Formalised methods of combat are as old as mankind with few human activities invoking as much thought and attracting as much energy as fighting. From the earliest days of mankind to the present, man has always fought to survive or conquer; to instil his will over others or to fight for the right of free will and speech. Those who survived would pass their abilities and techniques on to others and, as millennium rolled into millennium, a natural evolution to both technique and tactics was to shape the development of martial arts the world over. As time marched on experts or, masters, were to emerge. None more so than in the far eastern and ancient worlds of Asia, China, Japan and the many lands and islands that where to become so influential in the modern world of the twenty first century.
Some of these masters were to become legends of their day and their influence and fame would travel far and wide. Others would slip into obscurity with their tales of battle and honour being carried through the ages in plays and folk songs. Schools (ryu) would emerge specialising in certain combat or weapon skills with the best of them being retained by the ruling warlords of the land.
Here we have the appearance of the ‘way’ or ‘do’ as in Iaido -
The word ‘Do’ marks the transition of a form of combat from a pure martial aspect to an educational and spiritual path, with its emphasis on the merging of perfect technique and physical well-
Jujutsu or Jujitsu is the art of flexibility and suppleness. The Ju denotes the suppleness (as in judo) and the Jutsu the art, in this case the art being combat. There was at one time over 700 styles of jujutsu in Japan, some of ill repute but many of them mentioned prominently in martial art chronicles of the day and commanding respect and admiration for their jutsu (art). Effectiveness in combat was paramount with many public competitions and formal duels taking place between various ryu (schools). This open testing would often improve techniques and tactics and new ways of employing weapons were often discovered at these times, and indeed, new weapons where often introduced, as in for example, the introduction of firearms.
To enter into combat would often entail one or more persons sustaining an injury or even death. Indeed it was this unpredictable outcome of training and fighting that later encouraged a young Japanese man called Jigoro Kano (Dr) to develop an unarmed system of combat and to later, name it Judo – Gentle Way.
Kano was an accomplished expert in several styles of jujutsu but was appalled at the level of injuries sustained to the practitioners with often the biggest and fittest remaining to continue the training, becoming in effect, survivors. Kano also had the foresight to realise that with the feudal system in Japan coming to an end, there was a wealth of knowledge and abilities about to be lost and that with the right direction, could be harnessed, and used not only as a martial art but, as part of the education and development, not only of the individual but also, the nation as a whole.
Kano set about modifying the various techniques by removing the strikes, kicks, gouges, pokes and bites, etc. And from his knowledge of the jujutsu styles he introduced safer techniques, removed others and amended many more. He developed a method of breaking ones fall, (ukime), introduced kata (formal methods of performing the techniques) and for the first time ever, the loser was able to pick himself up time and again, and confidently carry on with his training and improve without fear of injury. Now, even the smallest and the weakest could continue to hone and perfect their technique and eventually take on and beat, with regularity, the bigger, stronger person.
Jigoro Kano was no stranger to the difficulties of overcoming a person of larger stature. One example is testament to Kano’s ability to study and seek a way of improving his own abilities and with continuing thought and practice return to defeat the larger opponent: Kenkichi Fukushima was a very large man, over 6 feet tall and weighing 200 lbs. An adept jujutsu exponent, he was more than a mach for Jigoro Kano’s small frame of 100lbs and only 5 feet 2 inches high. It took Kano many encounters and long hours of studying the techniques and martial manuals of the day before he finally developed a throw we know today as kata guruma (shoulder wheel). Fukushima was no longer a problem.
The transition from jujutsu to judo was slow but sure. At first, Kano was very choosey with whom he taught, sharing his new ‘way’ with only a few masters and the higher grades of jujutsu exponents. In 1882 Kano opened his own dojo (training hall) at the Eishoji Temple (known today as the birth place of judo). This new ‘way’ was nameless at this time and was still seen as just another jujutsu style by many other ryu (schools) until in 1884 Kano, now in new premises called the Kodokan (hall for studying the way) named his system judo. In 1886 a contest organised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Board between the Totsuka, the largest of the jujutsu schools, and Kano’s new style gave Kodokan judo independent recognition. Out of 15 contests, 13 were won by the Kodokan and 2 were drawn.
Formulation of the Kodokan Judo was completed in 1887 when the Japanese Education Ministry adopted judo as part of the national schools curriculum.
It was one of Kano’s students, Gunji Koizumi, an able jujitsu exponent and by now equally adept at judo, who introduced judo to Britain. Koizumi helped establish the Budokwai in 1918 and would travel the music halls of the day with a fellow judo and jujutsu expert called Yukio Tani putting on displays, with Yukio Tani challenging all comers to contest his abilities on stage and in front of packed houses. It is said, he never lost a challenge.