What is Judo?

Having been an Olympic sport since 1964, Judo is one of the most practised martial arts in the world. Due to this, Judo has evolved into more of a competitive sport but still is practised and used for self-defence situations. The martial art consists of throws and pins, leveraging your opponent’s weight against them.

Judo was founded in 1882 by Jigoro Kano, one of the most influential martial artists in Japanese history. Many people even regard him as ‘the father of Japanese martial arts’. He derived his martial art from traditional jujitsu. The meaning of Judo in English is ‘the gentle way’ reinforcing the philosophies and teachings Kano aimed to teach through Judo. 



The origins and history of Judo

As stated above, Judo has been derived from the likes of Jujitsu. To find out more about the history of Jujitsu make sure to check out our ‘What is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?’ post (out soon, subscribe to find out when!).


The founder of Judo

The history and origins of Judo are all to do with the founder himself, Jigoro Kano. Kano was born in a town called Mikage which was near Kobe in Japan. His grandfather would get into the sake industry, so the family would be known for being sake brewers in the region.

Kano’s father was not the oldest child, so the business was not passed down to him. Instead, he would work for the Meji government. As a result of this Kano and his family moved to Tokyo in 1971. 

Kano was a weak individual who would constantly be ill. Standing at just 5ft2 and weighing around 41kg, Kano was bullied as a child. He wanted to be able to defend himself and become stronger.


Kano starts to train in martial arts

Even though he was a frail boy, he wanted to improve his condition, so he sought to train in martial arts. He first started training at the age of 17 under Ryuji Katagiri. However, this was not for long as Katagiri believed he was too young to train seriously.

After enrolling at the Tokyo Imperial University at the age of 18, Kano still had a desire to learn martial arts. He found a bone doctor called Teinosuke Yagi, who recommended Hachinosuke Fukuda. Fukuda was a master in the Tenjin-Shinyo School of Jujitsu.

In this school Fukuda emphasised the importance of technique, prioritising this over kata. Fukuda would focus on free-style fighting in training, including both grappling and striking techniques. Fukuda would sadly become ill and pass away.

Kano would then learn from another Tenjin-shinyo-ryu master, Masatomo Iso. This was different to Fukuda’s dojo as it was known for its Kata instead. Kano would become an assistant to Iso and train students in Kata and eventually free-style fighting. In 1881, at just the age of 21, Kano would become a Tenjin-shinyo-ryu Jujitsu master.

Sadly, Iso would also become ill. Kano wanted to continue to learn instead of just teaching. He would meet Tsunetoshi Iikubo, who was a master of the Kito School of Jujitsu. Here he would expand his skills and knowledge learning more grappling and throwing techniques. 


The development of Judo

Kano would implement his teachings and attempt to reform Jujitsu. At the time Jujitsu was on the decline. During the Meji Restoration period, the samurai was no longer as popular, and neither were martial arts.

Kano felt that Jujitsu needed to be modernised to be fit for the people of the new age. He would go on to study other Jujitsu styles such as Sekiguchi-ryu and Seigo-ryu.

Implementing all he had learnt; he would combine all the best techniques from the various different Jujitsu schools, removing the techniques he deemed too dangerous for practise.

Kano believed that what he had been taught so far lacked mental teachings so he would go on to study different books and philosophies (such as the Lao-Tsze philosophy). 


Early stages of Judo

Kano finally opened his first school in 1882, taking nine students from the Kito-ryu school. He would train them in the Eishoji Temple, which is regarded as the birthplace of Judo.

Ikubo would visit the temples a few times a week to help Kano teach his students. At the time Kano was a teacher at a school having graduated from the Tokyo Imperial College in 1881.

It is believed that after the first time Kano defeated Ikubo (pinning him down three times!), Judo started to gain recognition. At first many people referred to this as ‘Kano Jujutsu’ but the art would go on be known as Kodokan Judo.

