What is Judo

The Judo | What is Judo | Founder Kano Jigoro | Judo Techniques | Kodokan Judo Techniques | Judo Combat Phases | Judo Ranks and Grading | Judo Rules | Kodokan Judo | Judo Styles

The early history of judo is inseparable from its founder, Japanese polymath and educator Kano Jigoro (嘉納 治五郎 Kano Jigoro, 1860–1938). Kano was born into a well-to-do Japanese family. His grandfather was a self-made man; a sake brewer from Shiga prefecture in central Japan.

However, Kano’s father was not the eldest son and therefore did not inherit the business. Instead, he became a Shinto priest and government official, with enough influence for his son to enter the second incoming class of Tokyo Imperial University.

Founder pursues jujutsu: Kano was a small, frail boy, who, even in his twenties, did not weigh more than a hundred pounds (45kg), and was often picked on by bullies. He first started pursuing jujutsu, at that time a flourishing art, at the age of 17, but met with little success.

This was in part due to difficulties finding a teacher who would take him on as a serious student.

When he went off to the University to study literature at the age of 18, he continued his martial studies, eventually gaining a referral to Fukuda Hachinosuke (c.1828–c.1880), a master of the Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu and grandfather of noted jÅ«dōka Keiko Fukuda (Fukuda Keiko, born 1913), who is one of Kano’s oldest surviving students. Fukuda Hachinosuke is said to have emphasized technique over formal exercise, sowing the seeds of Kano’s emphasis of free practice (randori) in judo.

Jigoro Kano the Judo Founder

A little more than a year after Kano joined Fukuda’s school, Fukuda became ill and died. Kano then became a student in another Tenjin Shin’yō-ryÅ« school, that of Iso Masatomo (c.1820–c.1881), who put more emphasis on the practice of pre-arranged forms (kata) than Fukuda had.

Through dedication, Kano quickly earned the title of master instructor (shihan) and became assistant instructor to Iso at the age of 21.

Unfortunately, Iso soon took ill, and Kano, feeling that he still had much to learn, took up another style, becoming a student of Tsunetoshi Iikubo of Kitō-ryÅ«. Like Fukuda, Iikubo placed much emphasis on free practice; on the other hand, Kitō-ryÅ« emphasized throwing techniques to a much greater degree than Tenjin Shin’yō-ryÅ«.

Founding: By this time, Kano was devising new techniques, such as the “shoulder wheel” (kata-guruma, known as a fireman’s carry to Western wrestlers who use a slightly different form of this technique) and the “floating hip” (uki goshi) throw. His thoughts were already on doing more than expanding the canons of Kitō-ryÅ« and Tenjin Shin’yō-ryÅ«. Full of new ideas, Kano had in mind a major reformation of jujutsu, with techniques based on sound scientific principles, and with focus on development of the body, mind and character of young men in addition to development of martial prowess.

At the age of 22, when he was just about to finish his degree at the University, Kano took 9 students from Iikubo’s school to study jujutsu under him at the Eisho-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kamakura, and Iikubo would come to the temple three days a week to help teach. Although two years would pass before the temple would be called by the name “Kodokan”, or “place for teaching the way”, and Kano had not yet been accorded the title of “master” in the Kitō-ryÅ«, this is now regarded as the Kodokan’s founding.

Meaning of “judo”: The word “judo” shares the same root ideogram as “jujutsu”: “jÅ«” (柔, “jÅ«”), which may mean “gentleness”, “softness”, “suppleness”, and even “easy”, depending on its context. Such attempts to translate jÅ« are deceptive, however. The use of jÅ« in each of these words is an explicit reference to the martial arts principle of the “soft method” (柔法, jÅ«hō).

The soft method is characterized by the indirect application of force to defeat an opponent. More specifically, it is the principle of using one’s opponent’s strength against him and adapting well to changing circumstances. For example, if the attacker was to push against his opponent he would find his opponent stepping to the side and allowing (often with the aid of a foot to trip him up) his momentum to throw him forwards (the inverse being true for pulling).

Kano saw jujutsu as a disconnected bag of tricks, and sought to unify it according to a principle; he found it in the notion of “maximum efficiency”. Jujutsu techniques which relied solely on superior strength were discarded or adapted in favour of those which involved redirecting the opponent’s force, off balancing the opponent, or making use of superior leverage.

The second characters of judo and jujutsu differ. Where jujutsu (柔術, jÅ«jutsu) means the “art” or “science” of softness, judo (柔道, jÅ«dō) means the “way” of softness. The use of “dō” (道, “dō”), meaning way, road or path (and is the same character as the Chinese word “tao”), has spiritual or philosophical overtones. Use of this word is a deliberate departure from ancient martial arts, whose sole purpose was for killing.

Kano saw judo as a means for governing and improving oneself physically, mentally, emotionally and morally. He even extended the physical principle of maximum efficiency into daily life, evolving it into “mutual prosperity”. In this respect judo is seen as a holistic approach to life extending well beyond the confines of the dojo.