With Special Reference to the Approach to Judo Thought During His Jujutsu Training Years

By Mineo Maekawa (Chukyo University)
Bulletin of the Association for the Scientific Studies on Judo, Kodokan
Report V, 1978, Tokyo, Japan

kano14.jpgBeing interested in physical education, it is my desire to study Jigoro Kano’s thought on Judo, because it may be considered to be the central idea underlying the thought on physical education.

When one wishes to study physical education in Japan, one usually makes great efforts in making a detailed study of the physical education of Europe and the United States. However, although Jigoro Kano’s influence on the world of Japanese physical education and sports was immense, studies concerning him are very meager. This paucity of studies on Jigoro Kano struck me as strange, and I have been considering since a long time to investigate into the matter. In order to know more about Jigoro Kano, it is of paramount importance to get more acquainted with the judo as practiced by Jigoro Kano, instead of the judo as practiced nowadays.

Therefore the study of Jigoro Kano’s judo thought is not merely a study of the thought of judo, but a study on his thought which had such a profound influence on Japanese education and physical education.

It goes without saying that Jigoro Kano’s thought on judo was not formed in one day. It was formed in various stages: (1) the stage when he devoted himself to the practice of jujutsu, which led to his forming the foundation of judo thought, (2) the stage when he first attempted to systematize judo, and (3) the stage of its completion. Here, I shall attempt to clarify Kano’s attitude toward problems in life, and how he handled them during the years preceding his founding the Kodokan at the age of 23 (1882), where he taught judo. This period corresponds to only 9 years, starting when he was 14 years old. During this short period Kano had accomplished many things which are worth studying by researchers in physical education. In modern times, age 23 is the age when a young man graduates from a university. At the period in history when Kano was 23 years of age, people in general were not interested in the military arts, much less so in jujutsu which was also a military art, but without any system or organization. Under these circumstances, it is interesting and useful to know, why young Kano became interested, and resolved to master jujutsu. Also, to know what Kano, at the age corresponding to a modern high school or university student, was thinking about or what he intended to do is of significance in reconsidering what modern physical education or education in general should be. At any rate, it is a wonder that a great undertaking was already burgeoning in Kano’s mind at such a young age. It is also food for thought in reconsidering modern education in which youths are not given the chance to think about what is best to be done, because they are too busy learning so many things.

Incentive to Learn Jujutsu

An important incentive which led Kano to founding the Kodokan was his acquaintance with jujutsu. However, his acquaintance with jujutsu, by itself, was not exactly a necessary condition to his later founding the Kodokan. Because, in fact, even during the Meiji era (1867-1911) there were some people who practiced jujutsu, but Kano was the only one who originated judo. Strictly speaking, the reason why Kano took up jujutsu was not because he wanted to originate judo, but because Kano wanted to improve his health and build a strong body, next to none. That is how he became acquainted with jujutsu.

According to Kano’s autobiography, he entered the Ikuei Gijuku, a private school in 1873 at the age of 14, where he learned English and other subjects taught in schools at that time. He mentions that “among the pupils the stronger boys domineered over the weaker ones, and the latter were put in a subordinate position”, and he regrets very much that he always fared ill. He was also physically delicate and disclosed that he “was inferior physically to most of the boys at school”, and consequently, “was very often slighted by others” (Tadao Otaki: Jigoro Kano, My Life and Judo, p. 18).

It is only natural that most boys during their boyhood do not want to be domineered by others, but wish to become superior to others. Young Kano was no exception. At this time, what he was immediately concerned with was not something which had to do with intellectual accomplishment or character building, but with physical strength and body building. Kano was physically frail, and consequently had no weight among the boys, and could not make his influence felt. He was always “placed in a subordinate position”, and “was slighted by others”. Regardless of the times, practically everybody has, sometime during his life, gone through such an experience. However, at present, there are many factors to be compared, and even if a child is inferior in one respect, he may be superior in another and thus is able to maintain his pride. In Kano’s childhood days, conditions were different. In spite of young Kano’s academic superiority he was relegated to a subordinate position, because of his physical inferiority. No doubt, to young Kano this was a bitter experience. What would a boy of the present day do in such a circumstance. Most probably, he would go to his parents and ask for help. Not young Kano. In order to extricate himself from this sad plight, Kano instead of going to his parents for help, decided on his own accord to practice jujutsu, the traditional Japanese art of self defense. In other words, Kano sought jujutsu in order to sweep aside his feeling of physical powerlessness and the inferiority complex caused by it. In his autobiography he writes about the circumstances under which he began to practice jujutsu, as follows: “since I was a small child I had heard that a military art called jujutsu existed in Japan … and that even a physically inferior person could, if he were proficient in jujutsu, overcome a physically superior opponent. Thus I decided to learn jujutsu at all costs” (Kodokan, Jigoro Kano, p. 32). At any rate, young Kano at the early age of a modern middle school student hit upon such an idea which became an incentive to his learning jujutsu.

