Judo History from Samurai Battlefield to the Olympics

Judo History with Kano Jigoro

Judo is a relatively new martial art. Judo history begins with Kano Jigoro, who developed Judo in 1882 as a means to be able to practice the Japanese battlefield art of JuJutsu. Kano was a small boy who was bullied by his classmates and desperately wanted to learn this ancient art to defend himself. Nakai Baisei, a family friend who was a member of the shogun’s guard, recommended Kano learn JuJutsu, and taught him a few moves. Kano’s father discouraged him from learning JuJutsu and pushed him toward other mainstream sports.

Once Kano went to Tokyo Imperial University, he began his search for Jujutsu teachers. He started by looking for bonesetters. One of them referred him to Fukuda Hachinosuke, a teacher of the Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu style. Fukuda insisted on teaching students a technique then having them ‘randori’ or live spar to master the technique. Kano had difficulty with one of the better students, however, and began looking elsewhere for techniques to defeat his opponents.

After trying several Sumo techniques which did not work, he applied a wrestling technique known as the ‘fireman’s carry’. Judo history was made when the first throw was born, Kata Guruma (shoulder wheel – now banned in competition).

After Fukuda’s death in 1881, Kano trained and taught briefly under one of Fukuda’s students, Iso. Fukuda’s wife gave Kano her husband’s scrolls, and he observed that training harder did not give him the edge to defeat stronger opponents. Kano turned his focus to training smarter, and began to learn techniques from all of the JuJutsu schools he could find.

Iso passed later in 1881, and Kano began learning from Iikubo. It was Iikubo who gave Kano his teaching certificate in JuJutsu in 1883 after Kano began beating Iikubo in randori.

Kano named the system he developed from the JuJutsu he learned Judo taken from the characters ju, meaning gentle or pliable, and do, meaning way or method.

In 1882, Kano founded the Kodokan Institute, a dojo dedicated to teaching Judo to its students. At the time it was founded, he had about a dozen students. By 1911, he had about a thousand dan-graded (black belt equivalent) members.

Kano had a deep interest in bringing Judo to the Olympics, and performed an informal demonstration at the 1932 Olympic Games. Judo finally became an Olympic sport for men in the 1964 Games in Tokyo. The Olympic Committee initially dropped judo for the 1968 Olympics, meeting protests.

Dutchman Anton Geesink won the first Olympic gold medal in the open division of judo by defeating Akio Kaminaga of Japan. The women’s event was introduced at the Olympics in 1988 as a demonstration event, and an official medal event in 1992.