Jujitsu can also be separated into two words, ‘ju’ and ‘jitsu’. With ‘ju’ meaning gentle and ‘jitsu’ meaning art. Kano would change the ‘jitsu’ to ‘do’, which means way. Creating the name Judo. Kano realised that his style was different to Jujitsu, therefore needed its own name and identity. Kodokan means ‘a school for studying the way’ and Judo means, as said before, ‘the gentle way’, so Kodokan Judo can mean the school of studying the gentle way! 

The rivalry between Jujitsu and Judo become fiercer. In 1886, there would be regular contests between both martial arts. Kano’s students would eventually come out on top, further spreading Judo across Japan. 

The categorization of Kodokan Judo was completed by around 1887. Throughout this time, Judo would continue to grow, becoming a recognised sport in 1910 and being embedded into the Japanese education system. 

Kano wanted Judo to be practiced by all as he knew the benefits of it. Judo would become an Olympic sport, but it would sadly happen after his passing, in 1964 in Tokyo, Japan. 

a temple in Japan


How Judo spread across the world

In 1889, Kano would travel to visit places such as Europe teaching Judo to different countries. There is a rumoured story when Kano was in Europe he was on a boat, someone made fun of him and Kano threw him to the floor. To prevent the person from being injured Kano placed his hand under his head (showing the principles of Judo to consider your opponent)!

Many of Kano’s students committed to helping spread Judo by going to different countries to teach the martial art. Takashima Shidachi went to London in 1892 and taught the Japanese society there about the history and development of Judo. 

Most notably, Judo would be practised by the 26th president of the United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt when Yamashita Yoshitsugu would visit the USA in 1904.

Yoshitsugu was a direct student of Kano. It was reported that Roosevelt would practise three afternoons a week prior to the election. Yoshitsugu would go on to teach the U.S Naval Academy in 1905 for about a year.

Gunji Koizumi would come to the UK in 1906. He was regarded as the ‘father of British Judo’. He taught Jujitsu in Liverpool and then opened his first dojo in London in 1918.

Koizumi called it the Budokwai. Here he taught Japanese martial arts such as Kendo and Jujitsu. It wasn’t untill Kano visited the Budokwai in 1920, that his dojo would become a Judo dojo. 

Post World-War II, Judo would start to rise in popularity once again being practised and used by various different countries for military training. The first ever Judo World Championships were held in 1956, which then led to Judo finally becoming an Olympic sport in 1964. 


Basic principles and techniques of Judo 

Kano created Judo as a means of not just strengthening the body (through learning attacks and defences), but also the mind. He believed Judo would teach people good values that would fulfil their personality and make people valuable to their society.

There are two key principles Kano wanted to embed into Judo through his research:

  • Seiryoku-Zenyo
  • Jita-Kyoei

The first principle of Judo is ‘Seiryoku-Zenyo’ which can be translated to ‘maximum efficiency, minimum effort’. This reiterates the importance of having good technique.

Once a judoka has good technique, they are able to generate much more power into their technique, making it easier and more efficient. The deeper meaning of this would be to use your energy for good purposes such as helping out your community and society. 

The second principle Kano believed in was ‘Jita-Kyoei’ which can be translated to ‘mutual benefit’. This means that people should work together to help one another.

Both people gain benefits from this creating unity and happiness. In Judo, judokas train and practise techniques with one another become better martial artists. In the world this can be applied to help society and those in your community who may need it. 

There are three categories known as ‘Waza’ that the basic techniques of Judo can be broken into:

  • Nage waza (throwing techniques)- these can be further divided into 2 main groups, standing and sacrifice techniques. Body parts such as the hands, hips and feet are used in these techniques. Sacrifice techniques are the way people fall when a throw is being practised (front and side sacrifices). 
  • Katame waza (grappling techniques)- These can be further divided into hold down, strangling and joint lock techniques. 
  • Ate waza/Atemi waza (striking techniques)-This consists of striking moves using the hand, fingers, elbow, knee, foot, and heel. These are not performed in competitions as striking isn’t allowed but are usually performed in katas. 

Judo is usually practised in two forms, Randori and Kata.

Randori allows judokas to test their skills against one another. The word Randori means ‘free practice’, but nowadays is similar to what we know as sparring.

