The History of Kodokan Judo

by Keo Cavalcanti

Judo had its origin in the ancient Japanese art of jujutsu, a system of hand-to-hand combat. The bushi of feudal Japan (samurai) are usually credited for developing jujutsu (at their time the art was known as Yoroi kumi-uchi, a grappling method for fighters fully clad in Japanese armor). However, the Nihon Shoki (the Chronicle of the Japanese nation) documents public unarmed competitions (hikara-kurabe) dating back to 230 B.C.

Jujutsu has been known by several names throughout Japanese history: taijutsu, yawara, kempo, kugusoku, kumiuchi, koshinomawan. What is unique to the art is that one did not use brute strength to overpower an opponent, but rather skill, finesse and flexibility. Economy of energy, balance, and grace were the outstanding hallmarks of the good jujutsu practitioner. Unlike the Western hand-to-hand fighter, the jujutsu fighter was expected to be soft and pliable, winning by appearing to yield.

In classical form, during the feudal period, jujutsu was part of the bushi training, along with archery, spearfighting, swordsmanship, horsemanship, maneuvering, and etiquette. Its importance grew with the rise of the bushi class after the late Heian period. Throughout subsequent periods of Japanese history (Kamakura, 1185-1336; Muromachi, 1336-1573 into the Tokugawa period, 1603-1868) the art became more diversified and specialized, being taught in schools (ryus). Ryus organized around different aspects of the art, perpetuating their founders' vision.

The schools differed in emphasis and strategy. Some specialized in throwing (nage), others in groundwork (osae, shime, kansetsu), and others in striking (atemi). In matters of strategy, some schools valued taking the initiative in combat while others preferred timely reaction to an opponent's aggression. Those that followed the principles of swordsmanship insisted on sudden, total attack. Others preferred to neutralize the opponent's attack once it was in motion.

Given the constant state of war in Japanese feudal history, ryus tested their vision of jujutsu on the battlefield, where the premium was on survival. The three hundred years of peace that followed the Japanese civil wars led to a change in the nature of the art. Under the harsh Tokugawa martial codes combats between bushi became rarer and heavy warfare far less frequent. On the other hand, unarmed combat became more common. The rise of the common citizen at the end of the period required that jujutsu techniques be adapted to the needs of everyday life.

At that time, several ryus lost their insistence on ceremonial or ritual posturing in favor of a more practical approach to hand-to-hand combat. By the end of the Tokugawa period, the ancient martial arts of Japan (Bujutsu) created for the warrior class began to lose importance as the martial ways (Budo) created for the commoner gained ascendancy. Budo was not simply a collection of fighting techniques but also a spiritual discipline, a way of life.

During the Meiji Restoration after 1868, the transition from Bujutsu to Budo was completed. Several branches of the martial arts changed names and orientation entirely. Kyujutsu became Kyudo, iai-jutsu became iaido, aiki-jutsu became aikido, and jujutsu became Judo. There was a shift from warfare techniques to everyday life principles, with the spiritual side of the arts being more emphasized. Schools now passed their tradition to students in the form of techniques, philosophy and codes of ethics. Students were expected to be fully versed on hand-to-hand combat, but also to embody the philosophy of the ryu's founders.

Jigoro Kano

Dr. Jigoro Kano, founder of modern Judo, was born in the town of Mikage in the Hyogo Prefecture, on October 28, 1860. Shihan Kano never viewed the martial arts as a means to display physical prowess or superiority. As a pacifist, he studied them to find a way to live in peace with other human beings. In his youth Kano studied Jujutsu under a number of different masters. Sensei Teinosuke Yagi was his first teacher, but at the age of 18 he entered the dojo of Tenshin-Shinyo Sensei Hachinosuke Fukuda. Upon graduation from Tokyo University, he studied the Kito tradition under Sensei Iikubo. By his mid-twenties, Shihan Kano had been initiated into the secret teachings of both ryus.

Kano's search for a unifying principle for the techniques he learned led him to the first principle of Judo--Seiryoku Zenyo (maximum efficiency in mental and physical energy). To him, only techniques that kept practitioners from spending much physical and mental energy should be incorporated into the system. One should use the energy of one's opponent to defeat his or her aggression. He called the resulting body of knowledge Judo. To propagate his art Kano founded the Kodokan (the "school to learn the way") at the Eishoji Temple in 1882.