Kano’s inclination toward jujutsu became all the more stronger as he entered the Kaisei School in 1876 at the age of 16. Because here, although studies were respected, there was more need of physical strength than at the Ikuei Gijuku (Otaki: Jigoro Kano, My Life and Judo p. 18). His desire to learn jujutsu increased considerably due to the urgency of the situation. Thereupon, he asked his parents whether a jujutsu teacher who was an acquaintance of the Kano family would teach him jujutsu. However, young Kano’s father disagreed, and told the boy that there was no necessity to learn jujutsu. What would a present day boy do under such circumstance? Kano’s father told him that jujutsu was a thing of the past, and quite useless now. Most probably father Kano thought that the boy should learn something more up-to-date. How did young Kano react to this? According to his own words: “I am no more a child and my ideas have become fixed to a certain extent, so I do not think that it is necessary to depend on my parents in selecting a jujutsu master” (Otaki: Jigoro Kano, My Life and Judo, p. 18). In those days, a boy of 16 was probably already considered to be a grown-up person. Young Kano already had the awareness that he had arrived at the age when problems concerning him should be decided and dealt with all by himself. In spite of the fact that school education has spread so widely, and that the art of teaching has progressed so much, recently, one feels strongly the lack of ability of modern education to foster the spirit of independence. Young Kano without asking his parents for help, now decided to find a jujutsu master by himself, and to train under him in order to fulfill his cherished desire. At any rate, this decision contains factors which modern education should reconsider and adopt, i.e., self-reliance and independence.

Jujutsu Training

Young Kano’s decision to learn jujutsu was materialized in the year when he entered the Tokyo Imperial University (present day Tokyo University). He was 18 years old, in other words, the age of a modern third year high school student or a first year university student. Details regarding him at this period are described in Kodokan, Jigoro Kano (pp. 31-48). Here, I shall deal with the way he devoted himself to training in jujutsu, which later led to his originating judo.

It seems, his training attitude was no ordinary matter. Being a university student he had many other subjects to study. Let us select a few lines from his autobiography describing his attitude in training.

“If there is anything you do not understand, press the master tenaciously until you are satisfied with his explanation”.

The following incident took place shortly after Kano became a student of the jujutsu master Hachinosuke Fukuda (Yoshinryu) whom he found after a zealous search for a good master. Fukuda threw Kano by means of a certain Waza (judo technique). After promptly picking himself up, Kano asked his master “how did you do it?” Thereupon, Fukuda said “come here”, and then threw him down again. Kano undaunted by this treatment persistently asked “what are the positions and movements of the hands and feet?” Thereupon, Fukuda again replied by saying “come here again”, and then threw him down once more. Whereupon, Kano repeated the same question for the third time. To this the master replied “there is no use asking such a question, you will not understand my explanation anyway, but the important thing is to try again, and again, and again, then you will be able to do it, so come here once more”. Kano’s persistence in asking the same question so many times is amazing, but the answer of the master is also perplexing. However, from this Kano realized that “training must be learned by the body”. This is of great importance. Kinesiology or kinetics explains various phenomena involved in a Waza scientifically, however, a Waza cannot be learned in this way. The problem whether theory comes first or actual practice comes first may be left aside for the moment. When we come across something which we desire to learn, it is all important to pursue it thoroughly until we are satisfied, no matter what attitude the teacher may take. While most people abandon their aim when once they encounter some difficulty, Kano at this time already showed the tenacity to pursue his aim thoroughly until satisfied. This attitude, no doubt, became the force behind his eventually forming a great thought.


When we wish to realize the principle or the fundamental reason of something by actual practice and not merely as a concept, it must not be denied that there are several ways of going about it, depending on the individual. Kano had his own special way of doing it. I wanted to know with what attitude Kano advanced toward the goal which he had envisioned. Accordingly, I shall make a few references to Kano’s autobiography, and also to pertinent literature on Kano written by those who knew him well.

