Jigoro Kano was the third son of Jirosaku Kireshiba Kano, born in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan on October 28, 1860. Kano's father was a strong believer in education and saw that Kano received an excellent schooling. At the age of 9 Kano's mother died, and his family moved to Tokyo. Here Kano's father enrolled him in private schools and his own english tutor.
Being only five foot two and weighing 90 pounds Kano at a young age wanted to be stronger. A family friend Nakai Baisei showed Kano some jujitsu techniques to show Kano that a smaller man could overpower someone much larger. This sparked an interest in Kano, and despite his fathers insistence to learn a modern sport Kano pursued jujitsu.
Kano attended the Tokyo Imperial University in 1877 and there found Fukuda Hachinosuke an instructor in Tenjin Shin'yo-ryu jujitsu. Fukuda Hachinosuke style of teaching involved students repeatedly being thrown by the instructor until they understood the mechanics of the technique. Needless to say this was a very harsh way to absorb material. Only after students had shown proficiency in live practices were they then taught traditional kata's.
On August 5, 1879 Kano was part of a demonstration along with his training partner Godai Ryusaku and instructors Fukuda Hachinosuke and Iso Masatomo preformed for Ulysses S. Grant. Shortly after this demonstration Fukuda Hachinosuke passed away and Kano began to train with Iso Masatomo. While training with Iso Masatomo, Kano was introduced to Yoshin-ryu jujutsu. Through that experience Kano came to the realization that no one style was superior and that he must incorporate many different styles in order to obtain true superiority. In 1881 Kano received his teaching license (kyoshi menkyo) in Tenjin Shin'yo-ryu. Later that year his instructor Iso Masatomo passed away.
In the 1880s Kano sought out many different teachers of various styles of jujitsu. During this time Kano taught, but eventually came to the realization that he was no longer teaching jujitsu. Kano was throwing his instructors more often than they threw him. Judo was taken from Jikishin-ryu: judo, a style created by Terada Kan'emon the fifth headmaster of Kito-ryu. Ju meaning pliancy, do meaning the way. A combination of all the train Kano had received Judo emerged.
From 1906 to 1917 Judo was introduced into the public school system in Japan. During this time the techniques and forms became standardized. Kano was the first to introduce a ranking system in the martial world with white and black belts, as well as different dan ranks. In 1882 with less than a dozen students Judo grew very rapidly to more than a thousand dan ranked practitioners in 1911.
Professionally Kano was an educator, he served as the president of Tokyo Higher Normal School from 1901 to 1920. In 1909 Kano was asked by the Ministry of Education to represent Japan as the first asian member of the International Olympics Committee (IOC). Having recently traveled to Europe Kano accepted and served the IOC until 1938. Kano did not use his position to introduce Judo into the Olympics. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics nonetheless featured Judo as an event.
Kano received many awards, including the First Order of Merit, Grand Order of the Rising Sun and the Third Imperial Degree. Kano was inducted into the IJF Hall of Fame on 14 May 1999.
While at sea aboard the MV Hikawa Maru Kano died of pneumonia at the age of 77. At the time the Japanese Merchant Fleet always used Tokyo time so officially Kano was pronounced dead May 4, 1938 despite being across the international date line making it May 3, 1938.
Jigoro Kano left behind many written works including: