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Judo is a fascinating Olympic sport. More than that, it is an art form. It is now practiced in almost every country of the world . What follows is a brief history of the development of what is now a modern Olympic Sport. Kano

The founder of Judo Jigoro Kano was born in 1860, he graduated with a degree in literature from Tokyo Imperial University in 1881 and took a further degree in philosophy the following year. Apart from being the founder of judo, Kano was a leading educationalist and a prominent figure in the Japanese Olympic movement.When Kano began his study of ju-jutsu as a young man, the ju-jutsu masters of the martial arts were struggling to earn a living. Although they were willing to teach the skills handed down to them over many generations, there was little interest among people of the succeeding generation, additionally the demise of the samurai (warrior) class had reduced the need for instruction.At the age of 18 Kano studied the ju-jutsu of the Tenshin Shinyo Ryu under Fukudo and Iso, both instructors at the prestigious Komu Sho. Following the death of Fukuda, Kano remained briefly with master Iso before finishing his pupillage with master Ilkubo.

Judo – The formative years

By 1883, Kano had clarified his analysis of ju-jutsu and related methods to the point at which he felt able to instruct the public through a school of his own. To that end he borrowed a small room at Eishoji temple and opened the first Kodokan for the study of Kano judo.A number of machi dojo (backstreet gyms) decided that the Kodokan was conceited and ought to be put in its place. They visited its premises and caused damage so that if honor were to be satisfied a challenge match would have to be arranged. At such matches the Kodokan was represented by Sakujiro Yokoyama, the outstanding player of his day, and the result was invariably a win for Kano judo.To gain acceptance from the provinces Kodokan representatives traveled all over Japan giving lectures and demonstrations on the principles behind the new method. The finale of these lectures was a contest, with limb locks and striking excluded, between the Kodokan lecturer and a member of the local training school. A particularly important match took place in 1886 to decide which system of ju-jutsu should be approved for use in military academies, police departments and public schools. The 15 strong male Kodokan team defeated all opponents and judo became a government approved sport.

Judo and WWII

The aftermath of the 2nd World War was a dark era for Japan and things Japanese. As part of Japan’s war effort, instructors had been ordered to teach unarmed combat. In retaliation the occupation forces prohibited all practice of the martial arts in schools and public institutions. The ban remained in place until 1951 although there had been a gradual relaxation of the rule. Private instruction in judo was tolerated and the police were excepted from the general prohibition. The Kodokan was largely left to reestablish itself unhindered. Kano had taken a stand against the worst aspects of militarism in pre-war Japan and that, together with new draft rules which removed the vestiges of judo’s martial origin made Kodokan judo acceptable to the authorities.

In 1949 the occupation authorities indicated that the yudanshakai (dan grade society) of the various schools could be reconstituted as a single democratic organization. As a result the Japanese Judo Federation was formed under the presidency of Risei Kano, only son of Jigoro Kano, with headquarters at the Kodokan. Today the All Japan Judo Federation has Jigoro Kano’s grandson as its President.

Judo in Britain

With the intention of establishing a ju-jutsu school in England, Mr E W Barton Wright sponsored a visit in 1899 of a team of Japanese judo experts. The project failed but those who stayed took to the stage to earn a living. Best known among them was Yukio Tani, who toured music halls offering challengers a £1 per minute for every minute they lasted beyond five and a £50 if they defeated him. The prize money was rarely (if ever) paid. Over the following decade or so many Japanese “showmen” performed on stages around the country performing frivolous tricks linked with ju-jutsu. For all their showmanship, these men were very capable ju-jutsu players. Their real contribution to the growth of judo outside Japan was made in the books they published and the instruction they gave.

Tani remained in England after his compatriots had returned home and in 1920 was formally appointed chief instructor to a new club for “the study of systems developed by the samurai”:the Budokwai. Neither he nor the club’s founder Gunji Koizumi, could have foreseen that they were creating an institution soon to become the most famous judo school outside Japan.

Britain and the rest of the world

Tuition was given in judo, kendo (swordsmanship) and other aspects of Japanese culture; Tani continued as instructor until a stroke forced him to retire in 1937. Koizumi was to European judo what Kano was to world judo. He first came to Britain in 1906 and after a few years in the USA he returned to open the Budokwai as a cultural center and social club for the Japanese community in London. The official opening took place on 26 January 1918 and within 4 months the membership had grown to 44 including 2 Englishmen.

The Budokwai educated several generations of judo men at a time when genuine judo clubs were few and far between. For many years it was the only authoritative source of Kodokan judo in Europe. The link had been forged by Jigoro Kano during an extended visit to Britain in 1920.

The British Judo Association

Koizumi’s vision for the growth of judo on an international basis began to materialize in 1948. On 24 July that year the British Judo Association (BJA) was established as the representative national body; four days later a meeting under the chairmanship of Trevor Leggett, the most senior non-Japanese player in the world, approved the constitution of a European Judo Union (EJU) to represent judo in the continent of Europe. Three years later still, the International Judo Federation (IJF) was created as an inter-continental body with overall control of judo.

Judo and the “rest of the World”

Judo entered many countries from 1902 to the 1930’s. In the United States judo gained an early foothold because of the interest shown by President Theodore Roosevelt. As an expression of goodwill Kano sent Yoshiaki Yamashita, a high ranking member of the Kodokan, to America in 1902 to be his personal instructor. Roosevelt trained regularly , if clumsily and in due course a room was set aside at the White House for judo purposes. It was thirty-odd years, however, before an American reached dan grade in the USA itself. Clubs were set up in Seattle in 1903 and Los Angeles in 1915. Brisbane Judo Club was the first founded in Australia in 1928 by DR A J Ross, a Kodokan dan grade. Judo later reached New Zealand via Australia in 1948 when G Grundy, a 2nd Dan from the Budokwai, opened a club in Auckland.

The most successful “newcomer” so to speak is the USSR. Strictly speaking a form of judo has been practiced in the Soviet Union since about 1930. The Russians practice a wrestling system called Sambo. This is a synthesis of many different wrestling systems, however because of the absence of international competition outside of the USSR, the Russians turned their attention to judo. In 1962 a Soviet judo team comprising Sambo men in judo suits collected five medals at the European Judo Championships. Sambo is a close cousin of judo, but it lacks the same conceptual framework. It can be seen as an implied compliment that the Russians have stepped up considerably the emphasis on judo during recent years.

We have given above a very brief history of judo. For a fuller version of the history of judo and an excellent all round judo read try:

The Judo Manual  by Tony Reay and Geoffrey Hobbs

ISBN 1-85501-360-6
‘Judo, a Sport and a Way of Life’ by Michel Brousse and David Matsumoto.

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