Judo is an activity aimed at physical education, started in Japan in the late nineteenth century  (1882) by a leading Physical Educationalist of the time, Profession J. Kano. Developing the ‘Self Help’ philosophy of English philosophers such as J.S. Mill, Sam Smiles and Bentham following a three year state sponsored research trip to UK, he used this knowledge to develop his ideas on PE and his new sport of judo. Kano was following an established popular attitude in Japanese society in that epoch of its history - everything modern, everything western! Although cleverly maintaining a link with the historical past. This development of judo, saved if from being banned by the US occupation army after WWII, judo being PE not a Martial Art!

Kano intended using judo through its physical training to turn its participants into useful and worthwhile members of Japanese Restoration society. Developing Judo from his own experience in “martial arts” namely Jujutsu (he had studied at several of the top school although they had by then become unpopular due to their links to the feudal past not the modern mechanised future of Japan) Kano took the best techniques as a basis for the skills to be used in this new sport of judo. The emphasis being on moral education, blows were taken out of most of the practise elements, only remaining in the organised controlled study elements of Kata . Rules were introduced for the safe practising of judo in Randori, a scoring system was implemented to give a positive sense of progress through Shiai (competition). Since those early days Judo has progressed into a popular international sport, featured in the Olympics since 1964. Judo’s objectives are still very much relevant today.


(for a glossary please see bottom of this page)



In 1878 Kano entered Tokyo University to read literature, therefore if only for his chosen subject he would need to have read and spoken English well. More than that, English was the academic language – the lingua franca – of higher education. Japanese, as well as foreign lecturers spoke in English and the whole campus pulsated with virile, intellectual activity – discussed largely in English – and stimulated largely by European thought. Kano would have been particularly suited to absorb the new knowledge that had permeated throughout the University. By 1881 Kano had graduated; in 1882 he founded his Kodokan (to promulgate his judo). He also obtained a lectureship at the Gakushiuin, the Peers School. It must have been quite a couple of years! The Peers School was an elite college for the elite. It educated or it could be said indoctrinated, most of the future political leaders of Japan. (The Emperor Hirohito entered the college in 1908). By 1888 Kano was acting Principal of the College. Quite an achievement. By 1898 his ability had taken him on to the head of Education Department in the Ministry of Education. So although without doubt he must have been greatly influenced by the anglophilic teaching of Tokyo University, he in his turn must have done a considerable amount of influencing!


Japan was awakening from a 250 year Rip Van Winkle sleep of torpid feudalism. She had been rudely awakened from that sleep by Perry, the American Price Charming, who had shoved a cannon between her eyes and said, “Awake and join us, or we blow you to the other side of the Pacific Ocean!” The awakening was traumatic. Seven hundred years of European development had to be concertinaed into decades. It took four! Japan proved her membership of the international mugging society by slapping China into a state of political malleability in 1894. It must have been one of the most exciting periods to he lived in at any time in history. For a young, intellectually awake man like Kano, it must have been so indeed. Let me try and briefly show how, yet at the same time keeping everything as close to Kano’s position as I can.


There was a starving mans hunger for all and any foreign knowledge, especially European. From the 1860s European literature – especially English – began to flood into Japan. Translations ranged from Spencer’s First principle and The Charge of the Light Brigade, across to Gray’s Elegy.  Nook like Samuel Smiles’ Self Help (a Victorian tome telling true stories of men’s heroic qualities) and Mill’s On Liberty were top to the literary pops for years on end. And the centre of this Anglophilia? Tokyo University!


Tokyo University for many years, up to the 1890’s, the only University in Japan, trained most of the teachers for the country’s educational system, and so had an enormous influence on all leaders of learning.


Nishi, called the father of Japanese philosophy (1829-1897) dominated that University from the early 1860’s. In 1862 he was sent abroad to study in Europe and brought back the works of men like Compte, Mill, Cousin, Montesquieu and Hegel (to say nothing of books by Dumas and Verne!). All these became compulsory reading for philosophy and education students in about 1870. Nishi was a great enthusiast for Mill and much of his work dominated by the Englishman. In 1877 he translated Utilitarianism and later produced a book on the logic of Mill. Because of his influential position, Nishi really stamped English Utilitarianism on the Japanese educational development.


