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Judo in Japan

From Jujutsu to the Vision of Jigoro Kano



Judo is a martial art known for its emphasis on technique and leverage rather than brute strength, it has deep roots in Japanese history. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient art of Jujutsu, a traditional Japanese martial system that evolved over centuries also known as dirty Jujitsu. Judo’s founder Jigoro Kano played an essential role in refining and systemising Jujutsu into the modern martial art we know today as Judo, he was also responsible for devising the belt system and rankings with was quickly adopted by other Japanese martial arts such as Karate.


Jujutsu: The Ancient ancestor

Jujutsu, often referred to as the “gentle art,” nothing could be further than the truth in ancient Japanese culture the original Jujutsu/Dirty Jujitsu was looked down upon as a fighting system for thugs and criminals. It has its roots in the martial traditions of Japan that date back more than a thousand years. It was developed by the samurai as a means of self-defence and close quarter combat on the battlefield combat during a time when Japan was rife with clan warfare. Jujutsu encompassed a wide range of techniques, including joint locks, throws, strikes, and pins. Unlike some other martial arts of the time that relied on brute force, Jujutsu placed a heavy emphasis on using an opponent’s energy and momentum against them and breaking their balance.

Jujutsu was a closely guarded secret within samurai families, passed down through generations. The techniques were not widely taught, and knowledge of Jujutsu was limited to a select few. However, the decline of the samurai class in the late 19th century led to a shift in the martial landscape of Japan.


The Vision of Jigoro Kano and the creation of modern Judo

Jigoro Kano, born in 1860, was an outstanding and forward-thinking martial artist and teacher, who saw the potential for reforming traditional Jujutsu. Fascinated by the principles of Jujutsu, Kano began studying various schools/styles of the art during his youth. His ambition was to create a martial discipline that could be practiced safely and effectively by people of all ages and physical shapes and abilities.

Kano’s journey led him to adopt the most practical and efficient techniques from Jujutsu. He discarded the more dangerous and impractical techniques, focusing instead on those that could be applied in a controlled and safe manner. Kano’s systematic approach laid the foundation for what would become modern Judo. (If you have ever been thrown in anger by a competent Judo practitioner you will know there’s nothing gentle about this very effective close quarter combat system.


The Birth of Judo

In 1882, Jigoro Kano founded the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo, marking the official birth of Judo as a distinct martial art. The term “Judo” translates to “gentle way,” reflecting Kano’s emphasis on using minimal effort to achieve maximum effectiveness. Judo retained many components of Jujutsu, such as throws, joint locks, and pins, but it also incorporated a systemised and modern training system.

One of Kano’s innovations was the introducing randori, (live sparring) that allowed practitioners to test their techniques against resisting opponents. This not only made Judo more effective in real combat but also fostered a spirit of mutual respect between all practitioners.


The spread of Judo

Judo’s reputation as an effective close quarter combat fighting art grew rapidly, it soon attracted thousands of students and practitioners from around the world. Kano’s importance on physical fitness, mental strength, discipline, and moral values made Judo more than just a martial art; it became a way of life. In 1964, Judo was officially acknowledged as an Olympic sport, solidifying its global influence as a major player in the martial arts community.

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