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Understanding the Historic Art of Judo

Judo is different things to different people. Simply translated, Judo means “the gentle way”. To most people, that’s all it means. To some, they know it simply as an Austin Powers’ lethal manoeuvre, but to many others around the world, it means so much more. It is a fun sport, an art, a discipline, a recreational or social activity, a fitness program, a means of self-defence or combat, and a way of life. There’s an ancient history behind Judo and many misunderstood beliefs about the art, some of which will be addressed.

Jujitsu is the source of modern Judo. Medieval Japanese Warriors practised many forms of unarmed combat, some of which were grouped under the general name “Jujitsu ” for “the gentle practice.” The object of all these martial arts forms was to avoid an enemy’s superior strength and to use that strength to his disadvantage. Since Jujitsu was strictly a combat technique, contests were rare and were decided only by the death or crippling of one of the contestants.

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When Japanese society began to change structurally in the 1860s, feudal lords no longer had their private armies; the martial arts, including Jujitsu, began to die out. In the early 1880s, Professor Jigoro Kano, a teacher from Tokyo and an expert in many types of Jujitsu, decided to save some of this ancient knowledge. He modified or eliminated the most dangerous of the Jujitsu techniques and created a new discipline, which he called “Judo” or “the gentle way.”

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Judo is “the gentle way” because the end result is the accomplishment of a goal with maximum efficiency and minimum effort. As an art, Judo enables its practitioners to gain self-respect, self-confidence, and self-expression; as a science, it involves a mastery of such basic natural laws as gravity, friction, momentum, weight transmission, and unity of forces. As a sport, rather than simply a combat form, Judo includes a code of sportsmanship, a sense of mutual respect, and a system of ethical and moral development. Judo is both an art and a science.

From its simple beginnings in nineteenth-century Japan, Judo has spread in popularity throughout the world. Its rich, medieval heritage combined with Professor Kano’s modern, scientific approach has made Judo into the exciting sport it is today. One of the more interesting things about judo is the fact that a student of judo, whose only language is English, can travel and study judo in dojos and understands most of what is going on around him because most instruction is taught using Japanese terms.

The sport of Judo is combative, seeing two people engaged in a dynamic battle using position changes, offence and defence. Each Judoka, a person who practices Judo, has to plan and apply the maximum technique at just the right time to catch the other off guard. The combination of one’s own strength with that of their opponent can work to their advantage, allowing them to take their opponent by surprise and apply one of the many control techniques.

The objective in Judo is to gain control of an opponent by applying the principles of action-reaction and breaking balance, using throws and holds based on jujitsu. At higher levels, choking techniques and arm locks are also used. The aim in Judo is to subdue, not injure, the opponent. The first thing Judokas have to learn is self-control. “The main object of Judo lies in this point. It seeks to augment human strength, morality and intellect by human means and efforts. It tends to train young people in the habits and condition conducive to the accomplishment of great undertakings.”

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In judo competitions, there are four ways to win which include throwing your opponent, immobilizing your opponent, arm locking your opponent, and strangling your opponent, the latter two resulting in a submission. If a player does not submit, lose, or win by earning the maximum point, ippon, an automatic win, then the player with the most points, when time runs out, wins.

Judo has a special spot in the modern Olympics for it is currently the only martial art that is part of the Olympics. Judo has been an Olympic sport for men since 1964 when competitors first participated in the Games. Women’s Judo was made an official Olympic sport later at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Many judokas have made judo their way of life. Most start judo at an early age, while judo has no age limit, and continue it until they can’t continue any longer. Judo has many other options besides the competition factor. After competing, many judokas continue their involvement with judo in less active roles. Many teach what they have been taught to a new generation, while some choose to become involved in refereeing. Others pursue a less direct role in judo by joining committees to promote judo and organize local, provincial, national and international events.

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Understanding the Historic Art of Judo. (2021, Mar 12). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from