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Part 9: Spreading Judo
around the world

Kano's efforts, represented by his 1912 conference with leading ju jitsu masters to finalize the syllabus and curriculum of the Kodokan, appears to have represented Kano's thinking that the Kodokan was a necessary conduit for older Japanese martial arts that were rapidly dying out. Kano himself later remarked that "eventually Judo replaced ju jitsu in Japan, and no one any longer speaks of jujitsu as a contemporary art in Japan, although the word has survived overseas." (1)

Kano's election to the International Olympic Committee may have had something to do with this. His election in 1908 spurred numerous trips abroad on IOC business, and he began teaching Judo wherever he went on these trips.

His chief assistant, Yamashita, had gone to America in 1903 where, successively, he taught at Harvard University, the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and taught Theodore Roosevelt. He found Roosevelt enthusiastic but "headstrong." In 1904, Tsunejiro Tomita and Mitsuyo Maeda followed Yamashita to America. Tomita taught at Columbia University, while Maeda travelled to Europe, and Central and South America. Maeda, a Kodokan 4th Dan, found he could earn good money staging competitions with all comers, and gained notoriety as "Conde Koma," the Count of Trouble. Eventually, after many dramatic exhibitions, winning nearly all, he settled in Brazil along with Japanese settlers, and immediately won the attention there of Gastao Gracie, who asked Maeda to teach his fighting style to his son Carlos. Carlos in turn taught his brothers, including Helio, and Maeda became the founding father of Gracie Ju Jitsu. 

Gracie Ju Jitsu's emphasis on grappling and submission techniques is interesting in light of Maeda's Judo background. After 1900, Judo had begun emphasizing such grappling techniques. Maeda, who entered the Kodokan in 1897, was there during the greatest development of Judo as a grappling style. Indeed, in 1914, the high school championships introduced that year in Japan were primarily Judo grappling matches, ended by the chokes, armbars, or submission movements typical of Judo grappling. This "Kosen Judo" continues today as a relic of that era of Judo in university tournaments in Japan, as well as in Gracie and Brazilian Ju Jitsu. The trend was so strong in this direction that, by 1926, Kano finally changed tournament rules to restrict grappling, and once again emphasize throwing techniques.

In Europe, Judo was introduced in England by Yukio Tani in 1905 (Matsumoto, p. 75) or 1906, (Budokwai), the same year that Gunji Koizumi arrived there to spread Judo. In France, the arrival of Hikoichi Aida and Keishichi Ishiguro in 1924 began one of Judo's most successful international transplants. Yoshisaburo Sasaki took Judo to Hungary in 1906. Aida introduced Judo to Germany along with his efforts in France, but it only became popular there after visits by Kazuzo Kudo and Sumio Imai in 1926. The Italian Judo Federation was founded in 1924, mainly based on the efforts of the Japanese ambassador to Italy, Youtarou Sugimura, who was a Judoka. In 1934, the European Judo Union was formed. In that same year, a new Kodokan consisting of 510 tatamis (826 square meters) was opened in the Suidobashi district of Tokyo, Judo was already celebrating its 50th anniversary.(2)

In Asia, Shinzo Takagaki took Judo to India, Nepal and Afghanistan in 1929. Japan's war adventures during the 1930's, then World War II, stifled Judo's growth. The world was preoccupied by economic depression and warlike dictators. Unlike most of his martial art brethren, Kano was a pacifist, and viewed with considerable alarm the militarization of Japan during the 1930's. Perhaps he believed that his beloved Olympic Games would focus world attention on Japan, and divert the government from its war footing.

Kano attended the IOC Meeting in Cairo in May, 1938 to address the IOC on the prospect of the Olympics in Japan. Part of his speech,
as recorded in the IOC minutes stated that "since the revival of the games, they have been celebrated in Europe and in the United States of America exclusively. Asia wishes to have them in her turn. He repeats the history of Japanese participation, which has ever increased, until today Japan can boast of 300 participants. The Olympic ideals are known and respected throughout Japan ...". [History of the Olympic Games. Bill Henry and Patricia Henry Yeomans. Alfred Publishing Co. 1984.]

Japan was quickly becoming a pariah nation by the late-1930s, and its ever expanding military empire was already understood as a threat to its neighbors and European interests alike. That the IOC would award the games to Japan had to have been in large part due to its respect for Kano, described as a "revered Olympian." [Yeomans].

Kano died in May, 1938, [See Jigoro Kano: Founder of Judo] and the Japanese government itself cancelled the games in July, as it moved toward total war. The IOC quickly awarded the 1940 games to Helsinki, Finland, the only other city that had bid on the 1940 games. But a Soviet invasion cancelled many things for the Finns, including the Olympic games.

The Olympic torch in Los Angeles, built for the 1932 games, was re-lit during the days scheduled for the 1940 games, in a sad, silent tribute to an Olympic spirit crushed by war.

After the War, American servicemen in Japan as part of the Occupation were encouraged by Generals Thomas Powers and Curtis LeMay to go to the Kodokan to study Judo. Suddenly, Judo was again flowing out of Japan to the rest of the world through returning servicemen. These servicemen had, in many individual cases, watched or even worked out with the technical giant of Judo, 5'2" Kyuzo Mifune. Mifune, in many respects, defined post-war Kodokan Judo with his magnificent grace and skill. Past age 70, Mifune was proving his own adage that there is no age in Judo.  

In 1930, the first All-Japan Championship was held. Kano had often referred to Judo as a sport with three aims: physical education, contest proficiency, and mental training.(1), The All-Japan Championships represented the epitome of the contest proficiency, and except for the cancellation during the war years, 1941-1948, it continues to this day as Kano envisioned it, without weight, age or rank restrictions, producing still the strongest Judo competitors in Japan.(2).

