by Matt Ball
Dr. Jigoro Kano was born on October 28, 1860 to a family of wealthy sake brewers. He was the youngest of five children and grew up in Mikage, a village in the present-day city of Kobe. Dr. Kano’s mother died when he was nine; shortly after he and one of his older brothers, Kensaku, were sent to Tokyo to go to school. It was in Tokyo that Dr. Kano began to learn English. At the age of twenty-one Dr. Kano graduated from Tokyo Imperial University with a literature, political science, and economics degree. One year later he received a degree in ethics, started a school for Japanese students to learn English and founded his first Judo school, Kodokan. He would go on to become one of the single most important figures in Japanese education and athletics of the Meiji Period.
Dr. Kano served as Principal of No. 5 Junior High School in Kumamoto, No. 1 Junior High School in Tokyo, and the Teacher’s Training College in Tokyo as well as traveling abroad thirteen times. Dr. Kano was the first Asian on the International Olympic Committee as well as the first chairman of the Japanese Amateur Sports Association. Tokyo being chosen as the site of the 1940 Olympic Games is wholly owed to the efforts of Dr. Kano. Dr. Kano also developed the sport of Judo, considered to be the highest form of wrestling in the world today. These many facets of Dr. Kano’s life prove him to be valuable not only to the Japanese people but to the world’s entire population at large.
Dr. Kano had a very interesting and distinguished educational career. In 1882 he started the Kobunkan English Language School. This school was to teach Japanese children the English language. The school was closed in 1889 when Dr. Kano took his first trip abroad. Helping children learn a foreign language was a revered position in Meiji Japan. This helped to jump- start his reputation as an outstanding educator.
After completing his post-graduate work at Tokyo Imperial University in 1882, he became a teacher at the Gakushuin, a private school in Tokyo reserved for the nobility. He continued his studies while teaching there. He also revolutionized the teaching methods used there. The students, being nobility, where regarded in higher esteem than the teachers. Dr. Kano would not allow himself to baby any student, favor a particular one, or go out of his way to pacify any student. By doing this he eventually earned the students respect. Unfortunately, the faculty was slightly unwilling to allow Dr. Kano’s attitude to pervade the school. A new principal to the school in 1884 changed this by accepting and instituting Dr. Kano’s ideas. He received his Doctorate from Gakushuin in 1885. Changing ideas was a mainstay in Meiji Japan but fighting the established upper-Samurai class was still very difficult and risky. Dr. Kano did so out of his love for better teaching techniques.
In 1891 he left the school and became the principal of the No. 5 Junior High School in Kumamoto, Kyushu. While principal at the school he introduced Judo as an additional gym class. He soon had a large following for Judo in Kyushu. However, after only two years Dr. Kano was asked to return to Tokyo and take the position of Chief of the Inspectorate for School Textbooks. Six months later he was also given the job of Principal in the No. 1 Junior High School in Tokyo. A mere four months later, in September of 1893, he was appointed to the position of Principal at the Tokyo Teacher’s Training College, which would later become a part of Tokyo University. This was quite a prestigious position for someone only thirty-three years old. It was also a position Dr. Kano would hold for another twenty-seven years, until 1920. “He received an award from the government for his diligent services to society” that year, 1920, as well (Watson 125). This showed just how much respect the government had for Dr. Kano.
A Chinese educator, Mr. Choshido, asked Dr. Kano to instruct Chinese students in Japanese education methods in 1893. The Kobun Gakuin was founded for this purpose. Approximately 8,000 students would visit this school and learn under the teachers Dr. Kano, the principal, selected. Dr. Kano was approached specifically for this. This shows how well Dr. Kano was respected in China and the rest of the world at this time. Unfortunately, the school was shut down in July of 1909; the year Dr. Kano became a member of the International Olympic Committee.
During his life Dr. Kano traveled across the world a total of thirteen times. His first trip was to France in 1889. This trip was considered his favorite and most enjoyable. He went to tour the educational institutions of Europe for one year. To be sent abroad by the Japanese Government at this time was indeed a privilege, Dr. Kano’s influence was just beginning to grow. Before returning home in 1890, he had a stopover in Egypt. There he climbed a pyramid, becoming the one of the first people to climb to the top unaided. He was extremely proud of this feat.
