While the history of many martial arts is shrouded in mystery because of their sheer antiquity, Judo has the benefit of being a comparatively young and well documented art. Now a global sport with a hallowed position in the Olympics, Judo has a rich and interesting backstory reaching all the way back to the 16th century, though its true formation rests in the 19th century.
Judo’s first seeds sprouted in 1532 with the founding of Takenouchi-ryū. Takenouchi-ryū is considered the parent of Japan’s many Jujitsu forms, with Jujitsu in turn being the progenitor of modern Judo. These arts focus on honing both the body and the mind through practice and precise techniques for offense and self defense without the use of a weapon. It is from this practical background that Judo would grow, first as its own martial practice, and from there into a competitive sport focused on precision throws, expert grappling, and refined striking techniques.
The Father of Judo
Dr. Jigoro Kano, an accomplished athlete and educator, is credited with synthesizing his knowledge of various martial disciplines into the first codified form of Judo. Dr. Kano began a study in 1882 of a wide range of self defense techniques and brought them together to create Kodokan Judo, a term which roughly translates to mean “a place to study the way of the gentle path.” This curious name reflects his art’s focus on both self defense and personal improvement and tranquility through athleticism.
Dr. Kano’s world-famous reputation as an athlete would also serve as the springboard to propel his martial art to the world stage and a wider audience. Countless celebrities and athletes the world over have adopted Dr. Kano’s martial art, with Lucille Ball, Chuck Norris, and Vladimir Putin being examples that show just how teachable and versatile Judo is.
The International Stage
After codifying the rules, regulations, and a standardized training model for Judo, Dr. Kano joined the International Olympic committee as its first Asian member in 1909, a position which he held until his death in 1938. Dr. Kano’s position gave him the necessary platform to spread the art of Judo globally. Schools sprung up throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States, and in 1964 Judo became the first martial art to enter the Olympics at that year’s Tokyo Games. To this day, Olympic athletes adhere to the rules and principles established by Dr. Kano, thus keeping alive Judo’s illustrious history.