Budo World

Kanō Jigorō

Kanō Jigorō (Kōdōkan Jūdō)

Kanō Jigorō was active in Japan from the end of the Edo period, through the Meiji and Taishō periods, and the early part of the Shōwa period. To overcome his physical frailties—as an adult he stood at 158cm and 58kg—he took up the study of jūjutsu. Soon after, he modified jūjutsu’s dangerous techniques to make them safer and changed the suffix “jutsu”, meaning “technique”, to “dō”, meaning “way”. Then in May 1882 Kanō founded Kōdōkan Jūdō. Kanō did not only focus on popularizing judo, as the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School he made great efforts in training instructors and became the first Asian committee member of the International Olympic Committee.

Kanō Jigorō’s Origin

Kanō was born in October 1860 as the third son of Kanō Jirōsaku Mareshiba and Sadako in the Hama Higashi section of Mikage Village in Settsu, Hyogo prefecture. Jirōsaku administered the transportation of goods by ship for the shogunate, and after the restoration of imperial rule in 1868, he worked as an official in the navy in Tokyo. Therefore, Kanō spent his childhood mostly with his mother Sadako. Regarding his mother, Kano later reminisced: “When I made a mistake, she would not forgive me until I came to the realisation myself that it was wrong. She always put others before herself.” His mother passed away when Jigorō was nine years old, so he then accompanied his father to Tokyo. After moving to Tokyo, Jigorō first studied at Ubukata Keidō’s private school where he studied subjects such as Chinese classics, Japanese history, and calligraphy. On Ubukata’s recommendation, at the age of 13 he entered a private school in Shiba Karasumori-chō where he was educated mainly by foreign instructors. Becoming a boarding student, this was the first time after moving to Tokyo that he was separated from his father. Kanō excelled in his studies, but was physically small and was bullied by jealous seniors. He developed an interest in jūjutsu when he heard how its techniques enabled “softness to overcome strength”.

Motivation for jūjutsu studies

In 1875 at the age of 15, Kanō entered the National Kasei School (now University of Tokyo). There were many young former samurai, and people who were gifted both academically and physically. Being very competitive, Kanō decided that he wanted to be stronger, and so began the search for a jūjutsu teacher. In the period immediately following the Meiji Restoration, Western ideals were being widely endorsed, and the martial arts went into decline. Nevertheless, Kanō found Fukuda Hachinosuke and began to study the Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū style of jūjutsu that focussed on atemi (striking) and gyaku-waza (joint manipulation techniques). He also studied the Kitō-ryū style of jūjutsu which employed nage-waza (throwing techniques) against opponents wearing armour. From this, Kanō could sense the differences between the techniques of the different schools.
After Kanō continued training in jūjutsu for some time, he felt that not only was his body getting stronger, but he was also benefitting intellectually and morally. He wanted to share this experience with other people, so he set about transforming jūjutsu and its dangerous techniques such as atemi and gyaku-waza into something safer so that anyone could study them in randori. In 1915, Kanō stated that the aim of jūdō was “the perfection of oneself for the betterment of society”, and explained that even though one aims to perfect the self, the purpose is for enhancing society at large. He was continuing the spirit of what his mother taught him in his early years: put others before yourself.

