7 – Judo (1882)
“In Randori (judo sparring) we teach the pupil to act on the fundamental principles of Judo, no matter how physically inferior his opponent may seem to him, and even if by sheer strength he can easily overcome him; because if he acts contrary to principle his opponent will never be convinced of defeat, no matter what brute strength he may have used.” Jigoro Kano, on the purposes of Judo.
Of all the Japanese martial arts, judo is probably the most widely practised around the world. It is relatively safe – no strikes, and therefore less potential for injury – as well as being a widely accepted Olympic sport with decades of participation behind it. From its origins in Japan, it has spread around the world: while Japan has dominated Olympic medals, countries as widely spread as France, Cuba, Brazil and Russia are also in the top 10 for medals.
The competitive acceptance of judo was not always the intention of the founder, Kano Jigoro. “I have been asked by people of various sections as to the wisdom and possibility of judo being introduced with other games and sports at the Olympic Games,” he said in 1932, on hosting a demonstration of the sport for the Tokyo Games. “My view on the matter, at present, is rather passive. If it be the desire of other member countries, I have no objection. But I do not feel inclined to take any initiative. For one thing, judo in reality is not a mere sport or game. I regard it as a principle of life, art and science. In fact, it is a means for personal cultural attainment. Only one of the forms of judo training, so-called randori or free practice can be classed as a form of sport.”
This view on competitive judo is largely in line with that of the jiu-jitsu tradition from which Kano, and thus Judo, sprung. Kano had been bullied at school and thus attempted take up jiu-jitsu to defend himself from his abusers. Jiu-jitsu was somewhat out of fashion at the time and he struggled to find a master to teach him, eventually learning from Fukuda Hachinosuke, a master with an emphasis on competitive practice rather than demonstration. When Fukuda died, he passed the dojo onto Kano, who eventually founded the Kodokan, the birthplace of judo.
It was at this point, in the mid-1880s, that judo would start to diverge from jiu-jitsu. “In short, resisting a more powerful opponent will result in your defeat, whilst adjusting to and evading your opponent’s attack will cause him to lose his balance, his power will be reduced, and you will defeat him,” wrote Kano. Efficiency was seen as paramount – “maximum efficiency, minimum effort” is famed Kano quote – and an all-encompassing philosophy and manner of teaching, the pedagogy of judo, was as important as the ends itself. Kanos decision to change the name from jiu-jitsu – “the gentle martial art” – to judo – “the gentle way” – was intended to emphasise that judo was not just about the techniques.
The growth of judo was rapid. The Kodokan was extended several times and within a decade had gone from just 9 mats to over 300. By Kano’s death in 1938, their headquarters boasted a thousand mats on which judoka could train. Kano, an educator, saw the sport embedded in Japanese schools and soon the number of participants had grown from a handful to a thousand dan-level experts within 30 years. Kano was a polymath and spoke English well, so international expansion was also possible. It was exhibited worldwide and a campaign began to take it into the Olympics, which was successful in 1962.
Judo would become so popular worldwide that it created offshoot sports, just as it had once sprung from jiu-jitsu. In Russia, sambo would become a major martial art, while in Brazil, a whole other style would emerge that would go on to dominate: Brazilian jiu-jitsu.