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What is Judo? All about this popular martial art and sport

Explore judo history, basics, technique overview, and applications

A Japanese family of martial arts called Jujutsu first began around 700 AD. It was a system of close quarter combat for defensive and offensive situations. It was practiced by many for hundreds of years. After reaching the late 19th century, Japan was steadily becoming more westernized. After 1868, especially around the Meiji restoration, jujutsu was becoming unpopular. A man by the name of Jigoro Kano wanted to study Jujutsu, but it was increasingly difficult for him to find schools and instructors. He did manage to find a man by the name of Fukuda Hachinosuke. Kano became one of Fukuda’s best students. Kano was proficient in randori (free fighting) and Kata (forms). He took all his acquired knowledge and skill, along with the emphasis on randori and gentle techniques, and went on to find his own art by the name of Judo after Fukuda’s death in 1880. In 1882, Kano founded the Kodokan, which was the school and dojo at the Eisho-Ji Buddhist temple in Tokyo.

Judo translates from Japanese to English as the “gentle way”. It is well known around the world for its spectacular throwing techniques. The point is to find your opponent’s center of gravity and utilize their weight and momentum against them. This way you will be using maximum efficiency with less effort. Judo players, or judokas wear gis, or uniforms. Gis are usually tough to be able to sustain constant stress from grappling and throwing. In self-defense situations, the idea is to redirect the energy of your opponent and throw them on the ground. In competition, the goal is to throw your opponent flat on their back or even pin them for a certain amount of time to score points.

Judo is generally split into three basic subsets: throwing techniques (Nage-waza), grappling techniques (Katame-waza), and striking techniques (Atemi-Waza). Striking usually only practiced during kata, which are prearranged forms and not typically used in competitions. One of the first things a judoka must learn is how to fall properly. This is called ukemi. It is of utmost importance to learn properly to be able to practice judo safely.

Two judokas usually practice throws together. The person doing the throwing is called the tori and person falling is the uke. There are many types, but they are usually split into hand techniques, hip throws, and foot sweeps. The tori must push or pull the uke in a certain direction so that they become off-balanced and are easier to throw. The goal is to use the weight and momentum of the opponent against them. Throws can be performed in many directions. There are also three categories of grappling techniques: pins, chokes, and arm bars. The goal of groundwork is to gain control of the opponent and make them submit. Free fighting is called randori, and it very useful in training against a live opponent who is resisting and trying to throw you at the same time.

Tournaments are an excellent way to test your skills against other opponents. Competitors are separated by weight classes, ages, and skill levels. Weigh ins are usually done the day before the competitions. There are elimination rounds with the finalists competing for the top three medals. Rounds usually last several minutes, and three referees watch and moderate the matches. A player can win a match by throwing their opponent with full control and power or pinning them for 20 seconds. This full score is called an ippon. A half score called a waza-ari and can be attained with a partially controlled or powered throw or a pin less than 20 but greater than 10 seconds. When a partial throw is attempted, usually the fight will go to the ground, and the competitors will try to regain control from there. Competitions can become heated at times but are usually very civil and safe. The best and top ranked competitors have a chance to compete at the highest levels and possibly represent their country in the Olympic games. Those judokas will be fighting the toughest that the world has to offer in the sport.

Overall, Judo is a great hand to hand system, a highly popular and practiced sport, and a serious fitness regimen all in one. Everyone can practice judo, and there are many schools and dojos all around the world.


Explore judo history, the basics, techniques, and applications