History of Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Kodokan Judo

The takenouchi-ryu martial art system founded in 1532 is considered the beginning of Japan’s jujitsu forms. The system’s founder taught jujitsu in a structured and methodical manner.

For the next several hundred years, the martial arts were refined by Samurai who made a lifetime study of some twenty or thirty martial arts. Of these arts only one was based on weaponless self defense, Jujitsu. By the mid-1800′s more than 700 different jujitsu systems existed. The most popular were takenouchi-ryu, jikishin-ryu, kyushinryu, yoshin-ryu, mirua-ryu, sekiguchi-ryu, kito-ryu, and tenshin-shinyo-ryu; the last two were instrumental in Judo’s development.

In 1868 Imperial rule in Japan was restored (Meiji Restoration) and the decline of the Samurai class started along with a rapid decline in all martial arts. Although the government did not officially ban the martial arts, people were not encouraged to learn or practice them since the state was considered more important than the individual. Jujitsu literally fell into disuse. What was once the glory of the samurai was now looked down on and many well established jujitsu schools began to disappear.

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If the budo concept was to survive the Meiji Restoration, it had to change and become a tool to cultivate an individual and make him a better person for the good of all. As a result budo found a home in physical education and sport.

Sport provided teamwork which was good for all and also developed the individual. It was a complete physical education; not just a game. Although self defense techniques were included in the training, emphasis was on using the techniques in a holistic manner. Dr. Jigoro Kano is credited with jujitsu’s survival of the Meiji Restoration. He took jujitsu and adapted it to the times. His new methodology was called Judo.

In 1882, Dr. Jigoro Kano (The Father of Judo) made a comprehensive study of these ancient self defense forms and integrated the best of these forms into a sport which is known as Kodokan Judo.

The founding of Judo

Jigoro Kano

Jigoro Kano on the founding of Judo

In the seaside town of Mikage, near Kobe, Japan, Jigoro Kano was born on October 28, 1860. In 1871, Kano’s family moved to Tokyo.

As a boy, Kano was an undersized, slender, weak, and sickly child with one sickness after another. Against his doctor’s advice, Kano decided to do something to improve his health and at the same time learn how to defend himself against bullies. At the age of 17 he enrolled in the Tenjin Shinyo ryu school of jujitsu. Under the guidance of Fukuda Hachinosuke, Kano began his long journey to physical well-being. After studying at the Tenjin Shinyo ryu, Kano transferred to the Kito ryu school to study under Tsunetoshi Iikubo.

It was during these times that Kano began a comprehensive and systematic study of other forms of jujitsu such as sekiguchi-ryu and seigo-ryu. He started this project out of respect for his masters, but soon he craved for a mental knowledge that was lacking in their teachings. He sought to understand the superior control that his teachers had mastered. He also studied the manuscripts developed by the founders of various schools.

Around 1880 Kano started rethinking the jujitsu techniques he had learned. He saw that by combining the best techniques of various schools into one system he could create a physical education program that would embody mental, and physical skill. In addition, he believed that the techniques could be practiced as a competitive sport if the more dangerous techniques were omitted.

So in 1882, having pulled from ancient jujitsu the best of its throws and grappling techniques, added some of his own, and removed techniques as foot and hand strikes. Kano at the age of 22, presented his new sport, Judo. He called this sport Kodokan Judo. The term Kodokan breaks down into ko (lecture, study, method), do (way or path), and kan (hall or place). Thus it means “a place to study the way.” Similarly Judo breaks down into ju (gentle) and do (way or path) or “the gentle way.”

Kano established his Judo school, called the Kodokan, in the Eishoji Buddhist temple in Tokyo which grew in size and later moved. The first Kodokan had only 12 mats (12 feet by 18 feet), and nine students in the first year. Today the Kodokan has over 500 mats and more than a million visitors a year.

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Kano’s devotion to Judo did not interfere with his academic progress. He pursued his study of literature, politics and political economy, and graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1881.

In 1886, because of rivalry between jujitsu schools and Judo, a contest was held to determine the superior art. Kano’s Judo students won the competition with ease, thus establishing the superiority of Judo, its popular principles and its practical techniques.