In 1902 Dr. Kano traveled to Peking, China. He went to share his ideas about solving the problem of education in China and visit Mr. Choshido. The 1912 Olympic Games were held in Stockholm, Sweden. Dr. Kano, now being a member of the International Olympic Committee and the Chairperson for Japan’s Amateur Sport’s Association, was on hand to watch his first athletes compete in the 100, 200, and 400 meter dash’s as well as the marathon. Unfortunately, no one placed. Since World War I broken out the 1916 Olympic Games were canceled. Dr. Kano and a group of athletes were sent to Antwerp, Belgium in 1920 to compete in the seventh Olympic Games. Japanese tennis players received two silver medals, the first for Japan. In 1921 and 1992 Dr. Kano attended International Olympic Committee meetings abroad. Amsterdam, Netherlands hosted the 1928 Olympic Games with Dr. Kano and an even larger contingent of athletes from Japan present. The year 1932 saw the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles, U.S. in which Japan took at least seven medals. Dr. Kano was also present to watch the proceedings and to present Tokyo’s proposal to host the 1940 Olympic Games.
In 1933 Dr. Kano took his tenth trip overseas to visit Vienna and attend the International Olympic Committee meeting there. The year 1934 proved to be a busy one for Dr. Kano abroad. He initially traveled to Athens for another International Olympic Committee meeting. Later in that same year Dr. Kano, while in Berlin, proposed to establish a world governing body for Judo. This later became the IJF, International Judo Federation. Finally, Dr. Kano visited Paris to discuss Tokyo’s Olympic Games bid.
In 1936 Dr. Kano attended the eleventh Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. He also obtained approval for Tokyo to be the host of the 1940 Olympic Games. The debate, though, was a heated one. Helsinki, Finland was the competition. With Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations many in the international community were set against Japan. This proved to be very costly for Japan but thankfully Dr. Kano had many friends and made “one last impassioned speech before the International Olympic Committee” (Watson 125). This and the fact that he was one of the senior members, serving twenty-seven consecutive years, helped Tokyo win by a single vote, thirty-seven to thirty-six. Dr. Kano’s influence is credited for this vote. Influence like that is hard to come by in any day and age.
Dr. Kano’s thirteenth and final voyage was to Cairo, Egypt. Tokyo had fallen behind schedule for the Olympics and war was brewing around the world. Dr. Kano assured the committee that everything would go well. The International Olympic Committee reaffirmed its decision and, at Dr. Kano’s request, also voted to hold the 1942 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan. This stands as a testament to how respected and revered Dr. Kano was by the international community.
This respect and reverence started when Dr. Kano was approached in 1909 with an invitation to participate in the 1912 Olympic Games. He was also asked to become the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee, which he readily accepted. He served on this committee until he died in 1938, twenty-nine years.
When Japan first decided to send athletes to the Stockholm, Sweden Olympic Games in 1912 they had no formal organization to train and screen athletes. Dr. Kano and his contemporaries then formed the Japan Amateur Sports Association in 1911. Dr. Kano was the obvious choice for the first chairman of the organization. He would serve that role for the next ten years, after which he became an honorary chairman. Dr. Kano advocated the spread of many international sports in Japan and helped to spur growth in many events. In 1935 he was awarded the title of Japan’s “Father of Sport.” A fitting title for the man that got the ball rolling for nearly all the athletic events in Japan.
Dr. Kano’s own sport has its roots in his childhood, during which Dr. Kano was a small and sickly child. All through out his schooling he received much harassment and bullying. This was also precipitated by the fact that he was often in classes with boys much older than he was. This brought about Dr. Kano’s fascination with Jujitsu.
After seeking out many masters and being refused on the grounds that Jujitsu was a dying art, he finally found Master Fukuda, of Tenshin Shinyo-Ryu. He was Dr. Kano’s first teacher and in 1877 he began his training. President Ulysses S. Grant visited Japan in 1879; there he received a demonstration of Jujitsu by two experts, Master Fukuda and Master Iso. Dr. Kano was present as one of Master Fukuda’s assistants. In two short years after Dr. Kano began his training, Master Fukuda had passed away. Dr. Kano having studied very diligently was named the new dojo master.
He then came to realization that he was not quite good enough to take over. After this epiphany he sought out Master Iso and asked to be allowed to train under him. Master Iso, luckily, also did Tenshin Shinyo-Ryu. Dr. Kano was appointed as one of three assistants. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Dr. Kano was the only one of the three who showed up regularly. This forced him to work with every student, often thirty or more, every night. This constant training helped Dr. Kano develop very quickly. This regimen only lasted a year however as Master Iso died in 1881. Later that year he sought out Master Iikubo to train under.
Master Iikubo practiced Kito-Ryu; as opposed to the Tenshin Shinyo-Ryu Dr. Kano had been used to. The Kito-Ryu concentrated more on throwing techniques and kata. Kata is a set of pre- arranged techniques demonstrated for perfection rather than contest. Tenshin Shinyo-Ryu, by comparison, used many more pinning and submission techniques, as well as striking techniques.
