Kano’s Vision: Judo as a Humanistic Endeavor

One of the primary martial arts we teach at my academy is Judo. When people ask me about Judo, I get excited. I mention the physical attributes such as the emphasis on throwing your opponent to the ground and rendering him immobile with a pin. But there is also an equally beautiful quality in Judo that can sometimes be lost on the casual viewer.

Judo is a martial art because the techniques came from classical Jujitsu as practiced in feudal Japan. It is also a sport because of its use of rulesets and competition format. Across the world, Judo is second only to football (or soccer in the US) as a sports program. 

But, Judo is not just a martial art or a sport. It’s an entire educational system with the intention of making better human beings. Kano’s grandson wrote in the forward of Kodokan Judo, “Professor Kano aimed at human perfection through Judo and the betterment of mankind in the spirit of mutual prosperity. This lofty ideal is at the heart of the Kodokan philosophy.”

Kano was an educator and kept the desire to teach minds and bodies throughout his life. As if discussing the founder himself, Tadao Otaki and Donn Draeger wrote in Judo Formal Techniques that nothing was greater than education and “the teachings of one virtuous man can reach many, and that which has been learned by one generation can be passed on to hundred.”

My experience has been that learning Judo from my coaches was more about meaning in life than money. I understand the need to pay bills as well as the costs of owning a dojo. But, there’s a reason most Judo dojos are run with meager amenities: Kano’s vision was producing better people over profits. This concept may be contrasted with other arts where there’s a cost for everything or the fees are outrageous.

According to Otaki and Draeger, Kano implemented Judo programs in schools across Japan “as an integral part of school physical education on the basis of what he called the three culture principle… a balanced approach to education, and consists of intellectual, moral, and physical disciplines… he was against any form of education which lacked this harmony.”

The same harmony of mind and body may be found in the Greco-Roman philosophical traditions. Aristotle taught young minds at the Lyceum, which included a gymnasium for Hellenistic sports such as wrestling. There was also the Roman maxim Mens sana in corpore sano, or a sane mind in a sound body. In this vein, physical exercise was a counterpart to a healthy mind and spirit.

Along with the principles of maintaining a healthy mind and body, Kano felt that we should seek mutual welfare and benefit for all. This is the Judo maxim Jita Kyoei. Though winning is the purpose of a contest, Kano believed safety and development were more important than beating an opponent.

As an educator and martial artist, I feel Kano’s philosophy and methodology of Judo offer an effective program to train your mind and body. As a humanist, I value Kano’s wish to help humanity overcome some of its vices. The task set forth by Kano is ongoing after almost 150 years. As teachers, coaches, and athletes, we would do well to learn from his model, even if Judo isn’t our primary system.

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