The categorization of Kodokan Judo was completed about 1887. The Kodokan had three broad aims: physical education, contest proficiency and mental training. Its structure as a martial art was such that it could be practiced as a competitive sport. Blows, kicks, certain joint locks, and other techniques too dangerous for competition, were taught only to the higher ranks.

Los Angeles Olympic in 1932

Los Angeles Olympic in 1932

Starting in 1889, Kano left Japan to visit Europe and America. He traveled abroad eight times to teach Judo and several times to attend the Olympics and its committee meetings. Often in the face of extreme hardship, several of Kano’s students devoted their lives to develop Judo in foreign countries.

The Kodokan mottos, Seriyoku-zenyo (maximum efficiency) and Jita-kyoei (mutual welfare and benefit), emphasize moral and spiritual training in addition to the physical training of Judo. The ultimate goal of Judo was to perfect the individual so that he can be of value to society. This spiritual phase developed gradually and was completed around 1922. In the same year the Kodokan Cultural Judo Society was established.

In his lifetime, Kano attained a doctorate degree in Judo, a degree equivalent to the eleventh Dan, awarded to the originator of Judo only. He constantly worked to ensure the development of athletics and Japanese sport in general, and as a result is often called the “Father of Japanese Sports.” In 1935, he was awarded the Asahi prize for his outstanding contribution to the organizing of sport in Japan during his lifetime.

Apart from being an innovator and administrator, Kano was also a skilled player as testified to by a high-ranking Judoka who, when asked about his experience in competing against Kano, said, ‘It was like fighting with an empty jacket”!’

While returning home from an International Olympic Committee meeting in Cairo where he succeeded in having Tokyo nominated as a site for the 1940 Olympics, a lifetime devoted to Judo ended when Kano died of pneumonia aboard the S. S. Hikawa Maru on May 4 1938, at the age of seventy-eight years .

World War II saw a different development of Judo. Instead of being used for sport, Judo was being taught as a combat skill. Those selected for commando and special services training often achieved a high standard of expertise.

When Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics, Judo was given its first opportunity as an event. Of the sixteen medals awarded for Judo, Japan won three gold medals, and one silver medal. Judo was no longer a Japanese sport but had developed to become an international sport. For more than sixty years the structure of Kodokan Judo had not changed much.

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There has been one main development in Judo over the years, the introduction of weight categories. In the early days, weight differences were not considered important. Everyone fought everyone else, with the result that, if two players were equally matched in skill, the bigger man usually won. There was much opposition to the introduction of weight categories. Some masters feared that it meant the end of Judo as a skillful art. Initially there were three categories, and later this was made into five. Inclusion of the sport in the Olympic Games in 1964 helped to hasten this important reform. Today there are 14 categories, 7 men’s weight divisions, 7 women weight divisions, and currently some 195 countries and regions are members of the International Judo Federation.

Mitsuyo Maeda

Mitsuyo Maeda

Mitsuyo Maeda

Maeda was born in Funazawa Village, Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture, Japan, on November 18, 1878. He attended Kenritsu Itiu high school (currently Hirokou—a Hirosaki school). He practiced sumo as a teenager, but lacked the ideal build for the sport. Because of the interest generated by stories about the success of judo at contests between judo and jujutsu that were occurring at the time, he changed to judo. In 1894, at seventeen years of age, his parents sent him to Tokyo to enroll in Waseda University. He took up Kodokan judo the following year.

Later, a champion of Turkish origin challenged Maeda. On December 24, 1915, Maeda defeated in seconds, the boxer Barbadiano Adolpho Corbiniano, who became one of his disciples. On January 3, 1916 at Theatro Politheama, Maeda finally fought Nagib Assef, who was thrown off the stage and pinned into submission by arm-lock. On January 8, 1916, Maeda, Okura, and Shimitsu boarded the SS Antony and left for Liverpool. Tokugoro Ito went to Los Angeles.Satake and Laku stayed in Manaus teaching, according to O Tempo, jiu jitsu. Even in Japan, judo and jujutsu were not considered separate disciplines at that time. Indeed, it was not until 1925 that there started to be clear differentiation of the names in Japan, and outside Japan, judo and jujutsu were not completely separated until the 1950s.

After 15 years together, Maeda and Satake had finally split up. Of this last trip, little is known. Maeda went from England to Portugal, Spain, and France, coming back to Brazil in 1917 alone. Settling in Belém do Pará, Maeda married D. May Iris.

Maeda was still popular in Brazil, and recognized as a great fighter, although he only fought sporadically after his return. Around 1918–1919, Maeda accepted a challenge from the famous Capoeirista (Capoeira fighter) Pé de Bola. Maeda allowed Pé de Bola to use a knife in the fight. TheCapoeirista was 190 cm tall and weighed 100 kg. Maeda won the match quickly.

In 1921, Maeda founded his first judo academy in Brazil. It was called Clube Remo, and its building was a 4 m x 4 m shed. Later, it was moved to the Fire Brigade headquarters and then to the church of N. S. de Aparecida. As of 1991, the Academy was located in the SESI.

Maeda Formative Years at the Kodokan

Maeda’s first Brazilian students

Maeda’s first Brazilian students

Arriving in the Kodokan, Maeda, who was 164 cm tall and weighed 64 kg. He was spotted by judo’s founder Jigoro Kano, and assigned to Tsunejiro Tomita (4th degree black bellt at the time), the smallest of the teachers of the Kodokan’s shiten-no, to illustrate that in judo size is not important. Tomita was the first Kodokan judoka and a close friend of Kano. According to Koyasu Masao (9th degree):

“Among the four Kodokan shiten-no, it was Tomita who received the greatest amount of teachings from Kano Jigoro sensei … as a fighter he wasn’t so successful as Saigo, Yamashita and Yokoyama, but was exceptional in applied studies and was also fluent in the English language …”

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Although the weakest of Kodokan shinte-no, Tomita was able to defeat the great jujutsu champion of that time, Hansuke Nakamura, from the Tenjin Shinyo Ryu style.

After years of dedication, with Soishiro Satake, Maeda formed the head of the second generation of Kodokan judoka, which had replaced the first by the beginning of the 20th century.Satake, at 175 cm and 80 kg, was unmatched in amateur sumo but admitted that he himself was not able to match Maeda in judo. Satake would later travel to Brazil with Maeda and settle in Manaus, Amazonas State, while Maeda continued traveling. Satake would become the founder, in 1914, of the first historically registered judo academy in Brazil. He and Maeda are considered the pioneers of judo in Brazil.

At that time, there were few graduated Kodokan judoka. Maeda and Satake were the top graduated professors at Waseda University, both sandan (3rd degree black belt), along with Matsuhiro Ritaro (nidan or 2nd degree black belt) and six other shodan (1st degree black belt) was one of the most vigorous promoters of judo, although not by teaching the art, instead generating recognition of judo through his many combats with contenders from other disciplines.

Maeda treated experienced and inexperienced students alike, throwing them as if in real combat. He reasoned that this behavior was a measure of respect towards his students, but it was often misunderstood and frightened many youngsters, who would abandon him in favor of other professors.


According to a copy of Maeda’s passport provided by Gotta Tsutsumi, head of Belém’s Associação Paramazônica Nipako, Maeda arrived in Porto Alegre on November 14, 1914, where his first exhibition in Brazil took place.After appearing in Porto Alegre, Maeda and his companions moved throughout the country.

On December 20, 1915, the first demonstration in Belém took place at the Theatro Politheama. The O Tempo newspaper announced the event, stating that Conde Koma (Maeda) would show the main jiu-jitsu (Judo) techniques, except the prohibited ones. He would also demonstrate self-defense techniques. After that, the troupe would be accepting challenges from the crowd, according to O Tempo, Judo world champion Maeda, head of the Japanese troupe, and Satake, New York champion, after all performed an enthusiastic and sensational Judo match. On the same day, Nagib Assef, an Australian Greco-Roman wrestling

In 1925, Maeda became involved with helping settle Japanese immigrants near Tome-açú, a Japanese-owned company town in Pará, Brazil. This was part of a large tract in the Amazon forest set aside for Japanese settlement by the Brazilian government. The crops grown by the Japanese were not popular with the Brazilians, and the Japanese investors eventually gave up on the project. Maeda also continued teaching judo, now mostly to the children of Japanese immigrants.

