Ass-Kicking Athletes of Antiquity: Kanō Jigorō
When we set out on our humble mission to document every boss athlete from history, we never expected that amongst the ranks of wrestlers who are almost half moustache and boxers who unbuttoned their shirts by coughing, we would include a 5’2″, 90-pound man. But hey, here we are. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kanō Jigorō. AKA, the founder of Judo.
Being the founder of a late-19th century martial art best known for roughly fusing the human collarbone and the floor into one, you’d expect Kanō to be a pretty burly guy, or that very least, look like he’s able to lift his own arms. But no, for most, if not all of his life, Kanō was a tiny man no more physically intimidating than a stiff breeze.
…That is, if you were facing a breeze made of anger and bricks. You see, being as small as he was, Kanō found himself being bullied quite a bit as a child. After having his face used as a litmus test for trauma ranging from blunt to piercing, he vowed to learn how to defend himself, by learning jujitsu. Because, well, a more effective fighting style didn’t exist. Yet.
After finding a suitable jujitsu teacher Kanō became a veritable martial arts sponge, soaking up every piece of information and technique he came in contact with. However, for all of his study, the young Kanō still couldn’t best another of his school’s students, one Fukushima Kanekichi, mainly due to Fukushima’s size and power. As even with all of the jujitsu in the world, Kanō couldn’t do jack against an opponent capable of backhanding him from across the room.
Which is when Kanō decided that if jujitsu alone couldn’t beat an opponent with much greater strength, he’d just keep learning and combining different techniques until he could. First he tracked down a sumo wrestler and learned some of his techniques. When they had less effect on Fukushima than a spring breeze, Kanō went to the his local library, picked up a book on wrestling and stared at it until he learned how to shoulder toss somebody. The next time the two fought Kanō emerged victorious using his new technique. Proving that reading is both radical and capable of teaching you how to rip a guy’s testicles off using kung-fu, if you read really hard. Just in case you’re wondering how intimidating of an opponent Fukushima was, he once got arrested for beating a group of thugs half to death with a door he’d just ripped off its hinges.
While refining what would eventually become modern judo, Kanō, barely halfway into his twenties, was practicing daily in a Buddhist temple under the occasional guidance of a local jujitsu master called Iikubo. Since Kanō’s life was effectively a Bruce Lee movie with more sweet-ass hip throws, after many years of training together, Kanō and Iikubo engaged in a battle to determine who was strongest. Since you’re reading an article about Kanō, you can probably guess who won. The story goes that Iikubo was such a ferocious fighter that every time he came to train with Kanō’s students, the huge stone tablets on the walls of the temple would rattle and fall off the walls, and he was defeated by a 90-pound man no taller than most people’s children. Just soak that in.
After defeating Iikubo, Kanō continued training at the temple, often breaking the floors of the temple during training sessions. We’re pretty sure the training sessions in Dragon Ball Z didn’t cause as much collateral damage as Kanō. Now being able to break the floors with your student’s spines doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good teacher–sure, a great chiropractor, but an average teacher. However, your students earning nicknames like “The Devil” and going on to teach your art to people like Teddy Roosevelt sure as hell do.
But here’s the best bit: despite literally dedicating almost his entire life to learning how to better remove a human skeleton from its supple meat shell, Kanō was an educator first and foremost. As with his martial arts, the diminutive master of man throwing was almost as dangerous in the classroom as he was in combat, demanding the utmost respect from those he taught. Considering by this point there were verifiable records of this man being able to punch the balls off of a fly, we can’t imagine that was hard to do.
So the next time you’re watching the Olympics and judo just so happens to be on, watch it for a second and realize that a real-life Wolverine, who weighed less than a large dog, could probably take out every single person in the competition and half the audience on his way out, then breathe a sigh of relief as you remember that he’s teaching judo to Jesus. Thus reducing the chances of you dying of a hip toss related death by at least 40%.
Karl Smallwood is a freelance comedy writer you can hire! His work has been featured on Cracked, Toptenz and Gunaxin. You should probably click those links to make sure he isn’t lying. He also runs his own website where he responds to the various pieces of hate-mail he’s gotten over the years, in fact, he got so much hate-mail that he wrote a book about it that you can buy on Amazon. When he isn’t writing, Karl also Tweets and uploads pictures of himself drinking on Facebook.