What is Judo?

Judo is a system of fighting that was created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. 

It was derived from jiu-jitsu, the hand-to-hand combat techniques used by the samurai and consists mostly of throwing, pinning, joint locks and choke holds. 

Leverage, speed and technique are used to utilise an opponent’s own energy against him while the judo code of conduct encourages respect for others and the ethical and moral growth of all judoka. 

While today judo is predominantly practiced as a sport, the art still contains deadly martial arts moves, mostly preserved in its kata.

Talk the Talk

Jigoro Kano’s new martial arts school was called Kodokan Judo. Kodokan is a composite of three words; 

Ko – Meaning study 
Do – Meaning the path or way 
Kan – Meaning place or hall 

Therefore, Kodokan translates to A Place to Study the Way

Likewise, Judo is a composite of two words; 

Ju – Meaning gentle 
Do – Meaning the path or way 

Therefore, Judo can be translated to the Gentle Way.

The History of Judo

From the sixteenth century, jiu-jitsu schools that were dedicated to teaching hand-to-hand combat techniques that were used by the samurai began to spring up in Japan along with other martial arts forms such as kenjutsu (the forebearer of modern kendo). 

By the mid-nineteenth century, there were over seven-hundred martial arts schools in the country however, in 1868 everything changed with the Meiji Restoration whereby Imperial rule was restored. 

The samurai class and most of their cultural traits went into decline, including a rapid reduction of jiu-jitsu clubs and practitioners. 

Jigoro Kano – Founder of the Art of Judo 

Jigoro Kano was a highly educated person who was so influential on the subject of teaching that he is considered today to be the founder of the modern Japanese educational system, especially in reference to physical/sports education. He was also an expert in two traditional jiu-jitsu systems, Tenshin Shin'yo Ryu and the Kito Ryu and had some experience studying several other traditional styles and forms of fighting. 

Kano realised that in light of the changes his country was going through, the martial arts would need to adapt to survive. To aid this, in 1882 at the age of just 22, he combined what he had learned and founded his own style that would become known as Kodokan Judo. 

The Development of Judo 

By removing the more dangerous techniques and concentrating on throws and grappling moves, Kano devised a sport that would develop its practitioners both mentally and physically while preserving many of the martial arts moves jiu-jitsu had to offer. He would also continue to teach kata, prearranged forms consisting of attacking and defensive movements, which contained the deadlier moves from within the art and in doing so further helped preserve the techniques of traditional jiu-jitsu. 

Much of the jiu-jitsu training in Kano’s day was based around kata and while he believed kata was important, he also felt that there was too much emphasis on it and his students needed to practice their skills in a more realistic manor. As a result, he innovated randori, the practice of non-cooperative free-sparring. 

In 1886, the Tokyo Police hosted a tournament providing the Kodokan fighters a chance to show how their new style compared with established jiu-jitsu styles. In total, there were fifteen fights that put Kano’s students up against more traditional fighters, with the Kodokan coming out on top in thirteen of the bouts with the remaining two contests being draws. 

In 1889, Kano visited Europe to help spread his new art. While on a boat en route, he encountered a man who thought it would be funny to make fun of the Master. A fight ensued and Kano threw the man to the ground but what impressed onlookers the most was the way he placed his hand behind the man’s head to prevent him getting hurt on impact with the ground. This highlights the importance within judo of combining self-defence with respecting human life, even when that person is a would-be attacker. 

Kano would travel abroad to teach judo a further seven times as well as other times to attend the Olympics and its committee meetings, of which he was a member. He also sent several of his best students overseas to demonstrate and teach judo in order to help his new art grow. 

Over the coming years the Kodokan saw much success in competition until around the turn of the twentieth century when they came up against the students of Mataemon Tanabe, a teacher of an obscure jiu-jitsu style known as the Fusen Ryu. Up until this point, Kano mostly taught throws that would be executed from a standing position. 

However, the Fusen Ryu were experts in take downs and ground work which they used to beat all of the judoka by submission. Kano was understandably impressed by this and invited Tanabe to teach ground work at the Kodokan school, after which it was incorporated into the style. 

As a result of his educational connections, he managed to get judo accepted onto the syllabus in schools in 1911, having it taught as not just a form of self-defence, but also a sport and a way to build character in its participants. 

By the 1920s, Kano was the most influential martial artist in Japan and was always willing to help new art forms such as karate and aikido get a following in the country. After seeing a demonstration of aikido by its founder Morihei Ueshiba, Kano was so impressed that he sent some of his own students to train with him and he was instrumental in getting karate accepted in the country when it was brought to Japan from Okinawa by Gichin Funakoshi in the 1920s. 

Further Growth of Judo 

Judo became an Olympic event in Tokyo in 1964 though at this stage it was only men competing in various weight categories. Women’s judo appeared in the 1988 Seoul Olympics as a demonstration event and was then added as an event in its own right four years later in Barcelona. 

When he first established his school, Jigoro Kano had just nine students and practiced in a very small dojo with only enough room for twelve mats. However, the popularity of judo soon soared, especially after its acceptance into the Olympics and his dojo went from strength to strength. 

Today the Kodokan has more than five hundred mats and gets in excess of a million visitors per year. Judo is now one of the most popular combat sports in the world with over one-hundred and eighty countries and regions holding membership with the world governing body of the sport, the International Judo Federation. 

Further Reading:

Dakin Burdick. [Internet]. 2018. Judo. Britannica. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/sports/judo [Accessed July 24, 2018]. 

History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. [Internet]. 2018. Shen Wu. Available from: http://www.shenwu.com/bjjhistory.html [Accessed July 24, 2018]. 

History of Judo. [Internet]. 2018. California State University. Available from: https://www.csub.edu/judo/history.html [Accessed July 24, 2018]. 

History of Kodokan Judo. [Internet]. 2018. Kodokan Judo Institute. Available from: http://kodokanjudoinstitute.org/en/doctrine/history [Accessed July 24, 2018]. 

Judo Club. [Internet]. 2018. University of Hawaii. Available from: 
https://hilo.hawaii.edu/rec/Judo.php [Accessed July 24, 2018]. 

Judo History. [Internet]. 2018. Judo Info. Available from: 
http://judoinfo.com/jhist4 [Accessed July 24, 2018]. 

The History of Judo. [Internet]. 2018. Web Japan. Available from: 


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