The other great leader of the “thinkers” of this time was Hirogaki, President of Tokyo University from 1881-1900. (He it was who insisted English should be the academic language of both staff and students – the staff were expected to speak English in the “ staff room” and on all other possible occasions.) He travelled with Nishi and was imbued with many of the same ideas and enthusiasm. He was the great – and continual – advocator for the need to shed Japanese servility, so that the people could be free! Free anyway in the Western political sense.


Many foreigners, especially English were employed at Tokyo University to teach philosophy, education and Western ethics in general. Men like Syle, professor of logic in 1877. Professor Cooper, who in 1890 introduced German philosophy into the curriculum to say nothing of that great Englishman, Basil Chamberlain, who was professor of Japanese and Philology, from the late 1880’s onwards. Kano lived and breathed in this heady atmosphere of the “newest is the best” (Just like the contemporary “ the biggest is the best” – and can be just as wrong!). He musts have come in for a big slice of this influence. Towards the end of his life Nishi produced his magnum opus – a greats philosophic dictionary which tried to synthesise Chinese terminology, Western thought processes and Japanese spirit. Yet another clear indication that syncretism was congenial to and incarnate in the times.


And remember only abstract cultural influences have been dealt with so far. Let’s now look briefly at the “real” political scene. (Kano had graduated in literature and politics.) Here in politics was the concrete the practical pressure. The starting point is an effete feudal society, ready to disintegrate at the first blow of challenge, (very much like the Empire of Montezuma when the Conquistadores arrived). Perry’s gunboat in 1854 was that blow. The filigree structure shattered. For forty years there was a mad scrabble to survive, an example of Darwinism in the raw! To follow the many weaving strains of political, educational, sociological patterns is an impossible task and would require a tome of its own but I will try and indicate the confusion, the idealism, the conscientiousness that tied the many events together.


- but on a much smaller scale – in Judo. Kano started with great enthusiasm in the early 1880’s, changed his dojo several times each one bigger than the last one. Most, if not all of the kata were devised in the 1890’s and then from about the turn of the century on, he seemed to let the care of judo slide away from him. Certainly in the 1930’s judo (as well as Kendo, and the other combat activities) were largely taken over by the military and used for its own totalitarian ends. Many of the feared Japanese secret societies (mostly assassination groups) were based upon or around the combat centres. Perhaps Kano was too busy with his work (he certainly did do a vast amount in the education section of government) or perhaps he had little choice in the matter. I know that for a long time Kano was under a lot of pressure from the State to accept a State subsidy (which meant Army money and hence Army control), but he kept on resisting and stopped the Army taking over the Kodokan until after the war had actually started. Then he had to give in. It was for mainly that reason the American Occupation allowed the Kodokan to start up again after the war, while still banning other judo centres for their pre-war political involvement. But it does again help to emphasise too two very important points when scrutinising the origins of a sport.


1. How sport is a reflection of the society that nurtured it and to understand a spot, that society has to be looked at just as closely as the sport itself.

2. That however well-intentioned the initial ideas are, of any social organisation, they must be watched carefully, conscientiously and continually to ensure that those ideals are not prostituted or contorted; or, to put it another way, pioneering is a very exciting time with lots of challenges to be met, but consolidating can be a very dull affair – and that’s when it can go wrong!


Taken from a section of “All about Judo” between pages 90-95

(published by ep sport, author: G. R. Gleeson, 1977)

[As yet a book not available from us, but perhaps in the near future...]




 Reading from the left! Seiryoku Zenyo, is above and Jita-Kyoe, is below. These are the two 'maxiums' Kano set down for judo at the start. 


"Jita Kyoe", is sometimes translated as mutual benifit, this has a very strong connection to the 'self-help' of Mill et al as mentioned above! "Seiryoku Zenyo", maximum effeciency with minimum effort, often illustrated by the little man throwing the big one... Very theatrical, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.