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The Connection Between the Founder of Judo and an Ann Arbor Martial Arts Dojo

Here’s something you can brag about!

If you participate in any of our Ann Arbor martial arts programs, you have a very close connection to the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano.


This infographic breaks it down:


Jigoro Kano Sensei


(1860-1938) Kano was an unlikely hero. When he was a boy, he was frail and often bullied. In his quest to defend himself, he approached many Jujutsu practitioners for advice, but was laughed at and denied instruction. The rejections only fueled his desire to train more, and he tracked down a teacher named Hachinosuke Fukuda Sensei.


After the death of his teacher, Kano started training with Mataemon Iso Sensei. Where Fukuda had taught a free-style version of Jujutsu, Mataemon focused more on formalized exercises. When Mataemon became ill, Kano began to study under Iikubo Tsunetoshi Sensei.


It was under Iikubo that Kano discovered the nexus of Judo: kuzushi. During one particularly rough sparring session, Iikubo had not been able to throw his student, whereas Kano had thrown his teacher three times.


When Iikubo asked Kano about it, Kano told him the basis of kuzushi: “It came to me that when you push or pull your opponent… you force his body to lean in one direction or another and to fall into an unstable position. You then use his lack of balance to apply your technique.”


From that principle, Kano went on to create Judo. He named his training hall the “Kodokan”, which roughly translates to “a place to teach the path”. The belt-ranking system owes its heritage to Kano: he used white and black belts to separate novices and advanced students in his class. Later on, he pioneered a physical education system for Japan’s youth, and worked to further Japan’s standing internationally wen he became the first Japanese member of the International Olympic Committee.


During one of his trips abroad, he died. After his death, he was awarded 12th dan, a rank symbolized by the double width white belt that he often preferred to wear.


To this day, Judo is an Olympic sport and continues to be a popular martial art. From the mixed martial arts circuits to competitive kata demonstrations, Judo remains to be as versatile and exciting as its inception in 1882.


Kano’s Teachers


Tanzan Hara Sensei

(1819-1892) One of Kano’s philosophy teachers was a legendary monk who is depicted in the following tale:


         Tanzan and a fellow novice monk were on a pilgrimage to a training monastery. A storm came upon them, causing some of the roads to flood. A young girl was trapped on one side of a crossroad. Tanzan asked if she needed help.


Tanzan and a fellow novice monk were on a pilgrimage to a training monastery. The plum rain, or tsuyu, that washes through Japan during the earlier parts of the summer had transformed some roads into torrential floods. At one of the crossroads, the pair came across a young girl. She was trapped.


She asked Tanzan for help, so he carried her across the stream.


The two men continued their journey. The other monk was very quiet. “What bothers you, Ekido?” Tanzan asked his companion.


“You shouldn’t have carried that girl! You know that we are forbidden from touching women!”

Tanzan shook his head. “Are you still carrying that girl?” he asked. “I set her down long ago.”


Hachinosuke Fukuda Sensei

(1828-1879) The grandfather of Keiko Fukuda, Hachinosuke was also one of Mataemon Iso’s best students.


Mataemon had created a new style of jujutsu that focused on striking and grappling. He was famous for knowing 124 styles of punching, and using his newly developed techniques on the street to protect citizens from rogues.


Kano’s Students


Kyuzo Mifune Sensei

(1883-1965) Mifune, one of Kano’s best students, published the Canon of Judo. His teachings are still used today, included his tenants on Judo practice. For 62 years up until his death, he never missed a day of training.


In one humorous tale, he visited a karate dojo to view a demonstration. The instructor destroyed a stack of tiles in a single blow. “Can a Judo man do this?” the instructor challenged. 


“Yes!” he replied. “Very easily.”


He took a hammer from his bag and began smashing the tiles.

“You are going to use a hammer to break the tiles?” the karate instructor asked.


“Of course,” Mifune said. “In Judo, we say, ‘maximum efficiency with minimum effort’. What you have taken years to learn, we can do in seconds.”


Keiko Fukuda Sensei

(1913-2003) Keiko Fukuda was the first woman to be ranked 9th dan through the Kodokan. She also ranked 10th dan from USA Judo.

