Americans’ first contact with Japanese martial arts most likely came from Japanese immigrants, especially after 1853 and the “opening” of Japan to the West. In the 1880’s, Jigoro Kano, a longtime student of the martial art of jujutsu, noted the decline of Japan’s ancient warrior traditions. He feared the loss of vital parts of Japanese culture and learning, and took steps to preserve the martial arts. He created the Kodokan, the “hall for teaching the way,” and his own style of martial art, judo (“the gentle way”). Judo is a composite of many different styles of jujutsu but is more of a sport than a system of combat. Kano’s hope was to make the martial arts fit the needs of modern times and therefore keep them alive. To preserve the old, he had to create something new.
Even though Chinese martial arts were probably brought to America with the first Chinese immigrants, they were largely unnoticed or ignored for decades, even centuries. Perhaps the main reason for this is that Chinese immigrants were viewed as a “fringe group” by the dominant culture in America. Interaction and cultural exchange between Chinese and white Americans was minimal when compared to that of other groups, and the problem was made worse by segregation and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese martial arts grew and evolved in America while remaining almost totally untouched by non-Chinese Americans, setting the stage for their explosive growth in the 1960s.