At the time he became a university student, his daily practice in jujutsu was so strenuous that he could hardly stand up after finishing his toilet, but yet he kept on training, dragging his hurting legs, and not missing a day of practice. What is to be thought of a vigorous spirit like this.

In modern times, an attitude like this would be condemned as being irrational. However, to be able to exercise so much courage and vigor in order to accomplish what he had decided to do is no ordinary feat.

When Kano was training under Masatomo Iso, there were about 30 instructors, however, most of them were usually absent, and consequently, Kano alone had to deal with the trainees. “It was no easy task to play opposite 30 trainees in Randori (free practice), but to do this after receiving training in Kata (form) was extremely difficult”. “I usually went to the Dojo (exercise hall) after finishing supper, and returned home often as late as passed 11:00 p.m.. Sometimes, I was so dead tired that I could not walk straight, and occasionally hit against a fence”. So reminisces Kano, and continues that “it is a wonder that I did not become ill”. It is amazing for a person who later expounded the doctrine of Seiryoku zenyo (maximum efficiency) to have accomplished such a feat. Can a present day university student do a thing like that? It is no easy task for a Tokyo University student who is busily engaged in academic activities during the day to practice jujutsu with heart and soul during his spare time in order to attain his lofty goal. At any rate, in order to make way for the origination of judo after becoming fully proficient in jujutsu, Kano had to brush aside every difficulty and go smash against the odds. Nobody can become a real past master by treading along the ordinary path. When a man of unusual ability, like Kano, seeks something which is eternal, and advances toward it with heart and soul in defiance of all difficulties, he discovers that he has acquired something, unexpectedly. With Kano this “something” was judo.

Proof by Actual Practice

There are quite a number of people who make great efforts in order to learn something. However, when it comes to attaining a lofty goal through it, the method of doing so differs with each individual. At the time when Kano was learning jujutsu he was problem conscious and he set himself to the performance of an activity, i. e., “practicing jujutsu”. Through the result of this activity, he was able to comprehend the fundamental principle. A few examples will be cited here.

Body building effect

Kano’s reasoning regarding the effect of jujutsu in body building is of interest. He says “I have discovered that although one gets very tired after an outing it is not so effective in hardening the body. Also, baseball and other ball games, although they are very enjoyable, are not sufficient in training the whole body”. Boating is a “one day affair”. “Going on a health seeking recreation trip is beneficial, but not effective in hardening the body”. On the other hand, through his own experience in jujutsu practice, he poignantly realized the superiority of jujutsu in body building and training. In those days there was no method of measuring the effect of training, however, by undergoing various experiences he attempted to evaluate the effects of various sports on body building.

Discovery of technique

Judo in cherry blossom season Kano later formulated a system for the Waza (judo technique) of judo as practiced as a sport today. However, in order to be able to do so, it was important for him to apprehend various techniques by experience. Then, how did Kano master tile various Waza? A few examples will be cited here. The examples refer to occurrences which took place during the time when Kano was training under Tsunetoshi likubo and also under Fukuda. One of the students of Fukuda was very strong, and no matter how hard he tried, Kano could not defeat him. Kano questioned is there any trick in the West by which to defeat this strong opponent?” Thereupon, he promptly went to the library of the Yushima Seido, and began to investigate, and finally, in one of the books, he came across a technique which he thought might be useful in overcoming the opponent. Kano promptly tried the technique on him and defeated him. Kano later reminisced that he was then very much delighted and happy. This was due not only to his defeating the strong opponent, but also to the satisfaction he felt, that his efforts had been successful.

The other citation refers to an occurrence which took place during Kano’s training under Iikubo. When Kano took Randori lessons from Iikubo, he noticed that his (Kano’s) Waza took effect very well. He began to think what were the reasons behind this strange happening, and arrived at the following conclusion. It was the result of his investigations on how to disturb the opponent’s balance. In other words, “first concentrate on disturbing the opponent’s balance, and then attack. This order must be followed thoroughly” (Otaki: Jigoro Kano, My Life and Judo, pp. 71-72).