Consequently, in 1929, the Kodokan promoted him to 6th degree (red and white belt), and on November 27, 1941, to 7th degree. Maeda never knew of this final promotion, because he died in Belém on November 28, 1941.

Carlos and Helio Gracie

Carlos and Helio Gracie

Carlos and Helio Gracie on the founding of Brazilian Jiu Jistsu

In 1917, Carlos Gracie, 14 year old son of Gastão Gracie, watched a demonstration by Maeda at the Teatro da Paz and decided to learn judo (also known at the time as ‘Kano Jiu-Jitsu’). Maeda accepted Gracie as a student, (in return for the kindness shown to him by his father, the politician Mr. Gastao Gracie, who helped the japanese community in the state of Para), and the youth went on to become a great exponent of the art and ultimately, with his younger brother Hélio Gracie, became the founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

In 1921, Gastão Gracie and his family moved to Rio de Janeiro. Carlos, then 17 years old, passed Maeda’s teachings on to his brothers Osvaldo, Gastão, and Jorge. Hélio was too young and sick at the time to learn the art, and due to medical imposition was prohibited from taking part in the training sessions, learning instead by watching his brothers. One day, a private student showed up for his lesson but no instructor was there to teach him. However, Helio, was around, and proceeded to teach the student what he had learned from watching his brothers, and threw in his own adaptations he had invented out of physical necessity. Unable to out muscle anybody, Helio had been forced to rely more heavily on efficient use of leverage and movement to control his opponents. He eventually overcame his health problems and is now considered by many as the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (though others, such as Carlson Gracie, have pointed to Carlos as the founder).

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Ultimate Fighting Championship “UFC” Begun

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) would first gain notoriety through competitions in carnival fairs in Brazil. Some of the matches would feature the slight Helio defeating men nearly twice his size. The Gracie family issued challenges through the newspapers to practitioners of other martial arts. Challenge matches were held at an academy or neutral place and BJJ always emerged victorious over all other martial art styles, including Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, and even Judo. This lead to professional Vale-Tudo (anything goes) professional matches in Brazil. Once again BJJ practitioners easily dominated the scene. Helio’s eldest son Rorion (pronounced Horion) Gracie moved to California in the 1980’s, bringing with him his brothers Rickson, Royler and Royce. Pretty soon the Gracie brothers were defeating teachers of Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, Kung Fu, Ninjitsu and others stateside. What was astonishing was the ease in which the BJJ practitioner was able to negate the ability of the other martial arts stylists’ use of strikes by simply closing the distance. The fights would follow a predictable pattern. The opponent would attempt to strike the BJJ practitioner, which would enable the BJJ practitioner to close the distance and clinch his opponent. Once inside the clinch, the opponent was unable to effectively strike, and the BJJ practitioner would pull him down to the ground. From the ground position, whether the BJJ practitioner landed on top or bottom of his opponent, he would proceed to use a submission hold (choke or joint lock) to make his opponent give up or submit. What these challenge matches demonstrated (besides the dominance of BJJ) was that most martial arts do not sufficiently address the issue of what to do when the fight hits the ground. This is a glaring weakness, especially when one considers that in the states FBI statistics have consistently claimed that over ninety percent of all fights end up on the ground. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling (ground based) fighting art.

For Rorion Gracie, proving his art to the citizens of the Greater Los Angeles area was not enough. In the early 1990’s, he came up with the idea of having martial art competing against other martial art on television through pay-per-view. Thus, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was born. The competition was designed to show the general public what happens when top practitioners of different arts fight each other. Who would win between a Karate guy and a Boxer, a sumo wrestler or a Kung Fu expert, etc. Entering the tournament was Rorion’s little brother Royce, all 176 pounds of him. To make a long story short, Royce submitted all of his larger and stronger opponents with ease en route to becoming the first UFC Champion. Because he made it look so easy, and the fact that Royce seldom needed to actually hit his opponent to win, led to the emergence of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art throughout North America.