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The History of Judo

Judo is Rooted in Sumo

Judo is a martial art that was born in Japan, and it is now known around the world as an Olympic sport. Judo was created in 1882 by combining jujutsu, a form of close combat, with elements of mental discipline. The roots of jujutsu lie in sumo. Sumo has a very long history and is even mentioned in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) from the year 712, which describes the history of Japan from the mythical age of the gods to the reign of Empress Suiko (554–628) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan), a document from 720 that describes the history of Japan from the age of the gods until the time of Empress Jito, who reigned from 690 to 697.

Demonstration of techniques (Kodokan Judo Institute)

Judo Developed in the Age of the Samurai

From the Kamakura period (1185–1333) until the Edo period (1603–1867), Japan was ruled by the samurai, a class of professional warriors. This was a fortuitous reality for the judo of today. In addition to fighting with swords and bows and arrows, the samurai developed jujutsu to fight enemies at close quarters on the battlefield (kumi-uchi). Several different styles of jujutsu evolved by the start of the Edo period, and hand-to-hand combat spread as an important form of military training.

Kano Jigoro — The Founder of Judo

The era of samurai rule came to an end with the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when Japan modernized from the Edo period to the Meiji period (1868–1912) and Western culture began working its way into Japanese society. Jujutsu fell into decline, but the enthusiasm of one young man rescued it from extinction. That man was Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo as we know it today. Jigoro excelled in schoolwork but had an inferiority complex about his small physique, so he became an apprentice of Fukuda Hachinosuke, a master of the Tenjin Shinyo-ryu style of jujutsu, when he was 17 and worked to become stronger. In May 1882, he took the best elements of each jujutsu style and combined them into a single new school. He was only 21 years old at the time. This was the birth of modern judo. At first, he had just nine students. The dojo (practice hall) he opened at a temple measured just 12 jo (1 jo is around 1.5 square meters or 16 square feet).

Kano Jigoro (Kodokan Judo Institute)

Spreading Judo Worldwide

Jigoro visited Europe in 1889 to introduce judo outside of Japan. There is a famous episode that occurred aboard a ship during his voyage: when a foreigner made fun of Jigoro, he threw the man down but put his hand under the man's head to prevent him from getting hurt. This illustrated how judo combined practical fighting techniques with thoughtfulness for one's enemy. Jigoro always maintained a global point of view, serving as a member of the International Olympic Committee, and worked tirelessly to spread judo around the world.

The Kodokan at the time of its founding (Kodokan Judo Institute)

Internationalizing Judo at the Tokyo Olympics

Jigoro's dream of the "internationalization of judo" came true at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Only men's judo was recognized as an official Olympic event and bouts were held by weight class. Japanese competitors swept the gold in all except the open division, where a non-Japanese champion was crowned. This was a sign that judo had already taken root in countries outside Japan. Women's judo was introduced as a demonstration event at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was added to the official program at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Currently (as of March 2021), 204 countries and regions are members of the International Judo Federation. The sport is particularly popular in Europe. In fact, many more people in France practice judo than in Japan. Japan is continuing to promote judo in other countries, such as by sending instructors to regions where judo is not so well known, such as Africa and Oceania, and donating secondhand judo uniforms and tatami mats.