The Father Of Judo - A Biography Of Jigoro Kano

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Author: Brian N. Watson
Pub: 2000 by Kodansha
Pages: 212
Ranking:Four Stars
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Even though I give this a Four Star rating, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed in this book. As the author states: "Since the chief aim of the book is to make the life of Jigoro Kano accessible to the widest possible audience, dialogue has been included, much of which has been re-created in the light of documented historical fact and the known personalities of the people involved." I must confess that I would have been much happier with a more scholarly approach to the biography of Jigoro Kano. There is so little available in English, that this could have been a most remarkable book. Instead, it simply makes fine reading, but nothing is annotated, and the "recreated" conversations throw doubt on what is true, and what is "recreated"... at least in my mind. There is, as well, some apparently incorrect 'history' in the book... as an example:

"From the early 1900s, he started to send some of his highest graded judo experts to foreign countries in order to teach Kodokan judo. For example, Mitsuyo Maeda went to Brazil in 1914 to teach Kodokan judo. One of his judo students, Helio Gracie, subsequently devised his own style, which he named Gracie Jujutsu."

I'll leave it to the reader to decide how historically correct these sentences are... But, all in all, this is a book worth reading. I'd encourage everyone to purchase it, if only to encourage more books along these lines to be written and published.

             Foreword by Yukimitsu Kano 7            
                      Preface 9                      
        Chapter 1 -- JIGORO KANO'S YOUTH       
                Historical Setting 21                
                   Early life 23                   
           A Growing Interest in Jujutsu 26          
                   Master Fukuda 29                  
                An Education Begins 31               
                Master of the Dojo 34                
                  A New Direction 36                 
                 Jujutsu Research 40                 
                     Gakushuin 43                    
                   Eishoji Dojo 45                   
                   Kodokan Judo 50                   
             A Strict Training Regime 52             
              David Meets Goliath 54               
             Judo's Rise to Prominence 57            
               Chapter 3 -- TRAVELS              
                Climbing a Pyramid 67               
                    Judo at Sea 71                   
           School Principal in Kumamoto 75          
                  Return to Tokyo 78                 

               CHAPTER 4 -- EDUCATION               
           Expanding Educational Horizons 81          
              An Enthusiastic Welcome 84              
                A Respected Educator 89               
               A Warm-Hearted Teacher 96              
               College to University 99               
                 Judo Beyond Japan 111                
             The Road to the Olympics 114             
               Japan's Olympic Debut 116              
                Tokyo's Olympic Bid 121               
                   Final Mission 126                  
                   Death at Sea 130                   
         CHAPTER 6 -- JUDO AROUND THE WORLD         
           Internationalization of Judo 135           
              Major Judo Competitions 141             
 All Japan Judo Championship Results (1948 -- 2000) 143
   World Judo Championship Results (1956 -- 1999) 152
     Olympic Games Judo Results (1964 -- 1996) 180     
         Events in the Life of Jigoro Kano 189        
     Events Following the Death of Jigoro Kano 198
              Extract from The Times 200              
                     Glossary 203                     
                   Bibliography 205                   
                       Index 206                      


Inside cover:

Judo has been a regular part of the Olympic Games since 1972 and is practiced in nearly every country throughout the world, but very few people know much about its founder, Jigoro Kano.

Kano was born in 1860 near the end of the Japanese feudal era, when the country was ruled by the samurai class. He grew up in a period of rapid modernization, as Japan, having thrown off its isolationist past, was struggling to overtake the leading countries of the industrialized West. A bright student, Kano had no difficulty with his studies, but he was bullied by older students because of his small size. When he learned that some of the traditional martial arts, particularly those known as jujutsu, enabled a smaller person to best a larger one, he decided to look for a teacher, over-coming his father's initial objection that a modern young man should not waste time on studying fighting arts from the feudal past.

