Kohbukan Sisu Judo & Jiu Jitsu - The History of Judo

A History of Judo: From the Meiji to the Present
The Meiji Period (1868-1912) of Japanese history was an era of immense change. Japan had closed its doors to the West some two centuries earlier under the power of the ruling Shogunate, and as a result remained virtually unchanged both politically and industrially, during this period. It after a number of unsuccessful attempts by Western nations to establish trade with the Japanese during the mid-nineteenth that the United States finally managed to gain a foothold at the Dutch-maintained trading post of Deshima in Nagasaki. This occurred as a result of two notable expeditions: the first by Commodore James Biddle in 1846, and the second by Commodore James Glynn in 1849. However, it was the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 that permanently set the wheels of change in motion. Perry brought word from then U.S. President, Millard Fillmore, demanding that Japan establish trading and diplomatic relations between the two nations. Fillmore also threatened the use of force if these terms were not met. As a result, a treaty of amity was signed by the following year between the U.S. and Japan, effectively ending the isolation from the West that had lasted since 1639. Similar treaties followed with Britain, France, Russia, and the Netherlands, thus beginning Japan's rapid modernization.

Modernization brought with it the need to adopt many Western conventions. A Western style constitutional government, a new capitalistic outlook, and the development of Western technology were all important aspects of this process. At first glance it might appear that this process of modernization was a one-way street, with Japan receiving and the West giving, but this was not always the case. Many Japanese traveled to Europe and America to study, and conversely, many Westerners came to Japan to study and teach. Through this exchange system, many aspects of Japanese culture were brought to the West. Japanese aesthetics, art, and architecture were some of the things appreciated by those in the West. Another of these "gifts" to the West was judo. Judo was originally introduced to Europe and America at the turn of the century, and has since become a highly popular, international Olympic sport. The International Judo Federation, founded in 1951, now boasts well over 180 national member federations, and is still growing.

In order for one to fully understand judo, it is important to know where judo came from, and where its roots lie. Judo evolved from the ancient Japanese art of jujutsu. While the exact origins of jujutsu are somewhat of a mystery, most historians tend to agree on certain chronicled events regarding jujutsu. The most popular theory has to do with a battle of strength between two men, Nominosukune and Taimono Kehaya, which occurred during the reign of Emperor Suijin (A.D. 249-280). This battle was an arduous affair involving various grappling and hand-to-hand combat techniques. The eventual victor was Nominosukune, who defeated his opponent by kicking him to death. The result of this contest was the formation of two distinct schools of combat; one developed into modern-day sumo wrestling, the other into jujutsu. Through centuries of actual battlefield experience, jujutsu became a highly effective means of attack and defense for the samurai of Japan.

It was not until the Sengoku period (1477-1603), also known as the "Age of Wars", that the techniques of jujutsu began to be taught at different schools or ryu. Each school focused on its own unique form of jujutsu. One of the first ryu to gain widespread fame throughout Japan was the Takeuchi ryu, which originated in 1532. In a famous fight, a member of the Takeuchi ryu successfully defeated a much larger opponent, thus demonstrating the obvious effectiveness of jujutsu as a form of hand-to-hand combat. Many other schools developed during the Sengoku and Tokugawa (1604-1868) periods. Among the more famous of these schools were the Yoshi ryu, Jikishin ryu, Kito ryu, and the Tenshin-Shinyo ryu.

In 1860, Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, was born in Miyage in Yamagata prefecture. Kano was said to be a man of "weak constitution", and took up jujutsu in hopes of strengthening his mind and body. Kano studied many forms of jujutsu and in 1878 he became a student of the Tenshin-Shinyo ryu under the instruction of Masters Hachinosuke Fukuda and Masatomo Iso. He also studied the techniques of the Kito ryu under Master Tsunetoshi Ikubo. Kano continued his diligent study of jujutsu, eventually perfecting his own techniques to which he gave the name, Nippon den Kodokan Judo, in its shortened form, Judo. "Ju" comes from the Japanese rendering of a Chinese word meaning "gentle" or "supple", and is related to the notion of giving way to an opponents strength rather than resisting it. "Do" means "way" or "path", as opposed to "jutsu" which means "art". In so naming judo, Kano wished to distinguish his new school from those of jujutsu. Kano wrote that, "Jujutsu ryu employed dangerous practices such as throwing by quite incorrect methods or by applying torsion to the limbs." In judo, Kano wished to create a sport that could be practiced and enjoyed by all, while, at the same time, remaining physically challenging and competitive.

In 1882, at the age of twenty-three and while still a student at Tokyo's Imperial University, Jigoro Kano opened a school for his "judo". He called this school the Kodokan, literally meaning, "place for studying the way". The original Kodokan was located in Shitaya and had only twelve mats (3'x 6' each) and nine students. When Jigoro Kano passed away in 1938, at the age of 78, there were over 100,000 black belts in judo. There are now millions of black belts registered at the modern Kodokan in downtown Tokyo. The Kodokan is now also the headquarters of the All Japan Judo Federation and is a mecca for judo players around the world. The eight-storied building includes a museum, weight training facilities, dormitories and six separate dojo, with the main dojo holding over 400 mats.

Jigoro Kano was a very well educated man; he spoke English fluently, was headmaster of two prominent Japanese schools, and was an accomplished writer. An accomplished scholar, Kano achieved the title of Professor and became the president of the faculty of Physical Education at the prestigious Tokyo University. Soon after, in 1911, educational institutions throughout Japan began including judo as part of their curriculum.