Kano built his system around three major sets of techniques: throwing (nage waza), groundwork (katame waza) and striking (atemi waza). The throwing techniques, drawn from the Kito ryu, were further divided into standing (tachi waza) and sacrifice (sutemi waza) techniques. Standing techniques included hand (te waza), hip (koshi waza) and foot (ashi waza) throws. Sacrifice techniques include full sacrifice (ma sutemi waza) and side sacrifice (yoko sutemi waza) throws.

Kano's groundwork and striking techniques were drawn more heavily from the martially oriented Tenshin-Shinyo ryu. Groundwork is organized into holds (osaekomi waza), strangulations (shime waza) and joint locks (kansetsu waza). While Kano taught groundholds earlier to his students, the secrets of shime and kansetsu waza were saved for those who had attained a higher ranking in the art. High ranking students were also expected to know the art of resuscitation (kappo), so as to conduct their training in a safe and responsible manner.

Judo's striking techniques included upper (ude ate) and lower limb blows (ashi ate). Among the striking techniques were those utilizing fists, elbows, hand-edges, fingers, knees and feet as striking points. Because of its lethal nature, Atemi waza was also taught exclusively to high ranking Judokas at the Kodokan.

Kodokan emblem

Judo was taught in a well-structured process. Standing techniques were organized into five sets ranking from less strenuous or technically difficult to more advanced (the Gokyo no Waza). Ground and striking techniques were organized in sets also. The sets were introduced slowly as Judokas became more proficient in the art. Students were divided into mudansha (color belt level) and yudansha (black belt level). Mudansha students were ranked into five classes (kyus) while yudansha were ranked into ten degrees (dans). Ranks indicated the student's level of expertise in the art as different techniques were introduced at each new rank.

To complete the transition from jutsu (martial art) to Do (way of life), Kano added a strict code of ethics and a humanitarian philosophy to his newly created system. Kodokan instructors and students were expected from the beginning to be outstanding examples of good character and honest conduct. Any hand-to-hand combat outside of the dojo, public demonstrations for profit, or any behavior that might bring shame to the school could lead to suspension or expulsion from the Kodokan.

Kano's ultimate concern for the well-being of the whole individual and of the community is reflected in his teaching methods and in Judo's second guiding principle. Kano utilized four teaching methods in his dojo: randori (free practice of all Judo technique), kata (pre-arranged forms, considered the more technical rituals of the art), ko (his systematic lecturing), and mondo (periods of question and answer).

The debates between Shihan Kano and his disciples led him to the second principle of Judo, Jita Kyoei (the principle of mutual benefit and prosperity). Kano believed that the diligent practice of Judo would lead to the realization that one could not progress at the expense of others, that in mutual prosperity lied the key to any real progress in human life. He was so taken with the principle that he regarded its diffusion, through the practice of Judo, as his greatest mission in life.

Most of Judo's development took place around the turn of the century. In 1889 Kano traveled to Europe and America to promote his martial art. He would make as many as eight trips to other continents to propagate Judo before his untimely death at sea, on May 4, 1938.

The technical aspects of Judo came into full maturity in 1900 with the founding of the Kodokan Yudanshakai (association of black belt holders). On July 24, 1905 eighteen masters representing the leading Japanese Jujutsu ryus gathered at the Butokukai in Kyoto to join Kano's system. Kano's work had triumphed over Jujutsu in Japan, replacing the Tokugawa period aggressive martial arts with the more sophisticated way of life he had envisioned. The final touches were added in 1909 when the Kodokan became a foundation and in 1920 with the revision of the throwing techniques called the Gokyo no Waza. The art's intellectual and moral philosophy came into full being by 1922 with the foundation of the Kodokan Cultural Judo Society.

European Judo in 1921

Between 1912 and 1952, when the International Judo Federation was founded, several Japanese experts immigrated to other continents, spreading Judo teachings. Sensei Gunji Koizumi, 7th Dan, went to Great Britain in 1918, founding the London Budokwai. Mikinosuke Kawaishi, 7th Dan, one of the world's foremost experts on Judo kata, went to France in 1922. Sensei Sumiyuki Kotani, 8th Dan in 1952, trained the first team of American Air Force Judokas at the Kodokan. That team became the seed of what is now the United States Judo Association.

As Judo spread throughout the Western world it slowly gained the form of a sport. Its eventual popularity in World and Regional Games and inclusion in the 1964 Olympic Games led more and more to an emphasis on the physical and competitive aspects of the art, sometimes at the expense of its intellectual, moral and spiritual underpinnings. In 1982 (on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Kodokan) the Kodokan Judo throwing techniques, the Gokyo no Waza, were revised and expanded, then in 1997 the Kodokan added two additional throws.