One of the greatest years in Dr. Kano’s life proved to be 1882, not only had he finished his post-graduate work at Tokyo Imperial University, accepted a teaching post at Gakushuin, and established Kobunkan English Language school, he also set up his own dojo, Kodokan, at the Eisho Ji, a Buddhist Temple in the Shitayakita Inaricho area of Tokyo. It started as a twelve Tatami room. One year later the dojo was moved to larger area in Kanda, Tokyo. This was also the year, 1883, that Dr. Kano received his teaching license in Kito-Ryu.
The first big test for Judo came in 1886. The police force was, at this time, trained in Jujitsu; but they wanted the most effective system to train under. Both Judo and Jujitsu had theirstaunch supporters for being a better system. Eventually a set of fifteen matches was set up. This event received a lot of hype and many people eagerly awaited the showdown. When the day finally arrived it proved to be rather lopsided. The Kodokan team won twelve, lost two and tied in one. The most famous match of the day was that of Shiro Saigo versus Entaro Ukiji, the eventual master of Totsuka-ha Yoshin-Ryu. Entaro was a huge Japanese, famous for his strength and was well over 200 lb. Shiro, by contrast, from the Aizu Han, was diminutive, but quick. This famous match ended when Shiro threw the much larger Entaro with his Yama Arashi, Mountain Storm. Entaro is said to have landed with a thud. Unlike most people Entaro recovered only slightly dazed. Shiro then performed Osoto Gari, Major Outside Reap, and forced Entaro to the Tatami with such force that the crowd felt the impact. This was a great day for the Kodokan and Dr. Kano. Judo had proven its worthiness and shown many staunch opponents that it was indeed an art to be reckoned with. If the Kodokan students had lost this decisive battle the art would have died in its infancy. Thankfully, it did not and has now blossomed into a worldwide sporting event. In his later years Dr. Kano had a conversation with Eimi Totsuka, Entaro’s teacher. Eimi is quoted as saying, “That (Shiro) is a man of greatness, I think” (Muromoto 6). Dr. Kano was elated to hear these words about his student.
In 1888 Master Iikubo died, thus depriving Dr. Kano of his third and final teacher. In 1893 the Kodokan was moved once again, a new 100 Tatami room became the dojo. Dr. Kano sent Yoshitsugu Yamashita to the U.S. in 1902 to teach not only to the public but also President Theodore Roosevelt. Judo exploded worldwide soon after. Today it is the second most popular sport, behind soccer. The International Judo Federation was founded in 1951 and currently has 175 member countries (1996). Judo was added to the Olympics in 1964 during the Tokyo Games. “These facts probably reflect the truly widespread popularity, and importance, of Judo around the world, not only as sport, but as a discipline” (Matsumoto 79). Judo has become a part of nearly every culture worldwide. This is considered by many to be Dr. Kano’s most important gift to the world. Judo is a full and complete art, encompassing not only the physical but also the mental and spiritual sides of a person. It is a complete body workout and can be done in a very small space with only two people, unlike many other sports. It can also be practiced in large halls by hundreds of people at once, as it often is.
On May 4, 1938 at 5:33 A.M. Dr. Kano died of pneumonia aboard the S.S. Hikawamaru. He was returning from Cairo, Egypt. This ended the seventy-seven year long life of one of the greatest Japanese ever. He was a true Meiji man. The principal of two Junior High Schools, an English school for Japanese students, a school for Chinese students, and the Teacher’s Training College Dr. Kano showed his love for education. He was the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee and the first chairman of Japan’s Amateur Sport’s Association. Dr. Kano combined two styles of Jujitsu to form Judo, which was later introduced to the world. “In his homeland, he is remembered for his contributions to Japanese culture and to world culture through his lifelong efforts to promote education and Judo, and for his service to the Japanese Amateur Sport’s Association and the International Olympic Committee. May his memory live on forever” (Watson 133-134).
Avakian, Lindy and Jiichi Watanabe. The Secrets of Judo. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1960.
Draeger, Donn F. and Tadao Otaki. Judo: Formal Techniques. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1983.
Dominy, Eric. Judo: Basic Principles. New York: Dell Publishing, 1958.
Harrington, A. P. Every Boy’s Judo. New York: Emerson, 1959.
Matsumoto, David, Ph. D. An Introduction to Kodokan Judo: History and Philosophy. Tokyo: Hon-No-Tomosha, 1996.
Muromoto, Wayne. “Judo’s Decisive Battle: The Great Tournament Between Kodokan’s Four Heavenly Lords and the Jujitsu Masters.” Furyu Vol. 3.
Ogasawara, Nagayasu. Textbook of Judo. Montvale: Kokushi Dojo, 1988.
Watson, Brian N. The Father of Judo: A Bibliography of Jigoro Kano. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2000.
Jigoro Kano’s Five Principles of Judo:
This article was written and is copyright © April 2001 by Mat Ball. Last modified August 1, 2005.