Ignoring the unspoken rule that a student should practice just one martial art under one teacher, Kano sought out the best techniques from all the jujutsu schools. In the process, he became more than strong enough to defend himself, and soon he began to develop a following. In 1882, at age twenty-two, he founded the Kodokan school of judo, which was the beginning of the sport as we know it today.

Kano was more than a renowned practitioner of the martial arts. He graduated from the most prestigious university of the day, became at twenty-five a professor at a school for the scions of the Japanese aristocracy (and which he felt should be opened to commoners), and was later the principal of the Tokyo Teachers' Training College. In addition to his own private English school, he established a school for students from China. He served as chairman of the Japan Amateur Sports Association and was the first Asian to be elected to the International Olympic Committee.

In creating judo, Kano sought to provide a means of leading a more meaningful life, both physically and mentally. He himself exemplified that type of well-rounded life. His story, as narrated in The Father of Judo: A Biography of Jigoro Kano, is sure to inspire all present and future practitioners of judo.

Brian N. Watson was born in Middlesbrough, England, in 1942. He trained in judo at the Renshuden and the Budokwai in London, gaining a 2nd dan, and later at Chuo University, Tokyo. He was formerly a Special Research Student at the Kodokan, Tokyo, where he gained a 4th dan. A university lecturer and translator, he is English correspondent for the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, and is married with two daughters.


Yukimitsu Kano
Head of the Kodokan Judo Institute, Tokyo

I should like to congratulate Brian N. Watson on the publication of his book The Father of Judo: A Biography of Jigoro Kano. Many judo books have been written in Japanese and in foreign languages, most of which deal with the purely technical aspects of judo. Until this publication, I was not aware of any other book in English giving a detailed biographical account of Jigoro Kano.

Judo, one of the Olympic sports, is now extensively practiced world-wide as a competitive sport. This sporting aspect is but one facet of judo. The real intent of judo training is to help an exponent master two principles for life: one is seiryoku zen'yo, "whatever the objective, it can best be attained by applying to maximum effect one's mental and physical energy for that purpose"; the other is jita kyoei, the promotion of "mutual welfare and benefit for oneself and others." Watson was formerly a gaikokujin kenshusei (foreign research student) at the Kodokan, where he trained in the 1970s and reached the rank of 4th dan. This book is the outcome of the author's sharp observations, influenced by his years of training and devotion to judo. I should like the foreign judo community and the public in general to learn of the founder's life and the principles on which he based his creation: Kodokan judo. I heartily recommend this book, so that people may gain a correct understanding of judo, which is a contribution from Japan to the sporting culture of the world.



I took up judo at the Middlesbrough Judo Club in England in my youth. I was told that the founder of Kodokan judo was a Japanese man, Jigoro Kano, Apart from that scrap of knowledge, there seemed to be no information about him. What kind of man was he? What kind of life did he lead? What induced him to found judo? These were some of the questions that intrigued me.

Although I later questioned more experienced judo instructors in London, I could learn very little about Jigoro Kano. The main reason for this dearth of knowledge among non-Japanese judoka is that hardly any information concerning his life has ever been translated from Japanese into English, or indeed any other language.

When we look at the recent history of sport, particularly the great global expansion in popularity that occurred throughout the 20th century, there were two men who played prominent roles in this develop-ment: one was the Frenchman who was primarily responsible for the revival of the Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Courbetin (1863 -- 1937), and the other was Japanese, Professor Jigoro Kano (1860 -- 1938).

Over the years, I have read several Japanese books and press articles concerning aspects of Kano's life. He is reported to have had a distinguished career, especially in academic circles, and was well respected both at home and abroad. The first thing that struck me when reviewing his life, however, was that he was a man of tremendous energy as well as exceptional talent. Besides being a master of jujutsu, he was a professor of economics and political science, a linguist, an author, a politician, an enthusiastic calligrapher and a musician (he played the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute).