Kano’s process of discovering the fundamental principle of a Waza may be gathered from the foregoing. How is it possible to defeat an opponent whom you could not defeat after many trials. Kano solved the problem in the following manner: (1) work out a plan of the method by which you think you may be able to defeat the opponent, (2) put the idea into practice, and (3) if you succeed not only once, but many times, the plan may be considered to be correct, and the principle of a Waza may be formulated. Of further importance is to prove that it is the underlying principle. For instance, taking the foregoing example: “the balance of a man’s body is invariably disturbed if you push or pull him. A man who is just standing, no matter how strong he may be, will falter backward if you push him from the front. If you pull him he will falter forward, in other words, you disturb his balance”. Also, “if the opponent has physical strength and pushes back when you push him, his balance will not be disturbed backward … and if the opponent pulls back when you pull him his balance will not be disturbed forward. Furthermore, even if the opponent has physical strength, if you push him when he pulls you, he will invariably lose his balance backward”. “If you pull him toward you when the opponent pushes you, he will lose his balance forward”. This is a modern kinetics or kinesiological concept. Kano, first of all studied the scientific principle of a new idea, then he put into practice and if the new idea worked steadily, it became the fundamental principle of a new Waza. This shows that Kano’s way of thinking was very rational and scientific.

From the way he practiced jujutsu it is evident that, although his jujutsu companions used the various Waza without giving much thought to them, Kano used them fully conscious about their underlying principles. Furthermore, he added his own device, and if it worked according to his expectation, he did not stop there, but investigated the reason and basis for its success. Having clarified the reason why it worked, he adopted it as a definite technique, and thus he established a system for the Waza of jujutsu. This is undoubtedly the feat of a genius.

Realization of spiritual effect

Young Kano investigated the change which appeared in his inner self, which he noticed as a result of his indefatigable and almost life-staking intensive jujutsu training, and discovered that it was a spiritual effect. He very often investigated his inner self by means of self observation. The following example is a typical case. He very often went back to the past and observed his own young sell According to this he found that he had been very hot tempered in his youth. Now, what effect did his hard training in jujutsu have on young Kano’s temper. According to him, his “emotional condition became calm and settled”. Furthermore, be realized that his “power of restraint increased considerably”. The reasons for this change in his inner self were not made clear, however, Kano thought upon introspection that one of the reasons was, by practicing jujutsu he built up bodily strength, and as a result he was not any more domineered by others. However, there are people in the world who are hot tempered even though they are physically strong. What did training in jujutsu actually cause to happen within young Kano. Most probably, training in jujutsu developed in him the power to control his emotions. You cannot practice jujutsu all by yourself, an opponent is necessary, and by standing opposite each other you try to outdo each other. Since you are confronted by an opponent you are very often restrained from doing what you wish to do. In this type of relative condition, it is useless to be infuriated all by yourself. As a result, you must develop enough strength both physically and spiritually to be able to bring your opponent under control. In order to do so you must put in all efforts to control your emotion even under conditions when it is difficult to do so. Otherwise you cannot attain supremacy over others. This is how Kano eventually mastered the art of subduing strong opponents.

At any rate, the spiritual effect which Kano acquired through practicing jujitsu may be considered to be the result of remaking of his “character”. With this realization Kano often spoke of the character building effect of jujutsu, revealing the pedagogist in him.


In the present paper, we caught a glimpse through his practice of jujutsu, the path followed by the esteemed Jigoro Kano in arriving at the lofty position among the great men of our time. At any rate, he was not the great Kano when he was born, his stage of greatness was preceded by his boyhood stage, and the jujitsu straining stage. This study of Kano was made with the presumption that after passing through these stages Kano began to manifest his greatness. Although it was not mentioned in the present paper, Kano was fortunate in having a favorable environment but of more importance was his innate genius. Since his boyhood he was replete with ideas, and he put in superhuman efforts in order to realize them. What was the reason which made Kano put in so much frantic efforts in realizing his end? One factor cannot be denied, and that is young Kano’s unyielding spirit. Fortunately, he possessed the makings of a superior body and mind, and he had many occasions to manifest his unyielding spirit. Of importance was his relation to his school friends. At school, although he was superior intellectually, he was physically inferior and was very often overpowered by his stronger classmates. At such times he did not give up for lost but put in all efforts to do something about it. This energy undoubtedly came from his unyielding spirit.

His problem consciousness changed as he passed from boyhood to youth. When Kano, as a boy perceived the relative positions between him and his classmates resulting from his physical inferiority he thought out a method to rectify the situation, and so he began his practice of jujutsu. And now, in his youth he began to tackle problems of a higher dimension. Here we have referred only to jujutsu. At any rate, as Kano developed he began to investigate thoroughly into the very essence of jujutsu. It was not just a matter of improving one’s physical strength, but a search for something more eternal, something more universal. With this in mind, he put into practice what he thought, and eventually evolved judo from jujutsu. The great Kano was not formed in one day, it took years and years of trudging along a difficult path with incessant effort.