History of Judo

jigoro-kano-founder-judoIntroduction Judo is much more than an Olympic sport. It is an art that is practised in almost every part of the globe. Judo, meaning “gentle way” is a contemporary martial art that was developed from Jujitsu which is a combat technique used by the Samurai in war. It involved a combination of various defensive and attack moves that are safe to practice acompared to those used in Jujitsu. Judo has its origin in Japan and it was founded by Professor Jigoro Kano.


How did Judo begin?

It all began with a man named Jigoro Kano, he was born on the 28th of October, 1861 in a town named Mikage. He and his family migrated to Tokyo in 1871. As a young boy, Jigoro Kano was very sickly. He fell ill often and was always at the hospital for some reason or the other. At a stage in his life, Jigoro decided to do something that will lead to improvements in his life with which he could defend himself against oppressors.

Against the Doctor’s recommendation, he enrolled to be trained in the art of Jujitsu at the Tenjin Shinyo Ryu School of jujitsu. At this time he was aged 18 years of age when he began his journey to a healthy life. Tenjin Shinyo ryu was a form of martial art that laid more emphasis on harmony of the body rather than combat. However, some grappling, striking and defensive techniques were taught.

Later in his life, he moved on to study Tsunetoshi Iikubo at the Kito Ryu School. This form of Jujitsu was less stressful as compared to Tenjin Shinyo Ryu. More emphasis was laid on freedom of action, throwing techniques as well as some physical techniques. Jigoro Kano began an in-depth study of other forms of Jujitsu like the sekiguchi-ryu and seigo-ryu, advancing to develop his mental knowledge as this was lacking in his teachings. He wanted to be different from the others, having a more comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of the subject matter. Hence he studied literature that was written by the founders of other schools.

By 1880, Jigoro was equipped with all the knowledge he could get for himself and he started thinking of how he could combine various techniques he had learnt to form one system that would be a combination of mental and physical skills. He was of the opinion that of the dangerous moves on Jujitsu were removed, a more competitive sports could be formed.

By 1882, all was set. Jigoro Kano made some serious modifications by removing the dangerous moves from ancient Jujitsu, incorporating some of the moves he had developed on his own and at the age of 22, he presented his newly developed sports named Kodokan Judo. The term Kodokan can be broken down as follows; ko meaning (lecture, study or method), do meaning (way or path), and kan meaning (hall or place). This means a place to study the path. Judo on its own can be broken into ju meaning (gentle) and do meaning (way or path) or “the gentle way.”

He established his school of Judo called The Kodokan in Tokyo, at the Eishoji Buddhist temple. The School grew in size that it had to be relocated. At first, the school had just 12 mats that were (12 feet by 18 feet), having just 9 students in the first year. Presently, The Kodokan boasts of over 500 mats, and visitors in excess of a million on an annual basis. Judo became more popular that there was a battle for supremacy between Judo students and Jujitsu students. As a result, a contest was held in 1886, the competition was won by Judo students thus establishing the superiority of Judo over Jujitsu.

Although Jigoro was committed to his Judo arts, it did not interfere with his educational pursuits as he studied literature, politics and political economy at the Tokyo Imperial University where he graduated in 1881.


By 1887, Kodokan Judo had been fully broken down into different categories namely:

  • Physical Education
  • Contest Proficiency
  • Mental Training

The art was taught such that it could be practised safely by all, while more dangerous moves were taught to the higher classes. Against all odds, Jigoro Kano made concerted efforts to make Judo an art that would be practised globally. In 1889, he visited Europe and the United States of America in a bid to teach Judo outside Japan and to attend the Olympics and its committee.

By 1892, Judo started to gain wide spread acceptance when the Japanese society in London was lectured by Takashima Shidachi on the history of Judoka. Judo throws was further classified into more classes by Kano in 1895. Between 1895 and 1909, there were a lot of development with respect to the art with some modifications made and different association set up at different times to refine the art. In 1964, Japan hosted the Olympic Games and 16 medals were contested for in the game of Judo. Japan won three of those medals and ever since then, Judo became an international sports, no longer restricted to Japan.

Here is a video of KAno in action: