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A History
of the Kodokan

The origins of Judo are lost in the mists of antiquity. "Judo existed in Japan before the birth of Christ."

A ten part history of the Kodokan, the institution created by Jigoro Kano to organize, develop and teach Judo. No longer a controlling authority in international Judo, the Kodokan nevertheless exerts to this day a powerful technical and philosophical influence over Judo, in part as a tribute to Jigoro Kano. Through the Kodokan, the historic transformation and modernization of Budo occurred. The history of the Kodokan itself is a study of this modernization.

A proper citation would be: Kim Sol, "A History of the Kodokan," Manuscript, University of Montana, 1999.

Part One: End of an Era

The founding of Takenouchi Ryu in 1532 is the earliest reliable record of what we think of as ju jitsu, and appears to have been a formulation of unarmed fighting techniques which were undoubtedly present in the culture, and surely as an adjunct to the armed combat systems of Japan, which were reaching their maximum influence and development during that century.(2)

After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1601, the Edo Period began. During this long interesting era, authentic armed combat systems began a decline as the long period of peace associated with the Tokugawa Shogunate sapped martial ardor from the military classes. Ju jitsu, on the other hand, began a flowering and development which continued into the nineteenth century, resulting in the establishment by then of more than 725 documented schools of ju jitsu, expressing a wide variety of unarmed combat methodologies and specialities. They were referred to as "ryu" which means school, but these were not educational schools, to the contrary, they were typically businesses, teaching these various fighting methods which could include grappling, throwing, kicking and punching techniques.

Some instructors taught, for instance, by charging a fee for each technique they taught. Knowledge of as many as 3,000 individual techniques was a claim for an advanced master, and represented, incidentally, a good income potential in this teaching system.

Money made was based on reputation, and ju jitsu acquired a rather seedy reputation, as challenges and fights between schools were common, each asserting, of course, some technical superiority over another.

By the 1860's, the Tokugawa Shogunate was in rapid decline. Admiral Perry’s gunboats in 1854 had shown the Japanese that their isolation from the world had left them far behind, and in 1868 intellectual classes staged an overthrow of the shogunate, restoring the Emperor Meiji to an ostensible authority that emperors had not enjoyed in centuries. Japan eagerly embraced study of the outside world, even as Japanese cultural assets were regarded as backward and uncivilized. Ju jitsu, which already was in disrepute as an unsavory pastime, reached a nadir in public estimation as it also represented the older, backward Japan that modernizers saw no utility for in the new era.