The first edition of the world championships took place in Tokyo, Japan in 1956. There were no weight classes at the time and Japanese judoka Shokichi Natsui became the first world champion in history, defeating fellow countryman Yoshihiko Yoshimatsu in the final. The second world championship was also held in Tokyo two years later, with the Japanese winning the top two spots in the competition for the second time. In 1961, the championship was held outside of Japan for the first time, and Dutch judoka Anton Geesink defeated the prior world champion, Koji Sone, in Paris, France, to become the first non-Japanese world champion.
The 1965 World Judo Championships were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and weight classes were implemented for the first time with the addition of the -68 kg, -80 kg, and +80 kg categories. Judo had become an Olympic sport at the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, and a permanent sport after a brief absence at the 1968 Summer Olympics.
Despite this progressive enlargement, it took until 1980 for women to participate in the world championships. The first women’s world championships were held in New York in 1980, and were held in alternating years as the men’s championships until the 1987 World Judo Championships in Essen, where the two competitions were merged into one world championship. The mixed championships have been held biannually since 1987. In 2005, the world championships made its debut on the African continent in Cairo, Egypt. In the International Judo Federation meeting held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2007 (during the 2007 World Judo Championships), it was decided that France would host the world championships for the fifth time in 2011.