Kano encouraged Fukuda to join the Kodokan, which was an unprecedented move at the time. It was very rare for women to train in the martial arts.  Her family only allowed her to go, because they thought she would find a husband at the dojo. She became a Judo practitioner instead, ultimately coming to the United States to teach other men and women.

Mifune’s Students


Sato Shizuya Sensei

(1929-2011) One of Mifune’s best students, Sato created a new system called Nihon Jujutsu. In his early 20s, he worked with other martial artists to rebuild Japan after WW2. Later, he came to the United States and taught Japanese martial arts to servicemen in the US Army, Air Force, and Navy. From 1957 until his death in 2011, he was the Founder and Director of Training at the US Embassy Judo Club.


Sato’s Students


Nicklaus Suino Sensei

(1960- ) As a young man, Suino sold his belongings and moved to Japan to train in budo, where he studied under Sato and other world-renown martial artists. He has published best-selling books on martial arts, including Budo Mind and Body. Suino serves as President and Managing Director of the Shudokan Martial Arts Association and a Michigan Regional Director for the US branch of the International Martial Arts Federation. Suino currently also serves as the head instructor at an Ann Arbor martial arts dojo, the Japanese Martial Arts Center.


John Gage Sensei

In 1986, Gage moved to Japan to study Japanese martial arts exclusively. He joined the US Embassy Judo Club under Sato and the Aikido Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo under Shioda Gozo Sensei. He currently serves as the Director of the International Martial Arts Federation and Director of the Embassy judo Club in Tokyo, Japan, among other distinctions.


If you are interested in finding a martial arts, Ann Arbor-based Japanese Martial Arts Center has courses in Judo, Jujutsu, Iaido, and Karate. For more information, visit http://japanesemartialartscenter.com/ or email info@japanesemartialartscenter.com.

Serving Southeast Michigan:

JMAC students come to practice from throughout Southeast Michigan, from such areas as:

  • Ann Arbor
  • Birmingham
  • Bloomfield
  • Brighton
  • Canton
  • Chelsea
  • Clinton Township
  • Detroit
  • Dexter
  • Dundee
  • Fenton
  • Fowlerville
  • Grass Lake
  • Howell
  • Inkster
  • Jackson
  • Lansing
  • Livonia
  • Manchester
  • Milan
  • Milford
  • Monroe
  • Novi
  • Okemos
  • Pinckney
  • Plymouth
  • Rochester
  • Romulus
  • Saline
  • Southfield
  • Tecumseh
  • Troy
  • Whitmore Lake
  • Wixom
  • Ypsilanti
  • University of Michigan
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Michigan State University
  • Washtenaw Community College
  • Oakland Community College
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Ann Arbor - Martial Arts Mecca

For the prospective martial arts student, Ann Arbor is a mecca in the Midwest. More than any other location in Michigan, Ann Arbor has a wide variety of martial arts styles taught by many well respected sensei (teachers). You can find training opportunities at community centers, college and university gyms, health clubs, fitness centers and dojos (training halls). Among the styles available are: aikido, iaido, judo, jiu-jitsu (also called jujutsu), karate, kendo, kung fu, MMA (mixed martial arts, sometimes called BJJ) tae kwon do, tai chi, and many westernized martial arts systems. At JMAC, we offer world class instruction in judo, jiu-jitsu, iaido (Japanese swordsmanship), and karate for kids.


Aikido is a martial arts descended from jiu-jitsu. It includes joint locks, throws, takedowns, and pins. The philosophy of aikido is a peaceful one - to use the attacker’s energy to neutralize his or her attack without causing injury. Aikido is taught in several forms, such as Aikikai, Ki Society, and Yoshinkan. Aikido was founded by Ueshiba Morihei, who studied with Takeda Sokaku, the most famous practitioner of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Its principles can be found in almost every Japanese martial art, especially jiu-jitsu and judo. Read more about the physical and philosophical principles of Nihon Jujutsu.

