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Sparring>Fundamentals>Evolution of sparring>Jigero Kano

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Jigero Kano

During this same time, Japan was just coming out of 300 years of closed feudalism and Jigoro Kano was one of a group of young intellectuals who were trying to bring Japan into the modern era. Kano especially admired England and became fluent in English. He studied British philosophy, economics, politics, and the British sports culture. As a philosophy, sport has no counterpart in Eastern cultures; the word simply does not exist, so they had to adopt the Western word, "sport."

Kano was an avid martial artist, but the Japanese martial arts were unsatisfying. He observed that the 300 years of peace under the military dictatorship of the Shoguns had robbed the martial arts of their vitality. Most of the martial arts seemed to be more concerned with the form of movement, rather than the realistic usefulness of the movement. When movements were applied realistically, they tended to promote injuries, so no one really practiced realistic movements. The arts preserved technical skills that had little practical usefulness under the guise that they were good for self-improvement.

Kano believed that martial arts training should be "full-contact," to realistically test the techniques and the performer of the techniques. He believed that the training should be in a free-movement context, so the performer would have to adapt to a wide variety of circumstances. Ultimately, Kano developed randori (free-sparring). Kano was a jujutsu practitioner and knew of its dangerous training techniques. Kano used his jujutsu training to develop an entire curriculum of techniques (Kodokan Judo) that permitted full power application, but with limitations that reduced the risk of injury. Since these modified techniques were not as "deadly" as their predecessors were, practitioners could develop much greater speed and power in their application. To counter this, Kano developed new break-fall techniques skills to absorb the greater power and speed of the new throwing techniques. Sport techniques were substituted for older combat techniques.

To practice judo, you had to execute the techniques properly, without harming the opponent, while still developing high-level technical skills. A competition format (shiai) was developed from the randori concept. This idea of free movement and full power in martial art practice was revolutionary.
In the late 1800s in Japan, challenges and fighting were a commonplace. The new judo often had to defend its reputation against the older jujutsu. The government, to determine the best training for its police and military, sponsored many of these contests. Judo won most of these encounters, regardless of the rules of engagement, simply because its method of training was so superior to the older styles. The sport emphasis on speed and power overwhelmed any technical inferiority of the actual techniques. The lesson was that the method of training was more important than the technique itself. As a result, jujutsu virtually disappeared in Japan and was replaced by judo.

Kano was impressed by de Coubertin's modern Olympic movement and, while judo took several decades to spread around the world and become a universal sport, Kano developed it with the idea of promoting the same "universal humanity" that de Coubertin was promoting through the modern Olympic games. Kano later became a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1906 and remained there until his death in 1938.

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