About Judo

Judo is many things:  a martial art, a recreational and Olympic sport, an exercise and fitness activity, and a form of self-defense.  It is both traditional and modern.

How Judo was born

     In the late 1800’s, Japan was in the midst of great social and political changes.  Their feudal system was dissolved, and with the development of modern warfare, the need for the hand-to-hand combat arts of the samurai warriors no longer existed.  The study of these arts, such as Jujitsu, was declining.

     Jigoro Kano, an 18-year old student at Tokyo Imperial University was drawn to the study of Jujitsu.  He realized that there was more to this martial art than fighting techniques, and that through its diligent study, a person could develop physical and mental discipline, stamina and flexibility.  Kano dedicated himself to the study of Jujitsu and sought out several great masters of his time to learn their specialized skills.  From his study and practice, Kano chose from their best techniques and developed his own system.  In 1882, at the age of 22, Kano established his martial arts school, the Kodokan.

     At first, only a few students practiced Judo, which was first called “Kano’s Jujitsu.”  In the 1890’s, however, the Jujitsu schools of Tokyo challenged each other to a competition.  Kano’s students easily defeated their opponents, including the renowned Tokyo police team.  With this victory, Kano’s system gained respect; he and his students opened more schools and were chosen to train the Tokyo police department.       

The expansion of Judo in Japan

     From the onset, Dr. Kano saw Judo as more than just a collection of fighting skills.  It was to be a means of gaining physical fitness, improving concentration and developing self-confidence.  Kano was a Professor of Education in Japan, and held official positions in the Ministry of Education.  In this capacity, he was able to establish judo as part of the physical education curriculum in the Japanese school system.

     In order to make judo suitable for practice by the general population, Kano modified or eliminated some of the more dangerous techniques of jujitsu.  A system of rules was created for sports competition.  Nevertheless, judo remains an effective form of self-defense for its practitioners. 

Judo grows in popularity worldwide

     Fron 1889 until his death in 1938, Kano traveled all over the world.  His mission was twofold: to learn about the education systems of Western countries, and to spread the practice of Judo.  Some of his students went to the United States and Europe to establish judo schools.  One of his students, Yoshiaki Yamashita, came to the U.S and taught judo at Harvard and Annapolis; Theodore Roosevelt was one of his students.

     In the years that followed, Kano’s dream of establishing Judo as a worldwide sport became a reality.  In 1956, the first World Judo Tournament was held at the Kodokan.  At the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, Judo became the first Asian martial art to be included in the games.  Judo competition for women was added to the Olympics in 1988.

Judo in the modern world 

     Today, Judo is practiced by millions of people in more than 170 countries throughout the world as a fun sport, an art and discipline, a fitness program and a means of self-defense.  It includes throwing techniques and as well as grappling skills (pins or holds, as well as chokes and armlocks for submission for older/more advanced students).  Judo is practiced on cushioned mats for safety, and does not generally involve punching or kicking.

     Because there are so many techniques in judo, it is a great activity for everyone, regardless of age, gender, size or body type.  Since judo is a sport as well as a martial art, there are opportunities for students at all levels to test themselves in competition. Tournaments are held at the local, regional, national  and international levels.  Players are assigned to divisions based upon their gender, age, and weight.  At local and regional events, novice divisions are often available as well.   

Dr. Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), the founder of Judo 

 The philosophy of Judo

     Judo is often translated as "gentle way," but "JU" is better thought of physical AND mental "flexibility."  A judoka learns when to use force and when to "give way."  Skill, technique and timing, rather than strength alone, enables one to overcome a stronger opponent.  Kano believed that this concept of flexibility reached beyond the physical practice of judo into all aspects of one's personal and professional life.

Judo's guiding principles

"Maximum Efficiency" or Seiryoku Zenyo is the first principle of judo.  By yielding and turning an attacker’s power against him, one can skillfully defeat a stronger opponent.

     The second principle of judo is Jita Kyoei, or "Mutual Welfare and Benefit."  Kano believed that the ultimate goal of Judo is the perfection of one’s intellect, moral character and physical abilities.  The discipline and respect that are embedded in the practice of judo foster improvement the individual, and thus society at large. 

*********