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"Judo is not merely a martial art but rather the basic principle of human behaviour. When that basic principle is applied to defence against attack or applied as physical education in randori at the dojo, these are applications of that principle in judo, but are only one aspect of judo - it is wrong to assume judo ends in the dojo. Judo is not what many people believe it to be; that is to say, judo is more than a fighting art practised at the dojo. The basic meaning of judo is quite different, and is universal and profound." - Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo.


     Jigoro Kano was born on October 28th 1860 in Mikage, Hyogo prefecture, Japan. At the time Japan was undergoing a cultural revolution and traditional martial arts such as Jujutsu were in decline. However Kano was interested enough to study several schools of jujutsu. In his own words (from "Kodokan Judo" by Jigoro Kano):

  "In my youth I studied jujutsu under many eminent masters. Their vast knowledge... was of great value to me. At that time, each man presented his art as a collection of techniques. None perceived the guiding principle behind jujutsu..... This led me to look for an underlying principle in jujutsu, one that applied when one hit an opponent as well as when one threw him."

     The principle he identified was that a technique should make the most efficient use of mental and physical energy to achieve it's goal. Examining the techniques he had learned Kano rejected any where the goal of the technique was not simple and clear, or where the technique did not make the most efficient use of energy. New techniques were developed based on his principle. He named his principle "Seiryoku Zenyo" (maximum efficiency). He named his body of techniques that adhered to the principle Judo.


Seiryoku Zenyo


Seiryoku Zenyo

Why the name change?

     Kano did not want to claim to have invented something brand new, but equally he wanted to differentiate the art he had developed - based on an underlying principle - from jujutsu. So he called his art Judo. The "Ju" is translated as "gentleness" or "giving way". "Jutsu" is "art" or "practice" and "do" is "principle" or "way". So the "ju" means the same in both, but jujutsu is the art or practice of "ju", judo is the study of the principle of "ju".

So what's so gentle about "Ju"?

 It's more about giving way than being gentle. The commonest example is to imagine strength can be measured by a number between 1 and 10. My strength is 7 and somebody with a strength of 9 is standing in front of me. They push me as hard as they can. If I try to push back they'll win - they're stronger than I am. But if I give way, stepping backwards quickly as they push me, they'll lose their balance - pushing against something that isn't there any more. In that off-balance state they only have a strength of, maybe, 3. So for that split second until they can get their balance back I'm stronger than them, and if I throw them in the direction they're overbalancing in I'll win. If you've ever wondered why Kuzushi (breaking balance) is part of every Judo throw, now you know. If I have a strength of 7 and my opponent has a strength of 5 I could in theory just overpower them - but that wouldn't be the most efficient use of my energy, the most efficient use of my energy would still be to break their balance so they are weaker, so I can win whilst using less energy.

So "Seiryoku Zenyo" and "Ju" are the same thing?

Not quite. Kano could not directly apply "Ju" to a hold-down, strangle, joint-lock or strike. He couldn't see how you could "give-way" to make one of those techniques more effective. So "Ju" was not the underlying principle he was looking for, that applied to all the techniques of jujutsu. He reasoned that the intention of "Ju" when throwing was to make the throw more efficient, needing less energy. "Ju" allowed him to throw somebody who was physically stronger than him. So the principle of "Ju" was to maximise efficiency. Maximum efficient use of energy was a principle he could apply to all the techniques. So Seiryoku Zenyo is the principle of "Ju" (Jigoro Kano considered it the principle that should guide everything we do in life - maximum efficient use of energy to achieve a set goal).

1882 - Birth of the Kodokan

 In 1882 Jigoro Kano opened his school for Judo. He named it the Kodokan (the "school for studying the principle"). Today the Kodokan is an 8-floored building with all modern conveniences. In 1882 it started in the grounds of a temple in Tokyo. By now Kano had further developed what he wanted his Judo to be:

  • Training in methods of attack and defence should provide balanced physical training, intellectual training and moral/ethical training.

  • It should teach lessons that apply outside the dojo, in every aspect of life.

  • It should promote community and teamwork.

 The emphasis on community and teamwork is explained by Kano in "Mind Over Muscle":

  "When people are by themselves, the principle of seiryoku zenyo can be applied without any trouble, but when there is a group of two or more people, it simply takes one person to act selfishly and conflict can easily arise......There are things that cannot be done alone but need the assistance of others."

  To train in Judo we need to work together. The techniques need a partner to practise them with - pretending to throw, joint-lock or strangle fresh air just doesn't help. We learn to help our partners to improve, making it easy to apply a technique at the beginning but slightly more difficult as their technique improves. Kano called this "jita kyoei" - the principle of "mutual prosperity through mutual assistance and concession".

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