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Origins And History Of Judo The Sport

Figure 1: A Judoka (Judo athlete) executing a throw.

Judo is a Japanese martial arts combat sport that requires incredible physical ability and a strong mental discipline. It involves using holds and leverage techniques to unbalance the opponent.  Judo blends standing positions and on ground techniques which require great skill. Such ability allows one to lift and throw their opponent to the ground from a standing position and to subsequently pin their opponent, applying various locks and holds until submission.   


To unravel the origins of Judo one must look into Nineteenth century Japan. This was a period in the country's history that was governed by skilled professional soldiers called Samurai. Samurai significance began to grow towards late eleventh century and early twelfth century.  They began as provincial warriors serving the heads of local clans who were wealthy landowners. These tribes rebelled against the Fujiwara clan; a powerful aristocratic family that intermarried with the imperial family and ruled Japan in a time known as the Heian period. The defeated Fujiwara clan was replaced by the country's first military dictatorship, known as the Shogunate. As servants of the daimyos also known as the great lords, the samurai supported and enforced the authority of the Shogun, which gave the Shogunate power over the ruling Fujiwara clan. These soldiers provided the platform for numerous forms martial arts to advance. It is through this progress that the samurai began to perfect close quarter combat which was developed as Jujitsu. Several Jujitsu styles were cultivated as more emphasis was placed on hand to hand combat training.

Rise Of Judo Through Samurai Roots

In 1868 political revolution brought the end to Shogunate. The Meiji Restoration came into effect and modernized the country through the influence of Western Culture. Subsequently, Samurai tradition and Jujitsu fell into decline.  However, in 1882 a man named Jigoro Kano whose interest in Jujitsu catalyzed rejuvenation in the martial arts. Jigoro Kano was an apprentice in Jujitsu, therefore learned to master the art. Jigoro was obsessed with learning and looked into ways to reform Jujitsu through his principles: integrating combat training with mental and physical education. As he borrowed techniques from the different styles of Jujitsu, he kept those that imitated the principles that he'd set out while discarding all the other ones, specifically all techniques that were seen to be injurious and a risk to any of the participants in a Judo showdown. He succeeded when he compiled various qualities of the different Jujitsu styles, and combined the specialized martial art with mental discipline; this is what we know today as modern Judo. He created a new school and enlisted nine students and trained them at the Dojo (the name given to a Judo practice hall). The is no set date for when Kano's students transitioned from Jujitsu to Judo training due to their similarities, but it is believed to be two years since the inception of  Kano's Dojo that the first Judo rules were written.  Jigoro Kano did not stop there as he traveled to Europe and the Americas to introduce Dojo outside of Japan to the rest of the world. Judo has now steadily grown to be the most popular martial art around the globe.


Figure 2: Jigoro Kano.


Figure 3: Jigoro Kano (Middle seated) seen with jujitsu masters at the opening of the Seattle Dojo the first in the United States somewhere between the year 1903 and 1907.

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