Jujutsu and the Origins of Judo:
A Brief History

Andrew Yiannakis, Ph.D.

Steve Cunningham, Ph.D.

University of Connecticut

Jujutsu began to take systematized form in Japan in the latter half of the 16th century. However, some jujutsu schools date back to the eighth and ninth century. Jujutsu incorporates such techniques as throwing, joint locking, strangling, striking with all parts of the body, grappling and weapons (knife, sword, staff). JIGORO KANO, a student of Tenshin Shinyo Ryu and Kito Ryu jujutsu, selected the good points of the various jujutsu schools of his time (there were over 700 in existence) and founded a new system of combatives which he called judo, The Way of Gentleness. In 1882, he founded in Tokyo the first judo school which was called Kodokan. It had nine students.

Early judo (also known as jiudo or Kano Jiu Jutsu) resembled jujutsu in significant ways, including dress, techniques and philosophy. In fact, early judo was practiced as a martial art, not as a sport. After World War II, at a time when the allied occupation forces banned all Japanese martial arts, judo survived by touting itself as a sport, as another form of wrestling. Sport judo survived and thrived in the post war years but it was never able to recapture its classical martial traditions. Its popularity as a fun sport spread all over the world, and organized competition on a national and international level set the stage for the kind of judo that was to emerge in the latter part of the 20th century. Jujutsu continued to survive during the early years of judo growth but its popularity waned considerably. Some schools of jujutsu continued to grow while many fell by the wayside. Today, we are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of jujutsu. The Gracie School in Brazil is probably most responsible for putting the art back on center stage, while the United States Judo Association has begun to stress the roots of judo more than ever before. Today, jujutsu is the fastest growing martial art in the United States and, by the year 2000, it is expected to overtake karate in popularity, according to Black Belt Magazine. In fact, Black Belt Magazine called jujutsu the martial art of the 21st century!

Dr. Kano was considered by many to have been an outstanding educator. He served on many governmental posts in the field of education and sport and was an active judo participant until his death in 1938. Like master Ueshiba Morihei in Aikido, Kano was a small man and very light, and like Ueshiba, he could overpower bigger and more powerful opponents with good technique. He would always argue that while the physical body ages and weakens with time, the mind and the spirit are strengthened with proper training. Age is rarely, therefore, an inhibiting factor in combative situations. Kano practiced judo until his death at the age of 78!

Judo is an Olympic sport today and it's practiced in practically every country in the world. It was first introduced to the United States in 1903, with the establishment of a club in Seattle. President Roosevelt, one of the early American students of judo even had a section of the White House converted for judo practice sessions. There are, in the United States today, approximately 1500 amateur clubs, over 400 Armed Forces clubs, and over 200 college and high school clubs. Three organizations control sport judo in the United States, the United States Judo Association, the United States Judo Federation, and United States Judo, Inc. Each is responsible for granting belts, supervising standards and sanctioning competition. Rank is recognized by all three organizations and they all subscribe to general guidelines set out by the Kodokan in Tokyo. A fourth organization known as the American Society of Classical Judoka (which is endorsed by the Kodokan's All-Japan Seibukan Martial Arts and Ways Association) keeps alive and promotes the more traditional martial arts aspects of judo. Their emphasis is on meditation, atemi-waza (striking), kata, and on methods of advanced throwing which are considered illegal in sport judo. The president and founder of this Society was Isao Obato (now deceased), 7th dan.

Since becoming an Olympic sport, the United States has won several medals in judo, including a silver at the Los Angeles Games in 1984, in Seoul in 1988 and in Barcelona in 1992.