In order to further promote judo worldwide, Kano made numerous trips overseas. He visited Britain in 1920, and the United States in 1932 as the honourary president of the Japanese Amateur Athletic Federation at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Kano also helped found the Japanese Olympic Committee and attended the International Olympic Conference in Cairo in 1938, in hopes of fulfilling his dream of having judo recognized as an Olympic sport. Sadly, Professor Kano died at sea while returning from the conference. Although in a fitting tribute to the founder of judo, Kano's dream was finally realized when the Games were held in Tokyo in 1964, and judo was made an official Olympic sport.

Europe received its first exposure to jujutsu in 1899, when Yukio Tani (1881-1951) and his brother arrived in England to teach jujutsu at the request of a Mr. B.B. Barton-Wright. More Japanese arrived at the turn of the century, and through numerous demonstrations and exhibitions, jujutsu became very popular in Britain. However, it was not until 1918 that the first official judo club was founded in Europe. In January of 1918, Gunji Koizumi (1885-1965) opened the Budokwai dojo in London. The Budokwai was originally a Japanese community centre and was frequented by members of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy and their families who were stationed in London. Although the Budokwai was a judo club, judo was still often referred to as jujutsu in the early 1900's. It was not until 1920, that the word "judo" actually became widespread.

Koizumi, who is often referred to as the "father of British judo", was born in Ibaraki prefecture, some twenty miles north of Tokyo. Like Kano before him, Koizumi was an accomplished martial artist. He began studying kenjutsu ("the art of the sword"), when he was only twelve years old. He later studied at the Tenshin-Shinyo ryu under Master Nobushige Tago. In 1904, Koizumi traveled to Fusen, Korea where he studied at a school run by an ex-samurai named Nobukatsu Yamada. Yamada taught him the techniques of the Shin-Shin ryu; jujutsu, and katsu. Two years later, in 1906, Koizumi moved to Singapore where he studied the 144 techniques of the Akijima ryu. In May of the same year, Gunji Koizumi arrived in England and began teaching jujutsu in Liverpool, before opening the London Budokwai in 1918.

Unfortunately, due to the British Museum being extensively damaged in World War II during the Blitz on London, many of the records related to the early history of judo in Britain have been destroyed. Never the less, the introduction of judo in Britain helped the spread of judo throughout the rest of Europe, particularly in France, Germany and Holland.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Yoshiaki Yamashita, who was a student of Jigoro Kano, introduced judo to America in 1902. Yamashita came to the United States at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had previously learned judo under the instruction of Yamashita while in Japan.

Judo developed slowly in the United States, with dojo opening primarily on the west coast and in Hawaii. As mentioned previously, Jigoro Kano visited the U.S. in 1932 while attending the Olympic Games and it was during this visit that four yudanshakai (black-belt organizations) were formed. These were located in Southern California, Northern California, Seattle, and Hawaii. American judo received a strong boost following the Second World War as many servicemen who had been stationed in Japan had studied judo at the Kodokan and upon their return to the U.S., set up judo clubs of their own.

The introduction of judo to Canada also occurred on the west coast. The year was 1924, and a young Japanese judoka by the name of Takagaki opened Canada's first dojo. The opening of this dojo served both sport and social purposes. Jigoro Kano eventually visited Vancouver and named the Canadian dojo the Kidokan. During the war years, many Japanese Canadians were forced to relocate east of the Rockies and as a result, judo was spread eastward. After WWII ended many Japanese chose to remain in their new communities and this led to the beginning of judo in places such as Alberta, Toronto and Montreal.

By the 1950's, judo was well established in North America and Europe. In 1956, the inaugural World Judo Championships were held in Tokyo, Japan. At the second World Championships in 1958, one of the pioneers of judo in Ontario, Masatoshi Umetsu, represented Canada. At this time, judo had not yet implemented weight categories and therefore, there was only one division to be contested for. The domination of the Japanese was apparent at the first two World Championships, but at the third World's held in Paris in 1961, a new champion emerged. This was the giant Dutchman, Anton Geesink, who also went on to win the first ever Olympic gold medal in judo in 1964.

In the decades to follow, the Japanese continued to reign supreme in the judo world, although recently the tide has shifted. Judo is now, more than ever, a truly international sport. World and Olympic champions have come from virtually all of the major European countries, as well the United States and Brazil and many smaller nations such as Cuba and the Yugoslavia. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Montreal native, Nicolas Gill won a silver medal in the -100kg division, to go along with his bronze medal from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, and his medals from the 1993 and 1999 World Judo Championships, showing that Canada too, is making a name for itself in the Judo World.

Although it can be said that judo is now a truly international sport, it still retains much of its Japanese heritage. Wherever judo is practiced throughout the world, its terminology and customs remain Japanese. Upon entering and leaving a dojo, a judoka bows to a portrait of Professor Jigoro Kano as a sign of respect for the man who created this unique sport. Thus, with the many Western ideas and products that have been brought into Japan since the Meiji Restoration (some more freely than others), it is comforting to know that the Japanese have given many "gifts'" to the West in return. Judo is one of the more precious of these.

Jita Kyoei
Seiryoku Zenyo
Prof. Jigoro Kano Traditional jujitsu armlock, ude garame. Early sketches of Kodokan Judo techniques demostrating jujitsu applications. A photograph of Jigoro Kano and Kyuzo Mifune demonstrating judo posture. Early example of the judo uniform.