kodokan Kodokan Judo facts and history

The meaning of the Kodokan emblem?
Which DAN was Jigoro Kano?
Which is the maximum DAN one can get?
How many tenth DAN's have there been?
The colours of the different belts?
Their name in Japanese?
The translation of "judo"?

There are some aspects about our sport that are not clear enough, and we feel unsure about others, maybe, because we don't have enough information about them. Take the title of this article, for example. We are going to try to solve some of these doubts by commenting on our talks to Mr. Naoki Murata, 7th Dan black belt and director of the Kodokan Museum.

Almost every judoka in the world has, at least once, worn a T-shirt where you can see the Kodokan badge. Most of us believe we know its meaning. I myself used to believe it represented the flower of the cherrytree (some of my masters had told me so), but other judokas claimed it was a lotus flower. Moreover, this theory is stated in some books. Well, the truth is both are wrong.

The judo Kodokan badge is not a flower, as we know now. This badge is made up of a red circle inside a red-edged white octagon. In October 1940, the kodokan stated that the badge symbolizes the aims of this Martial Art and it means "indomitable spirit".

What do its colours and shape mean? The octagon represents one of the three sacred treasures of the japanese imperial court: the sacred mirror. This is so because the outer red line forms the eight angles of the dokyo which resembles a bronze mirror similar to the ones used in ancients times.

The white inner side symbolizes pure spirit. Purity, in this Martial Art, represents soft white cotton or thin and delicate cloth which wraps he flame of passionate blood heart (the red circle).

The red circle means indomitable spirit. It stands for an ardent heart, "the spirit which burns like iron in fire", full of fidelity, passion and bravery. It is the true symbol of indomitable spirit.

We can conclude then that the Kodokan judo badge is a symbol which means "indomitable spirit".

Another point to deal with is the meaning of the word JUDO. To start with, the Japanese characters, write this word with to two words with different meanings.

This kanji stands for "JU" and should be translated as "soft", "no resistance", "flexible", etc.

This one stands for "DO" and it means "way", "way of life", etc. You should keep in mind that Japanese is read from right to left; therefore these characters are sometimes written in a different order from the one we have used. All Martial Arts include DO as a part of their name and philosophy (Kendo, Aikido, Karatedo). The translation of the word judo, literally is "soft way". "DO" refers to the life or the way one has to go when we do this sport and the way we have to do it. In other words, a way of life or a life style.

Judo, is a mental and physical education based on a combat discipline that helps you to discover and strengthen your own capacity to take them to your daily life. It was the first Martial Art to become an Olympic Sport. It is also one of the most widely done sports in the world due to its educational side. It is a compulsory subject in the Japanese Educational System. UNESCO supports it and it has been chosen as a university and school sport by the Culture and Education Ministery in Spain.

It was founded by a young Jigoro Kano. Jigoro Kano was born 18th October 1863 in Mikage, a district of Hyogo, Kobe island. He was the son of Jirosaku M. Kano and his wife Sada. He used to do Ju-jitsu. He studied this sport with the aid of some of its best masters and he founded Judo on it. In February, 1882, he opened the first "Kodokan" gym in Tokyo. Kodokan means "house which shows the way". Kano became the fist Japanese person in the International Olympic Committee, Secretary of the Education Ministery in Japan and, of course, a relevant figure in Japanese sports and education.

Funny enough, he also founded the first baseball club in Japan. By the way, this sport is nowadays one of the favourite sports in the country and there is a very important professional league. He died 4th May 1938 onboard a ship called "Hikawa-Maru". He was coming back to Japan from Cairo where he had represented Japan in an Olympic Assembly. Judo was spreading all over the world at this time.

Let's remember Judo, as a school of life, has helped, not only its members but it also helped other Martial Arts creators like Funakoshi and Ueshiba, the founders of Karate and Aikido, to enter the most relevant sports institutions. Some Judo rules were also assumed by masters of other Martial Arts. For instance, the hierarchy of grades or belts (a basic tool for these sports), which ranks the capacity attained by the pupil and shows his/her technical knowledge.

This colour rank is called KYU in the categories prior to the black belt and it is known as DAN when the level corresponds to the different categories within black belts.

The first Japanese masters who arrived to different parts of Europe before 1950 to teach Judo realized very soon that western people were less patient than their Japanese pupils. The trainings called for a motivation plus; therefore they adapted the different levels to the western character. It was master Mikonosuke Kawaishi, who lived in France, together with the European gokyo, who brought about the current belt system. Yellow (5th kyu), orange, green, blue, brown (1st kyu). This system was soon adopted by almost every other existing Martial Art. It was based on a colour grade that darkens from the white, yellow, etc…, to the brown, the belt immediately before the black.

Grades were established to state somehow the skill level. Being a fight sport, levels offer us information about our opponent during a randori. In Japan, there are also two kyu divisions which differentiate between raw pupils and skilled pupils. Adults, in Japan, wear the blue belt for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd kyu (brown, blue and green) and kids wear a purple belt for the same levels. the white belt stands for the 4th and 5th kyus (yellow and orange) both for kids and adults.

