Master Jigoro Kano was born in Japan in 1860. During his youth, upon the insistence of his father, Kano Jirosaku Kireshiba, he received a good education in a private school as well as a personal teacher for English. In 1874, he was sent to study in a school directed by Europeans in order to perfect his English and German.
Jigoro Kano, weighing only 90 lbs, wanted to become stronger. Nakai Baisei, a family friend who was a member of the shogun guard, spoke to him of ju jutsu, a method for re-enforcement. He also demonstrated a few techniques of this art. The young Kano wanted then to learn this art, although his father wanted to dissuade him from practicing this modern sport.
Jigoro Kano at 17 years old practicing ju jutsu
In 1877, while studying at the Imperial University of Tokyo, Jigoro Kano sought a ju jutsu professor. He finally enrolled in the dojo of Master Fukuda Hachinosuke‘s school, Tenjin Shin’yô-ryû.
On August 5, 1879, Jigoro Kano, along with his professor Fukuda Hachinosuke, Iso Masatomo and Godai Ryusaku, participated in a ju jutsu demonstration offered in honor of the U.S. President, Ulysses S. Grant. Shortly after this demonstration, his professor, Master Fukuda died at the age of 52. Jigoro Kano then continued his training under the tutelage of Master Iso Masatomo who was the friend of his professor. At the age of 21, Jigoro Kano received his teaching license (Kyoshi menkyo) from the school of Tenjin Shin’yô-ryû.
Jigoro Kano in keikogi
During this period, Jigoro Kano attended a demonstration of the Yôshin-ryû school then participated in combat exchanges with this school’s adepts studying under Master Totsuka Hikosuke. Impressed by the capacities of these adepts, he thus understood that in order to progress efficiently, he would have to study the techniques of the different schools of ju jutsu.
In 1881, upon the death of Master Iso Masatomo, Jigoro Kano began the study of the Kitô-ryu school of ju jutsu under Master Iikubo Tsunetoshi. Upon judging that the projection techniques of this school were superior to those he had previously learned, he applied himself particularly to the study of these techniqes.
Little by litte, Jigoro Kano began to technically exceed his professor during the work of combat. Master Iikubo recognized the accomplishments of his student and transmitted training secrets of the Kitô-ryû school, as well as gave him the manuscripts of the school.
Jigoro Kano then founded his school and decided to call it Judô. He conserved the projection techniques of the Kitô-ryû school as well as the immobilization and striking techniques of the Tenjin Shin’yô-ryû school. In 1898, he wrote:
By incorporating the best elements from the different school that I have learned and incorporating them with my own inventions and discoveries, I have created a new system of physical education and moral as well as a method for winning tournaments.
Between 1906 and 1917, Master Kano‘s judô was introduced in Japan’s public education system. This period saw the standardization of the techniques of his art as well as the systematization of tournament techniques.
Jigoro Kano demonstrating a judô technique
In 1882 he founded his dojo, Kôdôkan, which began with a 12 tatamis surface. After many moves, Kôdôkan occupied a 1200 tatamis surface in 1958.
A teacher and pedagogue by trade, over the course of his life Jigoro Kano occupied many important posts within the Japanese government in the Ministry of Education as well as in a variety of teaching institutions. He saw his judô as being one method for teaching the young.
In 1899, he visited many European countries. In 1909, he became active within the the International Olympic Comity as a Japanese representative. He would represent his country notably in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, in 1928 in Amsterdam, In 1932 in Los Angelas and in 1926 in Berlin.
Portrait of Master Jigoro Kano
Judô was already beginning to gain international recognition during the life of Master Kano. Master Jigoro Kano died at sea aboard the ship MV Hikawa Maru on the 4th of May, 1938. Today, judô is an Olympic sport practiced throughout the world.