A Brief History of Judo

Judo, which means ‘the gentle way’, is a martial art that originated in Japan in 1882. Whilst it originated as a physical, mental and moral way of life it has evolved into a modern martial art, with practitioners competing at the olympics and utilising the techniques inside the MMA octagon. Throws and takedowns feature heavily in Judo, and are followed up by pinning your opponent or submitting them with a joint lock or choke. This makes it a very popular choice for MMA fighters, the most famous recent Judoka in MMA being Ronda Rousey.

Kanō Jigorō, the founder of Judo (who we mentioned in our Brief History of BJJ article), was born into a wealthy family in Japan and sent to an established boarding school in Tokyo when he was fourteen. After being bullied by other students he sought out a Jiujitsu Dojo. It took him several years to find a willing teacher as Jiujitsu had fallen out of favour in Japan at the time. He was at university by the time he discovered a school that would take him on, a tiny Dojo which had just five students, and had a huge emphasis on the form of the kata (techniques) of Jiujitsu. This lead to a focus in Judo on randori, or sparring, and the application of techniques.

A Brief History of Judo
Kanō Jigorō (right)

When his teacher, Fukada, passed away in 1880 Kanō had become his most able student, and chose to carry on his training with Iso Masatomo – who emphasised the practice of the various kata and left the instruction of the randori to his assistants, particularly Kanō. When Masatomo also died in 1881 Kanō moved to a third dojo and trained under Iikubo Tsunetoshi. Similar to Fukada Tsunetoshi placed great emphasis on the importance of randori, and particularly throwing techniques. In 1882 Kanō started his own dojo in a buddhist temple in Tokyo. He took on two students, who gained shodan (the first black belt) the following year, the first time in Japanese martial arts history.

Kanō’s teachings focused on the principles of maximum efficiency, minimum effort and mutual welfare and benefit in order to demonstrate the idea of softness defeating hardness. Essentially resisting a stronger opponent is going to result in you being beaten, but evading and adjusting to their techniques will off balance your opponent and allow you to gain the upper hand. He realised that the principle of maximum efficiency and minimum effort could be applied as a philosophical concept as opposed to just a martial art, and so developed a new system, and a new name, for his style of Jujitsu – Judo.

A Brief History of Judo
Modern Judo competition

Kanō was influential in developing rule sets for competitions between different jiujitsu schools, as well as his judo schools students, which lead to a full set of rules for Judo competitions. Matches were 15 minutes long and winning was achieved by throwing your opponent flat on their back with sufficient force, pinning them for a long enough length of time or via submission (either your opponent tapping or the referee calling it off).

Judo has continued to grow in popularity over the years, and became an official olympic sport in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics. The popularity has also moved into the octagon, with notable judokas including Ronda Rousey, Fedor Emelianenko, Don Frye and Hector Lombard.

Keep an eye out for future ‘Brief History Articles’, or check back on previous additions to the series!

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