Jigoro Kano’s election to the International Olympic Committee may have had something to do with this. His selection in 1908 spurred various trips overseas on IOC business, and he started teaching Judo wherever he went on these journeys.
His principal assistant, Yamashita, had gone to America in 1903 where, successively, he instructed at Harvard University, the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and taught Theodore Roosevelt. Tsunejiro Tomita and Mitsuyo Maeda followed Yamashita to America. Tomita taught at Columbia University, while Maeda migrated to Europe, then to Central and South America.
Eventually, after many exhibits, Mitsuyo Maeda settled in Brazil along with Japanese immigrants, and immediately got the attention of the regular Brazilian society and quickly became the founding father of “Gracie Jujitsu”.
In Europe, Judo was introduced in England by Yukio Tani in 1905. In France, the arrival of Hikoichi Aida and Keishichi Ishiguro in 1924 served as the kickoff for one of Judo’s most flourishing worldwide transplants. Yoshisaburo Sasaki took Judo to Hungary in 1906. Hikoichi Aida moved from France to Germany and renewed the spreading of Judo there but it only grew popular after visits by Kazuzo Kudo and Sumio Imai in 1926. The Italian Judo Federation was established in 1924, essentially based on the efforts of the Japanese ambassador in Italy, Youtarou Sugimura, who was a Judoka.
How about Asia? In Asia, Shinzo Takagaki took Judo to India, Nepal and Afghanistan in 1929. Japan’s war adventures during the 1930’s, and then World War II, smothered Judo’s growth. The world was worried about the financial crisis and hostile dictators. Unlike most of his martial art brethren, Jigoro Kano (Judo´s founder) was a pacifist and saw with significant alarm the Japanese militarization during the 30’s. Perhaps he believed that his precious Olympic Games would focus Japan´s attention, and redirect the government from its war footing.
Kano attended the IOC Meeting in Cairo in August 1936 to address the committee about the feasibility of choosing a Japanese city as host for the Olympic Games. Part of his speech, as recorded by the IOC stated “since the restoration of the games, they have been celebrated in Europe and in the United States of America solely. Asia wishes to have them in her turn” And Asia got its turn by the designation of Tokyo to hold the 1940 Olympic Games, but they were quickly cancelled due to the 2nd World War. Jigoro Kano never saw his dream come true and passed away a couple of years later. After Tokyo´s cancelation, Helsinki was immediately nominated, but the 1940 games were never held. Helsinki held the games later in 1952 and Tokyo only in 1964.
After the War, American soldiers in Japan as part of the occupation forces were encouraged by Generals Thomas Powers and Curtis LeMay to study Judo.
In 1951, the International Judo Federation was established, and in 1952, when Japan formally entered, Kano‘s son, Risei Kano, was elected chairman. Judo’s popularity was spreading fast. It was during this time that the Brazilian offshoot of Judo, Gracie Jujitsu, decided the time was right to take advantage of this spreading wave of popularity and started expanding herself at an amazing velocity.
When Judo became an Olympic demonstration sport in 1964, Russian Sambo players began practicing orthodox Judo, so that the Soviet Union could present teams at that important international discipline. Sambo, merged with Judo, provided firm ground for a Russian Judo style, and gives it a flair that persists to this day.