Judo’s founder,

Kanō Jigorō
28 October 1860 – 4 May 1938


Kanō Jigorō  Judo   Ju Jutsu


Kanō Jigorō, was the founder of judo. Judo was the first Japanese martial art to gain widespread international recognition, and the first to become an official Olympic sport. Pedagogical innovations attributed to Kanō include the use of black and white belts, and the introduction of dan ranking to show the relative ranking between members of a martial art style. Well-known mottoes attributed to Kanō include "Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort" and "Mutual Welfare and Benefit."

In his professional life, Kanō was an educator. Important postings included serving as director of primary education for the Ministry of Education  from 1898 to 1901, and as president of Tokyo Higher Normal School from 1901 until 1920.  He played a key role in making judo and kendo part of the Japanese public school programs of the 1910s.

Kanō was also a pioneer of international sports. Accomplishments included being the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) (he served from 1909 until 1938); officially representing Japan at most Olympic Games held between 1912 and 1936; and serving as a leading spokesman for Japan's bid for the 1940 Olympic Games.

His official honors and decorations included the First Order of Merit and Grand Order of the Rising Sun and the Third Imperial Degree. Kanō was inducted into the IJF Hall of Fame on 14 May 1999.


Kanō Jigorō was born to a sake brewing family in the town of Mikage, Japan (now within Higashinada-ku, Kobe). The family sake brands included "Shiroshika", "Hakutsuru", and "Kiku-Masamune". However, Kanō's father—Kanō Jirōsaku Mareshiba—was an adopted son who did not go into the family business. Instead he worked as a lay priest and as a senior clerk for a shipping line.  Kanō's father was a great believer in the power of education, and he provided Jigorō, his third son, with an excellent education. The boy's early teachers included the neo-Confucian scholars Yamamoto Chikuun and Akita Shusetsu.  Kanō's mother died when the boy was nine years old, and his father moved the family to Tokyo. The young Kanō was enrolled in private schools, and had his own English language tutor. In 1874 he was sent to a private school run by Europeans to improve his English and German skills.

At the time Kanō stood 1.57 m (5 feet 2 inches) but weighed only 41 kg (90 pounds). He wished he were stronger. One day, Nakai Baisei (a friend of the family who was a member of the shogun's guard), mentioned that jūjutsu was an excellent form of physical training. He then showed Kanō a few techniques by which a smaller man might overcome a larger and stronger opponent. Kanō decided he wanted to learn the art despite Nakai's insistence that such training was out of date and somewhat dangerous. Kanō's father also discouraged him from jūjutsu, telling him to pursue a modern sport instead.


When Kanō attended the Tokyo Imperial University in 1877, he started looking for jūjutsu teachers. He did this by first looking for bonesetters, called seifukushi. His assumption was that doctors knew who the better martial art teachers were. His search brought him to Yagi Teinosuke, who had been a student of Emon Isomata in the Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū school of jūjutsu. Yagi, in turn, referred Kanō to Fukuda Hachinosuke, a bonesetter who taught Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū in a 10-mat room adjacent to his practice. Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū was itself a combination of two older schools: the Yōshin-ryū and Shin no Shindō-ryū.

Fukuda's training method consisted mostly of the student taking fall after fall for the teacher or senior student until he began to understand the mechanics of the technique. Fukuda stressed applied technique over ritual form. He gave beginners a short description of the technique and then had them engage in free practice (randori) in order to teach through experience. It was only after the student had attained some proficiency that he taught them traditional forms (kata). This method was difficult, as there were no special mats for falling, only the standard straw mats (tatami) laid over wooden floors.

Kanō had trouble defeating Fukushima Kanekichi, who was one of his seniors at the school. Therefore, Kanō started trying unfamiliar techniques on his rival. He first tried techniques from sumo. When these did not help, he studied more, and tried a technique ("fireman's carry") that he learned from a book on western wrestling. This worked, and kataguruma, or "shoulder wheel", remains part of the judo repertoire, although at this moment the judo organizations of some countries prohibit this throw in competition judo.


On 5 August 1879, Kanō participated in a jūjutsu demonstration given for former United States president Ulysses S. Grant. This demonstration took place at the home of the prominent businessman Shibusawa Eiichi. Other people involved in this demonstration included the jūjutsu teachers Fukuda Hachinosuke and Iso Masatomo, and Kanō's training partner Godai Ryusaku. Unfortunately, Fukuda died soon after this demonstration, at the age of 52. Kanō then began studying with Iso, who had been a friend of Fukuda. Despite being 62 years old and only standing 5 ft 0 in (1.52 m) tall, Iso's jiujitsu training had given him a powerful build. He was known for excellence in kata, and was also a specialist in atemi, or the striking of vital areas. In Iso's method, one began with kata and then progressed to free fighting (randori). Due to Kanō's intense practice and his solid grounding in the jiujitsu taught by Fukuda, he was soon an assistant at Iso's school. After Fukuda's death in 1881, Fukuda's widow gave the scrolls of the school to Kanō, then 21 years old. Despite some popular works suggesting that Kanō obtained a teaching license in this school, such remains unverified to date with no Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū certificate(s) with Kanō's name visible being depicted anywhere in the Kōdōkan museum or in any published source. Neither is such rank specified in any authentic Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū archival documents.

While under Iso's tutelage, Kanō witnessed a demonstration by the Yōshin-ryū jūjutsu teacher Totsuka Hikosuke and later took part in randori with members of Totsuka's school. Kanō was impressed by the Yōshin-ryū practitioners and realized that he might never be able to beat someone as talented as Totsuka simply by training harder: he also needed to train smarter. It was this experience that first led Kanō to believe that to be truly superior, one needed to combine the best elements of several ryū, or schools, of jūjutsu including Yagyu Shingan-ryū Taijutsu. Toward this end, he began to seek teachers who could provide him with superior elements of jūjutsu that he could adopt.

After Iso died in 1881, Kanō began training in Kitō-ryū with Iikubo Tsunetoshi (Kōnen). Iikubo was expert in kata and throwing, and fond of randori. Kanō applied himself thoroughly to learning Kitō-ryū, believing Iikubo's throwing techniques in particular to be better than in the schools he had previously studied. It is Iikubo who issued Kanō's only verified jūjutsu rank and teaching credential, namely a certificate of Menkyo (not Menkyo kaiden) in Nihonden Kitō Jūdō, dated October 1883.