Date of Birth and Lifespan:
Jigoro Kano was born on October 28, 1860, in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. He died on May 4, 1938, of pneumonia.
Early Family Life:
Kano was born during the final days of the Tokugawa military government. Along with this, there was a lot of distrust of government and some political unrest. Though he was born into a sake brewing family in the town of Mikage, Japan, his father- Kanō Jirosaku Kireshiba- was an adopted son who did not go into the family business. Rather, he worked as a lay priest and senior clerk for a shipping line. Kano’s mother died when he was nine years old, and afterwards his father moved the family to Tokyo (when he was 11).
Though Kano is known best for his founding of judo, his education and intelligence was nothing to scoff at. Kano’s father was reportedly a strong believer in education, making sure his son was educated by neo-Confucian scholars like Yamamoto Chikuun and Akita Shusetsu. He also attended private schools as a child, had his own English language tutor, and in 1874 (age 15) was sent to a privately run school to improve his English and German.
In 1877, Kano was accepted into and enrolled in Toyo Teikoku (Imperial) University, which is currently Tokyo University. Getting into such a prestigious school was just another feather in his educational cap.
Interestingly, Kano’s knowledge of English even helped out in his documentation of jujitsu studies, as his original notes describing the art/his participation in it were written in English.
A friend of the family who was a member of the shogun’s guard by the name of Nakai Baisei can be credited with bringing the martial arts to Kano. You see, the someday founder of judo was a light boy who wished he were stronger. One day, Baisei showed him how jujitsu or jujutsu could allow a smaller man to defeat a larger one by using leverage, etc. Despite Nakai’s belief that such training as outdated, Kano was immediately hooked, and his own father’s wish for him to begin a modern sport instead fell on deaf ears.
In 1877, Kano began looking for jujitsu teachers. He started his search looking for bonesetters called seifukushi, as he believed doctors knew who the best martial arts teachers were (some of his academia perhaps coming out). Kano found Yagi Teinosuke, who in turn referred him to Fukuda Hachinosuke, a bonesetter who taught Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu. Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu was a combination of two older schools of jujitsu: Yoshin-ryu and Shin no Shindo-ryu.
It is during his training with Fukuda that Kano found himself having trouble with Fukushima Kanekichi, a senior student at the school. As a glimpse of innovative things to come with Kano, he began trying unorthodox techniques from other disciplines like sumo, wrestling, and the like. In fact, eventually a technique called the fireman’s carry from wrestling began working for him. Kataguruma or the shoulder wheel, which is based on the fireman’s carry, continues to be a part of judo today.
In 1879, Kano had become so proficient that he participated in a jujitsu demonstration with his instructors in honor of General Grant, a former President of the United States. Soon after the demonstration, Fukuda died at the age of 52. Kano was not teacher-less for long, though, soon beginning to study under Iso, a friend of Fukuda’s. Under Iso, one often began with kata and then proceeded to free fighting or randori, which was different than Fukuda’s way. Soon Kano became an assistant at Iso’s school. In 1881, at the age of 21, he was granted a license to teach the Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu system.
While training with Iso, Kano saw a Yoshin-ryu jujutsu demonstration and then sparred with members of their school. Kano was impressed with those training in this style under Totsuka Hikosuke. In fact, his time there helped him come to the realization that if he continued along the same path of martial arts understanding, he might never be able to defeat someone like Totsuka. Therefore, he began to seek out teachers of different styles of jujitsu who could offer him varied elements to blend. In other words, he realized that training harder wasn’t the way to be able to handle someone like Tosuka; rather, he needed to learn different techniques that he could adopt.
After Iso died in 1881, Kanō began training in Kitō-ryū with Iikubo Tsunetoshi. Kano believed that Tsunetoshi’s throwing techniques were generally better than those that he had studied previously.
Establishment of Kodokan Judo:
Though Kano was teaching in the early 1880’s, his teachings were not clearly different than those of his past teachers. But whereas Iikubo Tsunetoshi initially would defeat him during randori, later, things changed, as was indicated by a Kano quote in the book «The Secrets of Judo.»
«Usually it had been him that threw me,» Kano communicated. «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 jujutsu and received all his books and manuscripts of the school.» ”
Therefore, Kano moved from teaching others’ systems to formulating, naming, and teaching his own. Kano brought back a term that Terada Kan’emon, one of the headmasters of Kito-ryu, had used when he founded his own style, the Jikishin-ryu (judo). In essence, judo translates to «the gentle way.» His style of martial arts became known as Kodokan judo. In 1882, he started the Kodokan dojo with only 12 mats in a space belonging to a Buddhist temple in the Shitaya ward of Tokyo. Though he started with less than a dozen students, by 1911 he had more than a 1,000 dan graded members.
In 1886, a contest was held in order to determine which was superior, jujutsu (the art Kano once studied) or judo (the art that he had in essence invented). Kano’s Kodokan judo students won this competition easily.
Being an educator as well as a martial artist, Kano saw his style’s path as more of a system for physical culture and moral training. Along with this, he wanted judo to be introduced into the Japanese schools, not as a fighting art by itself, but rather something much bigger. He made efforts to remove some of the more dangerous moves of jujitsu-killing moves, strikes, etc.- in order to help accomplish this. By 1911, largely through Kano’s efforts, judo become adopted as a part of Japan’s educational system. And later in 1964, perhaps as a testament to one of the great martial artists and innovators of all-time, judo became an Olympic sport.
The man who brought the best together in his system from several different styles of jujitsu and fighting certainly made an impression on the arts, one that continues to live on strongly even today.
^ Watanabe, Jiichi and Avakian, Lindy. The Secrets of Judo. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1960. Retrieved 14 February 2007 from  (click on «Thoughts on Training»).