeded him as the head of his dojo but he continued to learn by getting closer to Mataemon Masatomo, until the latter's death in 1881.
With everything he had already learned from the Tenjin Shinyo-ryu school, Kano retained a thirst for learning that nothing could quench. Through a college friend, whose father had also taught jūjutsu, he was introduced to the Kitō-ryu school whose philosophy was based on rise and fall.
Although the very origin of the Kitō-ryu school was rather vague, appealing to the collective imagination and legends deeply rooted in local beliefs, its existence dates back to the 17th century, when it was founded by Fukuno Shichiroemon Masakatsu. Masakatsu-San would have received teaching from Chen Yuan Pin, a Chinese monk teaching calligraphy and philosophy at the Kokushoji temple in the Edo region. Chen Yuan Pin was also a master of Chinese martial arts, among others from the Shaolin school, still famous today.
In this whirlwind of schools and currents relating to both sports practice and philosophical development, Fukuno Shichiroemon Masakatsu later created his own school named Fukuno-Ryu, while one of his students launched Teishin-Ryu, where the notion of 'Wa,’ harmony, was put forward. Later still, Kito Ryu focused on bare-hand combat techniques as well as on the aesthetic and internal research at the origin of ‘Do’ (the way).
It is not easy to go back in time to the end of the 19th century where Kano was evolving. The schools of jūjutsu were numerous and each of them corresponded to a technical speciality as well as a philosophical current. What is beyond doubt is that the two greatest Kitō-ryu experts of the time were Iikubo Tsunetoshi, who taught Kano, and Tozawa Rokusaburo, who taught Ueshiba, the founder of aikido.
Kano learned more about the techniques of the Kitō-ryu school. The latter generally executed in armour or in hakama revolved around the projection of the opponent on the ground. Considered difficult, they are found today in koshiki-no-kata (form of the ancient things), formerly called Kito-ryu-no-kata. Kano revised the form and the execution to incorporate them in this kata with the objective being to preserve the historical sources of judo, but let's not go too fast.
As we have seen, Jigoro Kano immersed himself in multiple teachings and many masters who gave him their knowledge. Being put in contact with jūjutsu to learn how to defend himself, he now realised that learning martial arts was deeper and more philosophical than it seemed. Kano was ready to synthesise all his learning and found his own way of practice and thought.