Its most prominent feature is its competitive element, where the object is to either throw or takedown one’s opponent to the ground, immobilize or otherwise subdue one’s opponent with a grappling manoeuvre, or force an opponent to submit by joint locking or by executing a strangle hold or choke.
Judo has its roots in ju-jitsu, which goes back many centuries in Japanese history when is was a brutal and often lethal method of self-defence and unarmed combat. Judo was established as a modern physical activity when in 1882; Professor Jigoro Kano founded his Kodokan Judo. Responsible for education he was aware that physical education in his country at that time was sadly lacking. Jealous ju-jitsu masters began to question this system and the matter could only be settled by arranging a tournament between the various schools.
This was done in 1886 and the outcome was a totally victorious Kodokan. Japanese police officials had been watching the proceedings closely; they were looking for an acceptable method of apprehending and controlling aggressive law-breakers without resorting to weapons. To them Judo was the answer and it is used in Japanese police training to this day. From that time, Judo schools were established in many countries and the first Judo club to open in Europe, the Budokwai which still operates today, was founded in 1918 by Gunji Koizumi who became known later as “The Father of British Judo”. There are now nearly 1,000 Judo clubs registered with the British Judo Association in the United Kingdom.
Some historians of Jiu-Jitsu say that the origins of “the gentle art” can be traced back to India, where it was practiced by Buddhist Monks. Concerned with self-defense, these monks created techniques based upon principles of balance and leverage, and a system of manipulating the body in a manner where one could avoid relying upon strength or weapons. With the expansion of Buddhism, Jiu-Jitsu spread from Southeast Asia to China, finally arriving in Japan where it developed and gained further popularity.At the end of the 19th century, some Jiu-Jitsu masters emigrated from Japan to other continents, teaching the martial arts as well as taking part in fights and competitions.
Esai Maeda Koma, also known as “Conde Koma,” was one such master. After traveling with a troupe which fought in various countries in Europe and the Americas, Koma arrived in Brazil in 1915, and settled in Belem do Para the next year, where he met a man named Gastao Gracie. The father of eight children, five boys and three girls, Gastao became a Jiu-Jitsu enthusiast and brought his oldest son, Carlos, to learn from the Japanese master.
At the age of 18 Kano studied the ju-jutsu of the Tenshin Shinyo Ryu under Fukudo and Iso, both instructors at the prestigious Komu Sho. Following the death of Fukuda, Kano remained briefly with master Iso before finishing his pupillage with master Ilkubo.
By 1883, Kano had clarified his analysis of ju-jutsu and related methods to the point at which he felt able to instruct the public through a school of his own. To that end he borrowed a small room at Eishoji temple and opened the first Kodokan for the study of Kano judo.
A number of machi dojo (backstreet gyms) decided that the Kodokan was conceited and ought to be put in its place. They visited its premises and caused damage so that if honour were to be satisfied a challenge match would have to be arranged. At such matches the Kodokan was represented by Sakujiro Yokoyama, the outstanding player of his day, and the result was invariably a win for Kano judo.
To gain acceptance from the provinces Kodokan representatives travelled all over Japan giving lectures and demonstrations on the principles behind the new method. The finale of these lectures was a contest, with limb locks and striking excluded, between the Kodokan lecturer and a member of the local training school. A particularly important match took place in 1886 to decide which system of ju-jutsu should be approved for use in military academies, police departments and public schools. The 15 strong male Kodokan team defeated all opponents and judo became a government approved sport.
Judo entered many countries from 1902 to the 1930’s. In the United States judo gained an early foothold because of the interest shown by President Theodore Roosevelt. As an expression of goodwill Kano sent Yoshiaki Yamashita, a high ranking member of the Kodokan, to America in 1902 to be his personal instructor. Roosevelt trained regularly , if clumsily and in due course a room was set aside at the White House for judo purposes. It was thirty-odd years, however, before an American reached dan grade in the USA itself. Clubs were set up in Seattle in 1903 and Los Angeles in 1915. Brisbane Judo Club was the first founded in Australia in 1928 by DR A J Ross, a Kodokan dan grade. Judo later reached New Zealand via Australia in 1948 when G Grundy, a 2nd Dan from the Budokwai, opened a club in Auckland.
The most successful “newcomer” so to speak is the USSR. Strictly speaking a form of judo has been practised in the Soviet Union since about 1930. The Russians practice a wrestling system called Sambo. This is a synthesis of many different wrestling systems, however because of the absence of international competition outside of the USSR, the Russians turned their attention to judo. In 1962 a Soviet judo team comprising Sambo men in judo suits collected five medals at the European Judo Championships. Sambo is a close cousin of judo, but it lacks the same conceptual framework. It can be seen as an implied compliment that the Russians have stepped up considerably the emphasis on judo during recent years.