The Suidobashi Kodokan, opened in 1934 with 510 tatami, 826 sq. m., where most American servicemen stationed in Japan learned Judo during the Occupation.

In 1934, to promote international competitions, Kano had begun talking of an international organization for disseminating Judo. The 1930's were dark times in Japan, however, as militarism was on the rise. Kano was attempting to get the Olympic Games held in Tokyo in 1940 and this occupied his efforts, which were successful. His untimely death in 1938 derailed his efforts to organize Judo internationally, and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 put a halt to any Japanese activity in international organizations.

After WWII, however, in 1951, the International Judo Federation was organized, and in 1952, when Japan formally joined, Kano's son, Risei, was elected president. Judo's fame was spreading rapidly. It was during this time that a Brazilian offshoot of Judo, Gracie Ju Jitsu, decided the time was ripe to take advantage of this spreading wave of popularity.

A Kodokan 4th Dan, Mitsuyo Maeda, had made a reputation for himself in "take all comers" fighting after he left Japan in 1904, and won over 1000 such matches in Europe, Cuba, Central America, and Brazil. Eventually, he had become involved in a Japanese settlement effort in northern Brazil, and his fighting style had attracted the attention of a Brazilian politician who asked that it be taught to his sons. By 1951, the sons had carried on Maeda's tradition and developed a reputation locally for their "style" of "ju jitsu" which emphasized technical skill over strength, consistent with Maeda's Kodokan upbringing. Indeed, they had adopted the Judo ranking system, and practiced wearing Judo gis. It was Judo, but it was headquartered in Brazil.

Its foremost exponent, Helio Gracie, invited Japan's best to a match. With Judo sweeping the world, it was an opportune time to gain an international reputation. So, Japan's 1949 All-Japan Championship co-champion (with Takahiko Ishikawa) was sent to meet with Helio Gracie in Brazil.

The Judoka was Masahiko Kimura. Kimura had a fearsome reputation. Indeed, he took along two junior assistants. If Gracie could not beat them, Kimura would not bother to fight. Gracie beat one, and so Kimura accepted the challenge.

Before 20,000 cheering Brazilians, including the president and vice-president of the country, Kimura faced Gracie. The Gracie family, to emphasize the importance of the event, and the significance of their challenge, brought in a casket for Kimura. It had been given the widest possible media coverage. The match started. Kimura threw Gracie repeatedly, over and over. Interestingly, the Gracies had installed an extremely soft mat, there was nothing "realistic" about it. Helio was not likely to be injured by Kimura's trademark fast, powerful throws. So, Kimura, after a series of powerful throws, absorbed by the soft mat, pinned Gracie repeatedly. Finally, as Gracie attempted to bridge out of a pin, Kimura put him in an arm bar. When Gracie refused to submit, Kimura broke Gracie's elbow. Gracie still refused to submit, and Kimura put him in a headlock. Noticing blood coming out of Gracie's ear, Kimura leaned over and asked, "are you all right?" When Gracie answered yes, Kimura began to crush his head "like an overripe melon." The Gracie family threw in the towel.(3). It was all over in a mere 13 minutes. It was a humiliating defeat.

The family would wait another 35 years before attempting, again, to seek worldwide recognition for their style of Judo.

Similarly, other arts used Judo as their foundation and root art. A Russian, A. Oshichenikov had visited Japan in 1911, and trained at the Kodokan for six years. After returning home in 1917, he began teaching Judo to the Red Army and the secret police. According to one report, in the 1930's he used this background in organizing a distinctly Russian fighting style called "Sambo,"(4) or sometimes "Sombo." According to other sources, however, a "Vassily Oschepkov" had trained at the Kodokan in 1909 or 1911, and returned to Vladivostok in 1915 to open a dojo, and his second Dan rank was recorded at the Kodokan in 1917. He continued to teach during the Revolution, and into the 1920's, but disappeared in the Stalinist purges of the 1930's. His students, however, including Anatoli Harlempigev, were involved in the construction of Sambo from Judo and numerous indigenous folk wrestling styles of the Soviet Union. As Gracie Ju Jitsu emphasized Judo grappling and chokes, Sambo specialized in armbars and leglocks. Unlike Gracies, Sambo abandoned the Judo rank system, and used the Soviet-era "Master of Sport" ranking, first class, second class, and the highest, reserved for international champions, Master of Sport third class. 

When Judo became an Olympic demonstration sport in 1964, Russian Sambo players began practicing orthodox Judo, so that the Soviet Union could field teams at that important international venue. Sambo, derived from Judo, provided a firm foundation for a Russian Judo style, and gives it a distinction that remains to this day. The study of Judo by Russian Sambo clubs was given a firm boost in 1972, however, when Japanese Judo champions Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki and Nobuyuki Sato entered a national Sambo competition in Riga, Latvia. Like the Gracie family twenty years earlier, the Soviets had looked upon their national Sambo as having evolved into a superior art form. So, when Kashiwazaki and Sato beat the Soviet Union's best, at their own game, and went home with gold medals, it was a revelation. "I was convinced at that moment that Judo had to be something special for Judo players to come along and beat Sambo players," later wrote national coach Alexander Iatskevich.(5) Many Sambo clubs became Judo clubs.

  1957 Kodokan High Dans. Front row, left to right: S. Amano (9th), J. Oda (9th), K. Iizuka (10th), R. Kano, President of Kodokan, K. Mifune (10th), K. Samura (10th), K. Okan (9th); back row: J. Kuihara (9th), K. Takahashi (8th), Y. Kanamitsu (9th), T. Kurata (9th), and S. Nakano (9th).

The decades of the 1950's and 1960's would see Judo's full realization as a universal sport.



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