Kano was small in stature, around 5 feet 4 inches tall and 60 kilograms in weight. Constant bullying at school prompted him to take up jujutsu, at which he trained diligently, and eventually he became an expert. He carried out detailed research on various styles of jujutsu and reformed many of the techniques in order to make them less hazardous to practitioners of contest judo, a sport of his invention.

Jigoro Kano had a long career both in education and in public service. He graduated from the Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University (the name was later changed to Tokyo University). He became a professor at Gakushuin at the young age of twenty-five, and later, principal of the Tokyo Teachers' Training College. He established a school in Tokyo for the education of Chinese students, as well as his own private school, Kano Juku, where he taught English. A family man, he had a wife and eight children. He was the first chairman of the Japan Amateur Sports Association and the first Asian to be elected to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). During his long tenure, he helped promote the popularity of Olympic sports in Japan and in other Asian nations. Later in life, Professor Kano became a member of the House of Peers of Japan.

Apart from his promotion of judo and Olympic sports, Kano's fervent passion in life was the furthering of higher educational standards. He was a skilled calligrapher, and in one of his famous works he wrote: "Nothing under Heaven is more important than education. The teaching of one virtuous person can influence many. What has been well learned by one generation can be passed on to a hundred."

He did much to reform and modernize the nation's educational system. He believed that the best way to achieve improved social conditions was by the attainment of high standards both in compulsory general education and in the training of teachers. The prime requisite for accomplishing these objectives he maintained was by better teacher training. He also strove long and hard to upgrade both the pay and the working conditions of those engaged in the teaching profession. His most notable achievements in this regard were the establishment of women's colleges in each prefecture, and the elevation of teachers' training colleges to university status. These, and other educational reforms he instigated, contributed greatly to the modernization of Japan.

Internationally, he is best remembered as the founder of judo, which is widely regarded as a combative sport. He always stressed that judo is more than just a physical activity. He intended judo to be a help to one in training for life. "Judo training improves one physically and strengthens the foundations of moral conduct," he often remarked. "It's a form of exercise, moral training and self-defense."

Kano maintained that what we learn from judo can be applied to situations in life. The ability to keep up morale in the face of life's hardships, for example, can be a great help. There are two special judo training programs, each lasting one month, when trainees practice early in the morning, 6 A.M. till 7 A.M., and again from 5 P.M. to 6 P.M. One is held in midwinter and the other in midsummer. Getting out of a warm bed to train on a cold midwinter morning, or training in midsummer heat, is never pleasant. If one can persevere and do this, then when conditions are not ideal in life, such as when one suffers an injury, as often happens in judo contests, one can usually carry on. The reason for such training is to instill the spirit of perseverance in the face of adversity. For instance, I recall the leading British judo contestant, Karen Briggs, four times world champion, who continued fighting until the finish in a bout at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, despite suffering a dislocated shoulder. Contestants in most other sports would immediately withdraw from competition after sustaining such a severe and painful injury. Another example concerns Kano's strength of character. He was once travelling with a Japanese embassy official on a coach through mountains in Italy. Their coach was involved in a traffic accident; it left the road and came to rest halfway over a steep cliff. Panic broke out among the passengers, who feared that the coach might fall. The embassy official recalled that Kano kept his composure. He was well aware that it might go over the cliff at any second, but he remained cool. His attitude in the face of a potential catastrophe helped restore calm among the other passengers and they all got off the coach quietly. Thus, a judoman who is fully trained develops an inner calmness and is not excitable. Such incidents, I think, illustrate what Jigoro Kano meant by applying in life what one learns from one's judo training experiences.

In the writing of this book, every attempt has been made to achieve historical accuracy, and both Japanese and English sources have been consulted, as noted in the Bibliography. Since the chief aim of the book is to make the life of Jigoro Kano accessible to the widest possible audience, dialogue has been included, much of which has been re-created in the light of documented historical fact and the known personalities of the people involved. It is my hope that this device will make the book more approachable and enjoyable to all those interested in the life of the founder of judo.

Brian N. Watson


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