The History And Origins Of Judo

Modern Judo is a derivative of Jiu-Jitsu and it’s emerged as one of the most popular martial arts worldwide. It is represented at the Olympic level and remains one of the most popular events. Judo players specialise in using throws, pins, joint locks, and chokes to defeat their opponents on the mat. The sport shares some similarities with wrestling, but there are also some major differences like not allowing participants to grab their opponents’ legs. 

Judo’s ancient roots are tied to the Samurai – armor-clad Japanese warriors who use Jiu-Jitsu techniques on battlefields. The Samurai were eventually relegated to the history books when guns and other modern weapons became the new standard for warfare. That led to Jiu-Jitsu eventually being replaced with Judo, which was developed primarily as a sport. It was a way to preserve many of the techniques used by ancient Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Judo eventually made its way to Brazil in the 20th century and became what is now known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a fighting style that focuses on the “Newaza” (ground fighting) aspects of Judo. Modern Judo focuses more on the “Tachi-waza” (standing aspects) of grappling and control positions. 

The word “Judo” translates to “gentle way” in English. It is classified as a defensive martial art since it often involves diverting an opponent’s force or strength and using it against them. Many of the Jiu-Jitsu techniques that were deemed too dangerous like knee-locks, kicks, and punches were removed to make the sport safer. Many of these combat techniques are still practiced by high-ranking Judoka as “Katas” (forms). Some of the goals of Judo schools include helping students to develop confidence, humility, courage, honor, and respect for themselves and others. 


The History Of Judo

Modern Judo as we know it was founded by Japan’s Dr. Jigoro Kano, who was born in 1860. Kano believed martial arts were a way to learn to live in harmony with others and studied Jiu-Jitsu under several masters in his youth. Kano’s search to find principles that unified the techniques he learned from his different masters led to the development of Judo’s first principle: maximum efficiency of physical and mental energy. Kano’s view was that only techniques that didn’t require using significant amounts of mental or physical energy should be incorporated into his system. His philosophy was that martial artists should learn ways to use their opponent’s aggression and energy against them. 

The resulting body of techniques he accumulated based on the first principle was called Judo. To push his art, Kano founded his first “Kōdōkan” (school) in 1982. Kano’s intent wasn’t to replace Jiu-Jitsu with Judo but to create a central style all Jiu-Jitsu masters could use to preserve their techniques, which were quickly being forgotten at the time as the popularity of modern sports increased. 

However, the opening of Kano’s first school led to campaigns claiming the new Kōdōkan Judo was superior to the older Jiu-Jitsu styles. This led to Judo’s first test against traditional Jiu-Jitsu styles at the Central Police Headquarters dojo in Japan. 

Both camps were allowed to choose 15 students to compete, and Kano selected his top students who finished with 13 wins and two draws. What was more impressive was that the rules for the tournament were in favour of the Jiu-Jitsu students. Fights couldn’t be won by throwing opponents on their backs as Judo rules dictate. Instead, the only ways these matches were won were by rendering your opponent unconscious, forcing them to submit, incapacitating them to the point they can’t continue fighting or killing them. Still, Judo players dominated their first cross-style match despite the gnarly rules. 



Kōdōkan Judo is built around three major sets of techniques: Atemi-waza (striking), Katame-waza (grappling), and Nage-waza (throwing techniques). The throwing techniques were derived from Kitō-ryū, which can be broken down into Tachi-waza (standing techniques) and Sutemi-waza (sacrifice technique). The standing techniques used in Kōdōkan Judo include Te-waza (hand techniques), Ashi-waza (foot techniques), and Koshi-waza (hip techniques). 

Sacrifice techniques used in Judo include Ma-sutemi-waza (back sacrifice) and Yoko-sutemi-waza (side sacrifice). The grappling and striking techniques in Kōdōkan Judo were primarily drawn from Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū. The grappling techniques used can be broken into Kansetsu-waza (joint locks), Shime-waza (chokes), and Osaekomi-waza (holds). 

During the early days of Judo, joint locks and chokes were only taught to advanced students. Advanced students were also expected to learn how to train safely and resuscitate people who were choked out. 

The striking techniques originally used in Judo include fists, elbows, fingers, knees, hand-edge strikes, and kicks. These techniques were exclusively taught to high-ranking Judoka only. Classes were well-structured and techniques were organized in sets so they could be introduced slowly as a Judoka’s skills improved. Students were divided into two groups: “Mudansha” (unranked students) and “Yudansha” (black belts). The ranks served as an indication of each student’s skill level as well as the techniques they would be taught. Kano also added philosophy and a strict code of conduct to complete his martial art.

Students were expected to be outstanding examples of honest conduct and good character everywhere they went. Behavior that brought shame to the school would lead to a student’s suspension or expulsion. 


Teaching Principles

Kano used four main teaching methods in his dojo: “Katas” (prearranged forms), “Randori” (free practice), “Mondo” (question and answer sessions), and “Ko” (systematic lectures). This leads to philosophical debates between Kano and his students, which lead to Judo’s second principle: “Jita-kyoei” (mutual benefit and prosperity). 

Kano believed learning Judo would make students realise they could not progress at the expense of others and that mutual prosperity is the key to real, lasting progress. Kano’s belief in this principle was so strong that he made growing the sport of Judo his top priority in life so students could eventually figure out the second principle on their own. 

Kano traveled to the Americas and Europe in 1899 to promote Judo, and he traveled to Cairo, Egypt in 1938 to attend the International Olympic Council meeting where he managed to get Tokyo nominated for the 1940 Olympics. He passed away on a ship back to Japan after the conference at age 78. 

The technical aspects of Judo reached full maturity in the 20th century when 18 leaders of the leading Jiu-Jitsu ryus joined Kano’s system. Judo continued to be refined until it was officially added to the Olympic games in 1964 and has remained a part of the event ever since. 


You may also like:

What To Focus On As You Rise In Your BJJ Belt Rank

The History And Origins Of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

More in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Also On Evolve

7 Surprising Benefits Of Boxing

7 Surprising Benefits Of Boxing

Boxing is one of the most globalized combat sports, and the top boxers remain some of the highest-paid athletes in the world. Anyone can master the sweet science and enjoy the many rewards that come…