Judokas will be able to implement the ‘waza’ they have learned in a more realistic situation. This can be for self-defence or for competition training. 

Katas are pre-arranged movements. Judokas must memorise these and perform them with perfect form and technique. Most include using a partner.

Many techniques are also practised in katas that are no longer allowed in competitions, but they have been preserved from the earlier forms of judo. 

Ukemi, which means falling techniques, is also taught. This refers to the way a judoka should fall when thrown to minimise the chances of injury.

This video goes through some basic Judo throws!


Difference between Judo and traditional Jujutsu

Judo and Japanese traditional Jujitsu are slightly similar. This is because the founder Kano, originally sought to refine Jujitsu.

He wanted to make Jujitsu more relevant to the people of the era. He ended up realising he had developed a martial art that was no longer like Jujitsu so it needed its own new name, Judo.

Japanese Jujitsu was developed by the samurai for the art of war. They developed Jujitsu for when they needed to fight unarmed on the battlefield.

It was later trained as martial art, but the main purpose was for war. Kano realised many of these techniques could not be practised safely as a martial art. He had philosophies and principles, whereas in Jujitsu, it is all just about survival.

Kano wanted Judo to mean more to people and for them to become better people in their society. The purpose of Judo was so that people would develop both physically and mentally.

He hoped through this training and implementing these principles, that practitioners could then become of more value to their society. Jujitsu didn’t take any of this into account, it was simply just a way of protecting oneself doing whatever it takes. 

Judo was also developed for it to be safe in a competition, hence why it has now become an Olympic sport.

Elements such as striking were removed from Judo allowing for competitors to train and fight one another safely. Traditional Jujitsu does include striking, but it was too dangerous for it to become a competitive sport. 


Equipment needed when you first start Judo

When starting Judo, practitioners are required to wear a ‘Gi’. The Judo Gi is known to be the first modern martial arts training uniform.

Kano derived the Gi from the Japanese Kimono and other Japanese clothes. The Gi allows for judokas to practise throws using clothing that can maintain its quality through the training judokas go through.

Kano also wanted the Gi to unify all the practitioners together, showing them they were martial artists and not just wearing their own clothes which they can wear anywhere. 

You will also wear a belt. The Gi that you purchase will usually come with a white belt. Your instructor will then promote you to higher belts when they believe you are ready and deserve it. 

two judokas grabbing a hold of one another


Judo as a competitive and Olympic sport 

Judo is now known to be one of the biggest martial arts that has turned into a competitive sport. Kano wanted everyone to practise Judo as he believed everyone could benefit from it.

He would become the first Asian person in 1909 to join the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As stated before, Judo would then go on to become an Olympic sport in 1964. Women’s Judo became an Olympic in sport in 1992. 

Judo competitions are usually held on a mat 14m x 14m (10m x 10m is where the fight will be held which is marked). Both competitors must wear a Gi, which must not be more than 5cm above the wrist and ankles.


Scoring is based on three elements in a Judo contest:

  • Ippon (full point)- This is a throw where a competitor throws the opponent, and they land on their back. Once this is done, they automatically win the whole fight. Ippons can also be achieved through submissions and pinning an opponent down for at least 25 seconds.
  • Waza-ari (half point)- When a technique is not quite an Ippon they are awarded this. It is still when a competitor throws their opponent to the floor but not as effectively as an ippon. Two waza-aris would lead to an ippon, resulting in the end of the fight and a winner declared. This would also include holding down an opponent for some time (less than what is required for an ippon).
  • Yuko- This is the least number of points that can be awarded. These are awarded for less effective holds, throws or locks. However, if an opponent has scored a Waza-ari, no matter how many Yuko points are scored, the opponent will still be winning. 


Penalties can be incurred for competitors who break the rules:

  • Shido (minor breach)- This would include stalling tactics and periods of non-aggressive moves. The first time a competitor receives this penalty they will be warned. The second time will result in a Yuko to the opponent, the third time will be a Waza-ari and then the fourth will be an Ippon, ending the fight. 
  • Hansoku (major breach)- If a competitor does this, they will automatically be disqualified. This is when a competitor breaks a major rule such as striking their opponent. 


