Happy birthday Kano Jigoro!

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Kano Jigoro (October 28, 1860—May 4, 1938) was the Japanese founder of the martial arts style Judo.

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Jigoro was born in Mikage, Japan. His father, Kanō Jirōsaku Mareshiba, valued education and enrolled him in private schools. He even had his own English language tutor. When his mother died, Kano's father moved his family to Tokyo.

Kano was very small, at 5'2'' and only 90 pounds. A family friend introduced him to jiujitsu, and though the same friend and his father discouraged him from the sport, he took an active interest anyway. When he began attending Tokyo Imperial University in 1877, he searched for a teacher by going to doctors (specifically, bonesetters) in the area, assuming they would know who the best jiujitsu teachers were.

He began studying with Fukuda Hachinosuke. When in the process of learning he realized he still couldn't beat a senior student at the school, he began using techniques from other fighting styles, including sumo and western wrestling. (Image source)

While studying with Fukuda, Kano participated in a demonstration for then U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant.

After Fukuda died, Kano began studying with Iso Masatomo, who specialized in kata, and was also a specialist in atemi, or the striking of vital areas. This is when Kano decided that he needed to learn many different styles of fighting. It is believed that he probably received his teaching license in 1881, but there is no physical evidence of that.

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Not long after, Iso died. Kano continued to teach, and two or three times a week, another teacher of his, Likubo Tsunetoshi, would attend his class to help his teaching. Kano later recorded the shift in competency between them as follows:

"Usually it had been him that threw me. Now, instead of being thrown, I was throwing him with increasing regularity. I could do this despite the fact that he was of the Kito-ryu school and was especially adept at throwing techniques. This apparently surprised him, and he was quite upset over it for quite a while. What I had done was quite unusual. But it was the result of my study of how to break the posture of the opponent. It was true that I had been studying the problem for quite some time, together with that of reading the opponent's motion. But it was here that I first tried to apply thoroughly the principle of breaking the opponent's posture before moving in for the throw...

I told Mr. Iikubo about this, explaining that the throw should be applied after one has broken the opponent's posture. Then he said to me: 'This is right. I am afraid I have nothing more to teach you.'

Soon afterward, I was initiated in the mystery of Kito-ryu jiujitsu and received all his books and manuscripts of the school."

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Jigoro Kano and Kyuzo Mifune (source)

Eventually, he named his practice "judo," which was a combination of the Japanese words for "pliancy" and "the way." His school grew from dozens of students to more than a thousand students.

Kano earned his living as an educator, working in the Ministry of Education and the Tokyo Higher Normal School. As a teacher, he combined neo-Confucianist pedagogical philosophies with American and European traditions.

In 1909, he was asked to represent Japan in the International Olympics Committee. He did so until 1938.

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Letter of intent (7 October, 1911) concerning the foundation of the Japan Amateur Sports Association and the staging of a qualifying event for the Stockholm Olympics. (source)

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Up-and-coming prodigies and students of Kano during the Kami-Nibancho era (around 1885). Jojiro Tomita, Shiro Saigo, Yoshiaki Yamashita, Takejiro Yuasa and others can be seen around Kano Jigoro in the center. (source)

Kano earned many honors including the First Order of Merit, Grand Order of the Rising Sun, and the Third Imperial Degree. He was inducted into the IJF Hall of Fame in 1999.

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 28 October 2014
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