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A Brief History of Judo


Judo, meaning “gentle way,’ is a popular and venerable Japanese martial art. It has spread in popularity so far as to become an Olympic sport. The main objective of the martial art is to pin an opponent to the ground or force a submission by applying a chokehold or joint lock. Judo allows strikes, thrusts, and weapons defense to throw or take down your opponent. The three main techniques involved in Judo are throwing techniques (nage-waza), grappling technique (katame-waza), and striking technique (atemi-waza). Judo is the predecessor of several modern martial arts such as Sambo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Before the birth of Judo

Japan was under the rule of a group of professional soldiers, known as Samurais, from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. This was an era that witnessed the development of various martial arts and combat techniques throughout Asia. The Samurais made modifications to Jijisu, or jujitsu, a hand-to-hand combat style that was used extensively in military training.

However, in 1868 the Samurais fell and the Japanese Emperor Meji restored imperial rule. Due to that jujitsu started losing its sheen and popularity. Even though no bans were placed on the martial art, increased westernization caused a loss of interest in both training and practicing it. The martial art would have been extinct were it not for the contributions of Jigoro Kano.

The father of Judo

The story of Judo cannot be narrated without attributing the pivotal role served by Dr. Jigoro Kano.

Kano was born into an affluent family as the son of a head priest in 1860. Even though Kano was good at his lessons, he constantly worried about his weak physique and the bullies who used to give him a tough time. He decided to learn jujitsu but had difficulty finding a good trainer. Most people who knew the art were not enthusiastic to pass them on as they considered it useless. Finally, he started training with Yanosuke Fakuda, a jujitsu master at a school. He grew so passionate about martial arts training that at the age of just 21, he started a new school to teach a new martial art called Judo, consisting of some of the best moves of several prominent jujitsu styles. And that was the birth of Judo!

In the late nineteenth century, Kano traveled to Europe to spread Judo outside Japan. Kano tirelessly worked to spread Judo across the globe, even while serving on the Olympic Committee. It was a dream come true moment for Kano when men’s Judo was officially announced as an Olympic event in 1964 Tokyo Olympics. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the women’s contest was introduced as a demonstration, however, it was not until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that women’s Judo was added as an official contest.

At present, more than 180 countries have registered as members of International Judo Federation. France is currently said to have more Judo experts than Japan! The art is still being promoted by Japan in places like Africa and Oceania which are unfamiliar with its techniques.