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The Origins of Classical Judo

Date Posted: 2001-03-09

In this second part of a series of three, Robert Anderson, a resident of Okinawa who is writing a book on the history of Judo, explains how the style evolved from Ju Jutsu.



Ju Jutsu literally means the art of suppleness, flexibility, pliancy, or gentleness. The principle of Ju is the adaptation of flexibility to the maneuvers of an opponent in order to use his maneuvers, and the forces behind them, to subjugate the opponent or neutralize the opponent’s attack.

Classical Judo, the Judo founded by Jigoro Kano, established itself as the most sophisticated and practically effective method of combat inspired by the principle of Ju. It’s excellence in both theory and practice in the field of unarmed combat was rewarded in 1905 when the majority of the old ryus of Ju Jutsu merged with Kodokan Judo with the exception of the ryus of Aiki Jutsu, the forebearer of Aikido.

Judo’s path to invention began in 1875 when Baisei Nakai, a former member of the Shogun’s guards, happened to mention in passing that Ju Jutsu was an excellent form of physical training while on one of his many visits to Jirosaku Kano’s household. He gave 15-year-old Jigoro Kano a brief demonstration and stated that Ju Jutsu could enable someone with little physical strength to overcome a bigger, more powerful adversary. Jigoro Kano resolved then and there to learn Ju Jutsu.

Perhaps because of his need to learn self-defense (Jigoro was constantly being beaten up and bullied ) and his exceptionally high intellect, Jigoro Kano easily mastered Ju Jutsu. However, Jigoro Kano was not satisfied with simply mastering Ju Jutsu. He had an insatiable appetite to comprehend why the techniques worked. But, he didn’t stop with one Ju Jutsu ryu. He mastered Tenjin Shinyo Ryu and Kito Ryu and made an academic study of several other ryus.


One event foretold that Jigoro Kano was going to change the course of history. Ju Jutsu was soon to become a relic to be replaced by Judo. This occurred in 1880 when Hikosuke and Ichimon Tozuka gave a demonstration of Yoshin Ryu at Tokyo University. In attendance was Jigoro Kano who managed to obtain permission to participate in the randori portion of the demonstration. After the demonstration and with Jigoro Kano being the only one left in the building, Ryusaku Godai, who did not see the demonstration, approached Jigoro. Ryusaku questioned why Jigoro took place in the demonstration because it was unheard of for anyone to belong to more than one style. Especially, for Jigoro Kano since he had the confidential written instructions from Master Fukuda’s dojo and was an assistant at Master Iso’s dojo. Jigoro Kano said: “The world is changing and Ju Jutsu has to change too. I don’t think it’s practical to limit ourselves to one particular style. I no longer see any point in keeping the techniques of each Ju Jutsu school a secret. It would be better to experiment with a whole range of techniques and select the ones you want to use, changing them if necessary.” Jigoro went on: “I’d like to take the best techniques from the Yoshin style and the best techniques from a lot of other styles and combine them all to create the ultimate form of Ju Jutsu. …Last year after we performed for President Grant, Master Fukuda spoke of bringing Ju Jutsu to the rest of the world. To do that, we can’t rely on just one particular style – we need a combination of the best techniques from all the major schools of Ju Jutsu. That’s what I’d like to teach to the rest of the world.”

At the age of 23, a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University and a faculty member of the Gakushuin, the Peer’s School, Kano established his own school in February 1882 by taking some of the students he privately taught at Iikubo Tsuneto’s training hall to a Buddhist temple known as Eishoji in Shitayakita Inaricho, Tokyo.

Jigoro Kano rented three rooms from the chief priest, Shumpo Asahi. Jigoro kept one room for himself, a larger room to house his Judo students and an even larger room for his twelve-tatami dojo. The Eishoji Buddhist Temple was built entirely of wood.


Unfortunately, practice caused damage to the foundation of the temple and Shumpo Asahi finally gave Jigoro Kano an ultimatum to move because the room next to the study contained mortuary tablets that were constantly being damaged. Jigoro Kano got permission to use the vacant lot adjacent to the temple and in the autumn of 1882, he built a tiny training hall about 12 feet by 18 feet. According to the plaque that is located outside the original exit, Jigoro Kano moved the building to Kanda, Tokyo, in 1883.

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