Key rules:

  • Bouts last five minutes (four for women) if no Ippon (or two Waza-ara) is scored 
  • Judokas must wear appropriate Gis and bow before entering the mat and before and after the fight
  • Judokas must stick to the rules and cannot stall otherwise they can face penalties (Shido and Hansoku)

In competitions, one judoka usually wears a blue Gi and the other a white Gi, to help the referee distinguish the difference.

If scores are equal at the end an additional round is played where whoever gets the first point (no matter what level of point) wins. If no point is scored, then the referee and judges will decide on a winner.

The International Judo Federation is the governing body for the Olympics. You can find more detail on their website.

Check out this video which goes through the  scoring and penalties of Judo competitions.



Why study Judo over other martial arts?

All martial arts are similar in the respect that they teach you ways of defending yourself and how to control both the mind and the body. 

Similar to BJJ, Judo includes no striking. This appeals to people who are not so keen on taking blows to the head. The martial art purely focuses on grappling and throwing techniques.

As stated before, Kano wanted the martial art to be injury free and safe for all people to practise. This also makes it more popular for kids as many parents look to start their kids in martial arts with no striking involved (kids should not be taking blows to the head anyway).

Many people like to choose Judo because of it being an Olympic sport. Not many martial arts are able to have practitioners compete on a stage as prestigious as the Olympics.

This plays a big part in motivating people to pursue Judo, hoping one day they can compete at the Olympics. Other than the Olympics, there are many Judo competitions. These range from all levels (nationals, continentals and world). 

Judo has strong principles which can be applied to life in general. Kano wanted Judo to have a bigger impact and not just be a martial art for physical training. But also mental training and allowing for people to become a better person within their community.

This philosophy of improving oneself and becoming a better person is something that people will be interested in, therefore they train in Judo to fulfil this desire. 

a judo fighter throwing his opponent


Benefits of Judo

There are many benefits of training in Judo. We will go through some of the key benefits:

  • Learn self-defence- Judo teaches you ways to defend yourself. Being able to throw people who may be much bigger than you. One of the main philosophies in Judo is ‘maximum efficiency-minimum effort’. 
  • Improve your strength and stamina- This martial art will increase both strength and stamina as you are constantly practising different throws and grappling techniques, which can be fatiguing! But making you much stronger and fitter in the process!
  • Improve your self-confidence- With constant training, you will become more confident in your abilities. Judo can be a tricky art with there being many techniques to learn. Once you are able to master these techniques and become a better judoka, this confidence will spread not in just your training, but life in general! 
  • Strong principles- Judo has strong principles in place that go beyond the martial art. Kano wanted people to become better people when training in Judo so they can be beneficial to society. The principles learnt in Judo can be applied to real life. 
  • Improve your mental health- Regular training can help to reduce any stress you may have and uplift your sprits by providing you a way of expressing yourself through the martial art. It can help combat depression and anxiety. 
  • Anyone can practice Judo- Judo is suitable for people of all ages. With it being a grappling martial art, it also makes it great for kids to train in!

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How to get started and find a Judo class!

Anyone can start Judo, no matter how old or fit you are. Finding a Judo class is a simple process! Make sure to check online for nearby Judo schools in your area, as most will have an online presence.

Contact the school (if they have contact details) if you have any questions you want to ask. Find out which session you would like to attend by contacting them if possible.

If going to a Gi class, you will most likely need to purchase a Gi beforehand (contact them beforehand if you want to watch first or just turn up and see!). Turn up to one of their sessions and see how it goes! Usually first classes are free, so this will allow you to see if this is a good fit for you.

After going to a few classes and trying this martial art, Judo may not be for you. Don’t worry, there are many other martial arts out there! Be sure to check out our ‘what is martial arts post’ to gain a good understanding of other popular martial arts too!

If you have any questions on this post, the MILITAR MINDSET, martial arts in general or any other enquiries feel free to contact us.

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We have gone through Judo in this post. In our next few posts on the Martial Arts Series, we will cover other individual martial arts. Make sure you subscribe to our blog to keep up to date with the latest posts!

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