The Kodokan emblem is seen very often by people practicing Judo and many have asked what it represents. Since the Kodokan is the original school of Judo founded by Jigoro Kano and still the international technical authority for Judo, its symbol is found in many dojos, books, web pages, and even on judogi. The symbol can be displayed with or without the Japanese characters for ju (gentleness, softness, yielding, or flexibility) and do(way, road, path, or teaching) as shown here.

The cherry blossom was considered an especially beautiful and important symbol for Japanese samurai because at the height of its beauty it would inevitably fall to the ground to die. Samurai also had to be willing to sacrifice themselves in their prime, and the cherry blossom was evidence that this is the natural way of things and could even be beautiful and pure. Life is as delicate and light as the falling petals, and there is a natural time for all beautiful things to end. The samurai strove to understand the nature of life and death by meditating on the blossom of the cherry tree. This peace was tempered by the inner strength, power, and fighting spirit represented by the circle of red. Through the study of attack and defense in Judo we learn to harmonize our spirit and body, learning to both fight hard and let go softly.

The standard emblem of the Kodokan is an 8 petaled flower of the cherry tree. It was adopted by feudal Samurai because the flower is detached from the branch at the apogee of its beauty in order to die. It symbolizes a degree of maturity within the individual which is summarized by the expression, “Strong within, but gentle without.” The fire red color of the center of the emblem indicates the “fire” or “ardor” of the individual. The spirit of the Kodokan combines the strength of iron forged to red heat inside the silk, supple, and white flower. This is symbolic of the union of body strength and resistant suppleness and flexibility of the pure spirit developed by the Judo exponent of black belt grade. It is a sign of personal attainment.