As for the program and ways to attain a black belt in the different countries, we can see there are many differences. In Japan, for instance, they favour efficiency in combat (there are line and non-stop combat leagues) to attain the minimum score; while in Europe the most widely used system includes competition and technical systems.

Now, let's talk about the higher rank dans. First of all, Jigoro Kano, believe it or not, didn't have any dan grade. He was the founder or "Shihan" and his was the responsibility to authorize his pupils' dans.

There's no limit for Dans. The main reason to be given a Dan is to be active in judo. It is still a bit rare to be over one hundred years-old and when you become ninety, it is not easy to be "active" (wearing your judogui, teaching, attending technical commitees, giving lectures, in a word, doing judo). It is, thereby, impossible to be give a Dan over 10th.

The twelve judokas that were given a 10th DAN, by now, were:

1.-Yoshitsugu Yamashita
2.- Hajime Isogai
3.- Shuichi Nagaoka
4.- Kyuzo Mifune
5.- Kunisaburo Izuka
6.- Shotaro Tabata
7.- Kaichiro Samura
8.- Yoshitaro Okano
9.- Matsutaro Shoriki
10.- Shozo Nakano
11.- Tamio Kurihara
12.- Sumiyuki Kotani

Nowadays, there are no 10th DANS in the world, according to the Kodokan [Editor's note: this changed when 3 new 10th dans were promoted on January 8, 2006].

Belt colours and their names in Japanese:
SHO-DAN 1st DAN Black
NI-DAN 2nd DAN Black
SAN-DAN 3rd DAN Black
YO-DAN 4th DAN Black
GO-DAN 5th DAN Black
ROKU-DAN 6th DAN Red-white
SHICHI-DAN 7th DAN Red-white
HACHI-DAN 8th DAN Red-white
KU-DAN 9th DAN Red
JU-DAN 10th DAN Red

The Red-white belt masters can also wear a black belt. Ethically, if these sensei preside at a meeting or a training, they should use the Red-white belt. If they wished to enter competition or randori or combat, they should wear the black belt. No pupil, due to a question of respect, shall ever immobilize or throw a master wearing a "red-white" belt.

In Kodokan, I have seen judokas, who became champions, in randori with ancient masters and were thrown by them. When an elderly master chooses a given pupil to do judo, both respect and the grandieur of this Martial Art in its higher level shall reign: Respect to the master, "mutual respect".

To give an end to this article, we summarize briefly the answers to the questions we made you at the beginning:

– The Kodokan Judo badge, symbolizes: "Indomitable Spirit" .
– The word JUDO is translated as: " Softness Way".
– Jigoro Kano, was outside the Dan ranking.
– There's no limit as for Dans, although the maximum Dan attained was the tenth.
– There were 12 tenth Dans along Judo history.
– Up to the 5th Dan, the colour of the belt is "black".
– The 6th, 7th and 8th Dan, red-white.
– 9th and 10th Dan masters, wear a "Red" belt .

Just a slight historical note. Some of the tenth Dan masters were direct pupils of master J. Kano. They were pretty relevant people in this Art and without them, it could have been really difficult to establish the basis of this Martial Art.

This discipline, which Jigoro Kano named "Kodokan Judo" (not to confuse it with the Zikishin style which already called their ju-jitsu school "judo"), established his dojo in the small buddhist temple of Eishoji from the Yodo sect. Kano lived in the temple with his pupils and a woman as maid. Here, he improved his new method. The tatami of the first kodokan was only 20 square metres. The first pupil arrived on 5th June, 1882. His name was Tsunejiro Tomita. After him arrived: Higushi, Nakajima, Arima, Matsuoka, and the famous Shiro Saigo (the best among the competing pupils of Kano who was a Judo champion who was never beaten in any combat against famous expert fighters from the different ju-jitsu schools).

In 1884, the first book of pupils of the kodokan was established officially. In the year 1887, over 1,500 judokas are quoted there.

After some years of hard work, after changing the kodokan location and when the sport spreaded widely and was renowned in Japan, Kano traveled to Europe and America and its best pupils, the masters: Isogai, Nagaoka, Samura, Tabata and Kurihara, who taught the best judo of his Japanese followers, always following the methology established by the founder.

In 1895 Jigoro Kano, codified his Judo pedagogy in the "gokyo" ("go" means five, "kyo" means Teaching Principle) with the aid of his masters: Yokoyama, Yamashita, Nagaoka, Itsuka. They eliminated the dangerous movements and modern judo began. This program wouldn't be reviewed until 1920, when a dozen of the most prestigious sensei gathered for several days and perfected certain technical concepts of the movements of the gokyo (technical classification of this kind of sport).

By José Antonio Sánchez Gandoy,
Member of the Spanish Grade Commission,
6th Dan Black Belt
Spanish Referee of Katas

Published in the official website of FEJYDA and JudoPrensa magazine. This article is copyright © José Antonio Sánchez Gandoy and used with permission. English translation edited by Neil Ohlenkamp. The web page is copyright © 2005 by Neil Ohlenkamp, JudoInfo.com, USA. All rights reserved. Published February 1, 2005. Last modified February 1, 2006.