The story of Jigoro Kano

Childhood and education

Jigoro Kano was born on October 28, 1860, the third son of a Japanese sake-brewing family in Mikage, a small village in Hyogo Province. His original name was “Shinnosuke,” which was later changed to Jigoro. He initially grew up in his home village with his mother and two older brothers and sisters each. Jigoro owed his good heart and strength of character to his mother through an extremely strict and good-natured upbringing.

After his mother’s early death in 1869, Kano and his siblings moved in with his father in Tokyo. His father was convinced that a good education was the foundation for a successful life. Therefore, he had Jigoro taught by scholars in Kanji, Japanese characters with Chinese origin, as well as calligraphy. His father then sent him to a private school at the age of 14, where he learned English. Later, Jigoro studied philosophy at Tokyo University and graduated at the age of 22.

First experience with self-defense and Jiu-Jitsu

As a samurai descendant, Jigoro was already engaged in martial arts at a young age. Since his early childhood, he was conspicuous by a weak stature and was often bullied as a student by stronger as well as older boys. He therefore decided to engage in self-defense and discovered the then well-known Japanese martial art of Jiu-Jitsu. In addition to self-defense in the form of Jiu-Jitsu, Jigoro was also enthusiastic about numerous sports such as gymnastics, with the purpose of strengthening his body. At the age of 15, Jigoro tried to be accepted as a student in a Jiu Jitsu dojo. However, to his great disappointment, they refused him.

Due to the economic situation of the country, many former Jiu Jitsu masters and practitioners decided to earn their living as osteopaths. With this knowledge, Jigoro went in search of a suitable osteopath who was willing to teach him the martial art of Jiu Jitsu. After some time, he came across the practice of Sadanosuke Yagi, who had practiced Jiu Jitsu in the past. Jigoro enthusiastically tried to convince the older man to teach him the martial art. At first, the osteopath firmly rejected the proposal. But Jigoro persisted and told the man about his need to strengthen his body and master self-defense. The older man was extremely impressed by the boy’s zeal and persistence and was eventually persuaded to introduce Jigoro to a Jiu Jitsu master. Hachinosuke Fukuda then took him into his dojo and taught Jigoro, who was 18 years old at the time, a combination of the fighting traditions of “Yoshin ryu” and “Shin ni Shinto ryu” Jiu Jitsu.

The path to becoming a Jiu Jitsu master

After about a year of assiduous training, the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, visited Japan and desired a demonstration of Japanese martial arts for entertainment. The Fukuda Dojo, where Jigoro Jiu Jitsu trained, was chosen for this demonstration. In front of the eyes of the general of the time, Jigoro impressed with his learned techniques in randori, free sparring.

Shortly after this event, Master Fukuda passed away. The surviving family of Fukuda then asked Jigoro to take over the dojo because of his devoted training. Jigoro complied with this request and at the same time decided to attend the school of Masatomo Iso, who taught “Tenjin Shinyo ryu” Jiu Jitsu. With the help of his devotion to martial arts, Jigoro quickly earned the position of assistant teacher and later the title of master through his usual dedication here as well.

The beginnings of judo

At the age of 21, as a student, Jigoro regularly participated in a jiu jitsu group demonstration in the hall of Tokyo University. The event was organized by the Ichimon Totsuka Dojo, which trained the fighting tradition of “Yoshin ryu” Jiu Jitsu. Jigoro took every opportunity to participate in the events and after some time realized that each fighting tradition had its own strengths. This realization is the basis for the “Kodokan Judo” he later founded.

After the death of his second master, Jigoro decided to study at other Jiu Jitsu schools to further develop and complement his techniques. In this way he met Masao Yamamoto, a master of “Kito ryu” Jiu Jitsu. He offered him to study under Tsunetoshi Iikubo. At the age of 22, Jigoro finally opened his first own dojo in a room of the Eishoji Temple. He invested the money he had earned so far from teaching in 12 mats and named his school “Kodokan”. He also changed the name of the martial art of Jiu Jitsu that he taught to Judo, from which the name “Kodokan Judo” developed. After Jigoro attracted his first students to his martial art and taught Judo, he began to incorporate important principles for the development of his students’ character, personality, and virtues into the philosophy of his teaching.

The following year, the judo master moved his dojo to a warehouse in Tokyo. Jigoro took advantage of techniques from various jiu jitsu schools to develop his own methods of keeping an opponent off balance and making his throw to the mat more efficient. During this time of studying techniques and improving them, Jigoro received a permit to teach “Kito ryu” Jiu Jitsu and was assisted by Master Tsunetoshi Iikubo. At the age of 27, he also won the favor of a nobleman who had a strong interest in his philosophies, and enabled him to move his dojo to a spacious building. As a result, the number of students requesting admission to Jigoro’s dojo also increased annually. In addition, students of the Kodokan Judo Dojo began to participate in competitions and to publicize the martial art that Jigoro had developed. A few years later, Jigoro opened his largest dojo to date with 100 mats and the number of interested foreign students increased greatly in the following period.

In 1889, Jigoro embarked on a journey to Europe and demonstrated his martial art of Kodokan Judo aboard a ship to passengers, most of whom were from other countries. The audience was impressed by the ease with which Jigoro, as a small man, could throw a larger man and amazed at his effective techniques.

The birth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Mitsuyo Maeda, a student of Jigoro Kano, brought the martial arts of Jiu Jitsu and Judo to Brazil. Jigoro Kano’s techniques were mainly designed for teaching children and teenagers and were adapted by the Gracies. Carlos and Hรฉlio, as well as other Gracies family members, developed new techniques and forms of training, resulting in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).

Jigoro Kano’s Legacy

In addition to teaching judo techniques, Jigoro imparted comprehensive knowledge with balanced moral, physical and spiritual aspects. Jigoro’s students taught his techniques and philosophy throughout the country and the world. As a result, judo later became an integral part of the education of children in Japanese schools. In general, Jigoro promoted education in Japan and was for a long time a professor in schools as well as an advisor to the Minister of Education in Japan.

In 1909, at the request of the ambassador, Jigoro became a member of the International Olympic Committee. Furthermore, he led Japan’s national sports federation in its first participation in the 1911 Olympics. On May 4, 1938, Kano passed away at his home in Mikage at the age of 77. During his lifetime, Kano’s martial art was often not taken seriously on the world stage. In 1964, judo finally made it into the Olympic Games program as a discipline and established itself as a world-renowned martial art. Kano is considered the founder of judo, and in 2011, on October 28, World Judo Day was established to honor him.