Iaido in Ann Arbor

Iaido is Japanese sword drawing. It was created by the Samurai to defend against surprise attacks by an armed opponent. Most iaido involves the practice of pre-arranged forms, which are excellent tools for training the body, improving concentration, and entering into a meditative state. Finding a talented instructor in iaido with legitimate credentials is rare … in the Midwest it’s practically unheard of. For those with a desire to compete in swordsmanship for sport, kendo is the activity of choice. Those who are willing to endure an occasional whack on the head may pursue bokken kumite (sparring with wooden swords) with our director’s authorization once they reach black belt at JMAC. Read more about iaido at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Judo

Judo was founded by Professor Jigoro Kano. It is both a martial art and an Olympic sport. It includes throws, pins, joint locks, and chokes. It is among the most vigorous of martial arts and is very popular with children as well as adults. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers classes in judo for children as young as 6 years old, and for adults (starting at age 16). One fact not widely known is that sport judo is a narrow cross section of the complete art of judo. Proponents of the entire art, such as Satoh Tadayuki Sensei of Waseda University in Tokyo, recognize that the founder’s vision encompassed not only “judo” throws, but joint locks, takedowns, redirection, strikes, vital points, dynamic ukemi, kata, and weapons. Judo training at JMAC includes many of these opportunities. Read more about Judo at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Jiu-Jitsu (Jujitsu / Jujutsu)

Jujutsu - which is also written "jujitsu" and "jiu jitsu" - is the ancestor martial art of aikido and judo. Although it includes many of the techniques found in aikido, as well as many more combative techniques that did not find their way into aikido, the philosophy of jujutsu is more practical. Techniques are applied more directly, with a greater emphasis on pain compliance. Those who study jiu-jitsu over the long term improve their fitness, concentration, and ability to defend themselves. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers serious jiu-jitsu classes for adults starting at age 16. You can learn more about the differences between Japanese jujutsu and Brazilian jiujitsu.

Karate – Kids Karate in Ann Arbor

Karate involves mainly strikes, kicks, and blocks. It was originally developed in the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa), and was later exported to Japan before finding its way around the world. Karate is an excellent martial art for those who prefer striking, and helps develop physical strength, stamina, and confidence. There are many forms of karate taught around the world today, including Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, Chito-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, and Kyokushinkai. If you’re looking for a way to help your child learn enthusiasm, fitness, discipline, and manners while having a lot of fun, consider the kids karate program at JMAC. We have an incredible core of talented instructors who have made it their business to inspire kids to be their best. Read more about our karate program for kids.


Kendo is a sport descended from Japanese swordsmanship. In Kendo, participants wear padded armor and attempt to score points by striking vital points with bamboo swords called "shinai." Practice is fast paced, involves much spirited shouting, and is a lot of fun. The Japanese Martial Arts Center does not offer kendo, but can refer you to a reputable kendo instructor in the area.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that actually includes many sub-styles. Like karate, kung fu involves strikes, kicks, and blocks, but also includes many esoteric motions that can be applied to take down or otherwise defeat an opponent. Kung fu often appeals to imaginative people because of the many references to animal forms, but it is also a very challenging and practical martial art.

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

MMA (mixed martial arts) to a modern competition-based collection of techniques. Most MMA schools teach striking as well as grappling. Although not a traditional martial art - and thus lacking many of the character development and spiritual aspects of ancient Asian arts - MMA is nevertheless a fantastic form of exercise and a lot of fun. Because many MMA fighters have employed judo and jujutsu successfully, the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers private instruction to top-level competitors as well as occasional workshops for our members.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is the Korean counterpart to Japanese karate. As a striking art, it includes punches, kicks, and blocks, but typically Tae Kwon Do emphasizes more kicking than does karate. Competition (usually for points rather than full contact) is very common among Tae Kwon Do practitioners. It is an excellent form of exercise, but seems more susceptible to commercialization than more traditional arts such as aikido and iaido.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is another form of Chinese martial art. It is usually taught with slow, controlled movements and deep stances. There are many health benefits associated with Tai Chi, including strong bones, cardiovascular health, and calmness.

Getting Started in Martial Arts in Ann Arbor

If you are considering taking up martial arts, you will find many superb opportunities in and around Ann Arbor, including outlying cities such as Brighton, Canton, Howell, Northville, and Plymouth. Students from the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, Cleary College, and even Michigan State University have supplemented their education with martial arts and found that the physical activity helps them concentrate on their studies. We think the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers the best programs in Michigan, but we’re interested in people who are willing to work hard and do what it takes to become truly accomplished. We encourage you to look around to find the martial arts club or school that best meets your needs.