Kanō’s development of randori

In the training methods of the many different schools of jūjutsu, the order in which techniques were practised was decided beforehand in forms known as kata. However, the Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū and Kitō-ryū styles of jūjutsu that Kanō studied utilised free sparring called randori. Especially in the Kitō-ryū, in which jūjutsu was practised under the pretence of wearing armour, the importance of the natural standing position “hontai (true body)”—later known as “shizen hontai” (natural true body)—was stressed. This is where one’s posture did not break forwards or backwards, or to the left or right. Furthermore, atemi-waza was not effective when wearing armour so nage-waza was central in the Kitō-ryū. Also, if the technique of the “tori-kata (person executing the technique)” was not effective during kata practice, the uke-kata (person receiving the technique) does not have to yield; or if the tori-kata is not very strong the uke-kata could attack. This type of training originated in “nokoriai” which was then developed into randori. In 1885, during randori with Kitō-ryū master Iikubo Tsunetoshi, Kanō discovered that in order to execute a technique, you first need to unbalance your opponent. He then proceeded to teach practitioners the principles of “kuzushi”, “tsukuri”, and “kake”, which are off-balancing the uke-kata, preparing a technique, and execution of the technique.
Jūjutsu training attire traditionally consisted of a top and trousers with short sleeves and legs. In 1886, Kano made the sleeves of the top longer, and to avoid injury, practitioners would grip the sleeves to make throws like tai-otoshi (hip drop) and seoi-nage (back throw), and other types of te-waza (hand techniques). Kanō worked tirelessly to popularise jūdō, and in 1900 he created the “Refereeing Regulations for Jūdō Competitions” which stated that in order to score an ippon (point), the opponent must be thrown with “momentum” in a way so that they land “face-up”.

Kanō’s learning and jūdō ideology

Let us examine Kanō’s thoughts on learning. From the age of five he studied the “Four Books and Five Classics” under the Confucian scholar Yamamoto Chikuun. From the age of 11, he studied Japanese history and Nihon Gaishi from Ubukata Keidō. In 1877, he was admitted to the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Literature where he studied history, philosophy, and political science. He also studied Chinese literature and philosophy, and moral education in the bachelor program. It can be said that Kano’s mindset was greatly influenced by Confucianism. On the other hand, however, from his second year of university he was taught political science and economics by the American Ernest Fenollosa, and learned the utilitarian ideology of making the most effective use of one’s abilities for your own benefit as well as that of others.
When Kanō founded the Kōdōkan, he elevated the ideal of jūdō as “physical education, as a contest, and for cultivation of the mind”. He explained that with “cultivation of the mind”, the practitioner learns self-control and decorum. It is through this that the influence of Confucianism is apparent. Furthermore, as a principle of jūdō, he advocated the jūjutsu principle of “jū no ri (principle of softness)”, meaning “adapt to the power of the opponent; and utilise that strength to attain victory”. Kanō also devised a new principle in which “the power of the body and the mind are used in the most efficient manner”. To this end, jūdō makes use of both physical and mental strength, but the influence of Western utilitarianism is also evident. This was expressed by his maxim seiryoku zen’yō, or “maximum efficient use of energy”. Kanō also observed the state of education in foreign countries, and he deepened his friendship with Ferdinand Buisson who advocated the separation of religion from moral education in France. In his later years, Kanō also became the chairman of the Dōtoku Kyōkai (Association of Moral Education), and devised another popular maxim jita-kyōei, meaning “mutual prosperity for self and others”. Kanō was aged 62 when he announced the principles of seiryoku zen’yō and jita kyōei in 1922.

Father of education, father of physical education

Drawn by Pinter Peter

When he was a young man, Kanō contemplated becoming prime minister, or even a multimillionaire. He concluded that the way to become a shining example of a man living life with no regrets is through education. He therefore chose to be an educator. First, he lectured on politics and economics at Gakushuuin. Before long, he moved to the Tokyo Higher Normal School, an institution for training teachers, and spent 23 years in charge of the school. They sought to nurture teachers who believed that education was their calling, and gathered great scholars from around the world to cultivate confidence and self-reliance in students who would become future teachers. Kanō thought that sports and budō facilitated a healthy body and good morality, so he encouraged students to practise judo and kendo together with sports such as athletics, football, and tennis.
In addition, at the request of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, Kanō became the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee. The Japan Sports Association was founded to select competitors for the Olympic Games in 1911, and Kano was appointed as the first chairman. Japan participated for the first time in the 1912 Olympic Games. 1940 would have been the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of Japan, and was scheduled to coincide with the 12th Olympic Games. Kanō made great efforts to bring the games to Tokyo. He succeeded, but passed away at the age of 78 aboard the Hikawa-Maru on his way back to Japan. Kanō was a pioneer in the field of teacher training, and was also an important international physical educator.

Author: Yoshiaki Todo