History of Judo

The origins of Judo can be traced back to the ancient art of jujutsu. Feudal Japan, from the Kamakura period (1185–1333) until the Edo period (1603–1867), was ruled by the samurai, and this period is known as the age of samurai. The samurai were a professional class of warriors who fought battles with swords and bows. However, they developed jujutsu for close hand-to-hand combat.

While Judo was inspired by jujutsu, it was designed to be a combat game that utilizes a form of wrestling that can also be used for self-defence.

Judo was originally founded by Dr Jigoro Kano, in 1882. He was born on October 28, 1860, in Mikage, a town in the Hyogo Prefecture. Shihan Kano was a pacifist and his view of martial arts was not based on showing power and physical dexterity. He believed in living with others in peace, and therefore, he studied jujutsu under different masters to find a way to express his values through a unique form of martial arts that the world had not yet seen.

Kano was searching for a principle that could merge all the techniques he had learned, leading him to Judo–Seiryoku Zenyo (maximum efficiency in mental and physical energy), also known as the first principle of Judo. He incorporated techniques that required practitioners to use the energy of their opponent against them. This body of knowledge was referred to as “Judo” (the gentle way) by Kano. In 1882, Kano founded the Kodokan (school to learn the way) at the Eishoji Temple.

Kano incorporated humanitarian principles and a detailed code of ethics to transition from Jutsu (martial art). Students at Kodokan were taught to be shining examples of honesty and strong character, inside and outside the dojo. Students were restricted to use hand-to-hand combat outside the dojo. Kano travelled to Europe and America in 1889 to promote Judo. He made a total of 8 trips to different continents. On May 4, 1938, Kano died while travelling.

Kodokan Yudanshakai (association of black belt holders) was founded in the 1900s, and on July 24, 1905, Japanese Jujutsu ryas joined Kano’s system in Butokukai, Kyoto.

In 1909, Kodokan became a foundation, and by 1922, Judo was well known throughout the world.

The International Judo Foundation was created between 1912 and 1952. The following Japanese experts moved to different continents to spread the teachings of Judo:

  • Sensei Gunji Koizumi, 7th Dan (founded the London Budokwai in Great Britain in 1918)
  • Mikinosuke Kawaishi, 7th Dan (went to France in 1922)
  • Sensei Sumiyuki Kotani, 8th Dan (trained American Air Force Judokas)

Judo was included in the Olympics in 1964 and gained popularity as a competitive sport. Several throwing techniques were revised in 1982, such as the Gokyo no Waza and two additional throws were added in 1997. 

Today, in 2022, about 204 countries represent Judo, with the young and old stepping onto the mat to test their body, mind, and spirit. The character and values envisioned by Kano live on in the art of Judo.