History of Jiu Jitsu: How Judo Grows Into An Olympic Sport

Traveling back to over 100 years before the first IBJJF World Championship or UFC, back to Kano Jigoro and his first Kodokan Academy. Kano had studied the many different styles of the Samurai art of Jujitsu and unified techniques under the concept of using momentum and leverage to defeat opponents with minimal effort. Kano called his art “the gentle way,” Judo.

This was just as Japan was moving to Westernize, and the art of Jujitsu was quickly falling out of favor, as the ways of the Samurai were being outlawed. Kano was very concerned that Judo would also be viewed as just another style of Jujitsu. The decision was made that one path that could protect Judo was to add a sport aspect to the martial art.

In 1884, the Kodokan held its first tournament. Called the “Red and White Contests,” it was organized by Kano who had both experience in Jujitsu matches and studied Western wrestling. He wrote the first set of competition rules, and their goal was to allow students to spar against each other while simulating a real situation. These first rules outlawed striking in their matches and put the focus entirely on grappling.

These original contests were best two out of three affairs, and a match could be won several different ways. Applying a submission hold and forcing an opponent to tap out was one way. Another was pinning an opponent’s back to the mat for two seconds, a time long enough to draw a knife in Kano’s estimation. The final way to achieve victory was with a perfect throw, or Ippon, in which an opponent landed on his back and hips.

Time limits were a matter of judgment by the referee who often let matches go until there was a clean victory or a fighter was too exhausted to continue.

The Red and White tournament became an annual tournament that continues to this day, making it the longest running single competitive sporting event in the world.

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