The early history of judo is inseparable from its founder, Japanese polymath and educator Jigoro Kano (1860–1938), born Shinnosuke Kano Kano was born into a relatively affluent family. His father, Jirosaku, was the second son of the head priest of the Shinto Hiyoshi shrine in Shiga Prefecture. He married Sadako Kano, daughter of the owner of Kiku-Masamune sake brewing company and was adopted by the family, changing his name to Kano, and ultimately became an official in the Bakufu government.
Jigoro Kano had an academic upbringing and, from the age of seven, he studied English, Japanese calligraphy and the Four Confucian Texts under a number of tutors. When he was fourteen, Kano began boarding at an English-medium school, Ikuei-Gijuku in Shiba, Tokyo. The culture of bullying endemic at this school was the catalyst that caused Kano to seek out a Jujutsu dojo (training place) at which to train.
Early attempts to find a jujutsu teacher who was willing to take him on met with little success. With the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, jujutsu had become unfashionable in an increasingly westernised Japan. Many of those who had once taught the art had been forced out of teaching or become so disillusioned with it that they had simply given up. Nakai Umenari, an acquaintance of Kanō's father and a former soldier, agreed to show him kata, but not to teach him. The caretaker of his father's second house, Katagiri Ryuji, also knew jujutsu, but would not teach it as he believed it was no longer of practical use. Another frequent visitor to Kanō's father's house, Imai Genshiro of Kyūshin-ryū school of jujutsu, also refused. Several years passed before he finally found a willing teacher.
In 1877, as a student at the Tokyo-Kaisei school (soon to become part of the newly founded Tokyo Imperial University), Kano learned that many jujutsu teachers had been forced to pursue alternative careers, frequently opening Seikotsu-in, traditional osteopathy practices). After inquiring at a number of these, Kano was referred to Fukuda Hachinosuke (c.1828–1880), a teacher of the Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū of jujutsu, who had a small nine mat dojo where he taught five students. Fukuda is said to have emphasized technique over formal exercise, sowing the seeds of Kano's emphasis on randori (free practice) in judo.
On Fukuda's death in 1880, Kano, who had become his keenest and most able student in both randori and kata ( pre-arranged forms), was given the densho (scrolls) of the Fukuda dojo. Kano chose to continue his studies at another Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū school, that of Iso Masatomo (c.1820–1881). Iso placed more emphasis on the practice of kata, and entrustedrandori instruction to assistants, increasingly to Kano. Iso died in June 1881 and Kano went on to study at the dojo of Iikubo Tsunetoshi (1835–1889) of Kitō-ryū . Like Fukuda, Iikubo placed much emphasis on randori, with Kitō-ryū having a greater focus on nage-waza (throwing techniques).