Judo, what is judo

What is Judo?

Judo used to be a part of self-defensive ancient techniques, and the warriors were using this martial art predominantly to survive and defend against invaders. It transitioned a long way from the system of unarmed combative techniques to the Olympic sport and one of the most famous martial arts with a strict ruleset.

In its early stages, this style allowed striking and dangerous techniques. Yet, nowadays, Judo practitioners are not allowed to hit their foes or use striking techniques. You can see this sport in the Olympic games, but grabbing the enemy under the belt is also illegal. There were many changes throughout history. This article will guide you from the beginnings of the ancient Japanese martial art to Judo bout today. Let’s get ready to rumble!

Judo Meaning

According to the Oxford dictionary, this Japanese martial art is “a sport of unarmed combat derived from ju-jitsu, intended to train body and mind, that involves using holds and leverage to unbalance the opponent”. The Judo meaning is pretty much well explained here.

In literal translation from the Japanese language, Judo means “gentle way”. The name indicates the correlation with the family of modern martial arts with a strict ruleset, but, let’s be honest, it hurts when you get slammed on your back. 🙂

History And Philosophy

Judo Developed In The Age Of Samurai

Japan was ruled by professional warriors, Samurai, starting from Kamakura (1185-1333) to the Edo period (1603-1867), which led to a fortuitous reality for Judo nowadays. Back then, swords and weapon fighting were popular, but samurais had to develop other combative techniques for close-range combat.

Hand-to-hand combat and standing techniques became a very important part of military training, plus several Jujutsu styles developed as the Edo period was closing to the end.

Kano Jigoro – The Founder Of Judo

Jigoro Kano, the Judo founder, was a man pretty much ahead of his era. At the age of fourteen, he was looking for a specialist to train him in the martial art of Jujutsu. But his early attempts failed, as Jujutsu was not popular in heavily westernized Japan at the moment. There was no jiu jitsu back in the day, but this lovely person was ready to offer a new, relatively modern martial art.

The first success happened with Nakai Umenari, an acquaintance of his father, who accepted to teach Jigoro Kano a kata but didn’t want to teach him. Katagiri Ryuji and Imao Genshiro also refused to teach Jigoro, so several more years passed.

Kano joined Tokyo- Kaisei school in 1877 and learned that many jujutsu teachers were forced to pursue alternative careers. He finally found a mutual language with Fukuda Hachinosuke, then received a densho (scroll) of his dojo upon the death of his teacher. It inspired Jigoro Kano to pursue his development, which later led to Kodokan Judo, a relatively modern martial art.

Developing Kodokan Judo

Kano Jigoro’s Kodokan Judo was a step in the right direction. In February 1882, the legendary Jigoro Kano founded a school and dojo at the Eisho-ji, a Buddhist temple.

Kano’s Kito-ryu instructor Iikubo was attending the dojo three times per week to help him teach students. After two years, Jigoro officially invented Judo as a martial art, and the temple got the name Kodokan.

Jigor’s Kodokan Judo school was in a very small area in the first place (only 214 square meters), but his Judo training sessions exploded in the years to come.

Spreading Judo Worldwide

Kodokan Judo was just the beginning. I hope you watched the Resident Evil movie when the pandemic spread in Racoon City. Well, Jigoro’s martial art was very well accepted in Japan, and they started spreading like a pandemic. Sorry for this example, but its popularity skyrocketed, no joke! Kano started to teach Judo and became very popular in the state of Japan!

Internationalizing Judo At The Tokyo Olympics

Now it’s time to look back at the most impressive moments of this Olympic sport from Tokyo 2020. There were many great details, from the Abe siblings earning their medals on the same day to the toppling of the legendary French Judo phenom on the mats, Teddy Riner. But let’s slow down, one by one.

The first impressive thing was the two Abe brothers from Japan, who both claimed gold medals on the same day. It is hard to have one Olympic sports champ in the house. The two Olympic champions happen rarely, but on the same day, that is a unique moment in the history of Judo, which happened on July 25th.

Uta was the first to win the title in women’s Judo -52 kg weight class, and her brother Hifumi did it a few hours later by defeating the Georgian opponent in the finals. This was the most unique day in the history of Judo.

Also, five times World Judo Championships winner Clarisse Abgenenou was under huge pressure to finally win the Olympic Judo medal, and it came to fruition in Tokyo Olympics for the first time in her career! The Judo practitioner from France did it!

There were two gold medals for Kosovo, which is also a historical success. In women’s Judo -48kg weight class, Distria Krasniqi did it by defeating her opponent with a lovely Uchi-mata. Nora Gjakova came out victorious in the -57 kg weight class, which is a historical success for this small state. The European judo black belts from Kosovo dominated the Tokyo Olympics!

Ono Shohei won again his -73kg Judo medal, cementing his spot as the greatest of all time. Despite Ono saying that there were too many competitors in his weight class “unfair”, it looked like a walk in the park for him – so many easy wins.

Also, Krpalek has crowned the new heavyweight king, as French legend Teddy Riner’s hunt for gold was stopped in the early stages of the tournament. Yet, it didn’t stop Teddy from winning another medal and helping his state of France get a better overall record in the most prestigious Judo tournament.

Why Is Judo A Sport?

First of all, Judo has a strict rule set that mustn’t be broken or you’ll get disqualified. Also, in Judo, the mind controls the expression of the body. Also, it contributes to educating individuals and making their performances better. But let’s focus on the question of why.

For example, there are no rules in the street, you don’t have to be an athlete to destroy someone’s face with a pole or a metal object.

In Judo, you must bow to the mat, to your opponent, show respect towards the judges, and defeat your enemy or lose the fight via legal technique. Any illegal move and you will be disqualified, the strict set of rules even turned Judo into an Olympic sport, too!

Judo is under the banner of the International olymOlympicmittee, this sport is a part of this family for a very long period! There is a Judo contest in the Olympics!

What Are The Main Principles Of Judo?

Jigoro Kano made a difference between Jujutsu and Judo techniques, focusing Judo on principles of “maximum efficiency, minimum effort”, and “mutual benefit and welfare”. He was one of the first people who believed that softness controls hardiness.

According to Kano’s philosophy, resisting a more powerful opponent will result in a defeat. You simply cannot control the stronger guy on the central line but adjusting and evading your opponent’s attack causes him to lose balance. The loss in balance is good, as it decreases his power. In Judo, weaker opponents can beat the relatively stronger ones because of these tiny adjustments.

Kano spent many sleepless nights thinking about the ultimate principles of Judo and decided to reject techniques that did not emphasize the importance of efficiency and execution. The emphasized technique got a way wider concept and meaning because its efficacy had to be top-notch to defeat the greater opponent. So he started teaching Judo, a martial art under a different name, with changed philosophy.

Judo Rules

Any striking techniques are strictly prohibited in competitive Judo. The goal is to throw the opponent on his back, immobilize him with a pin, or force him to tap due to an armlock or a choke. The ruleset is pretty much strict, penalties too.

Etiquette In Judo

Fighters must bow before stepping on the mats in a Judo uniform. Before the start of the fight and after the bout, the contestants bow to each other plus to the competition area. This modern martial art doesn’t tolerate insulting body language or foul gestures – do it and you’ll get disqualified from the tournament.

Stalling and constant defense are not allowed. The referee warns fighters for inactivity on the Judo mat and punishes them with Shido (warning) or hansoku (disqualification).

Judo − Rules On Safety

Here is the most important piece of safety rules in Judo competition:

  • Punching, kicking, and elbowing an opponent is prohibited. Headbutts too.

  • You mustn’t intentionally harm your opponent in a Judo competition.

  • You can’t touch the opponent’s face in modern Judo.

  • You can attack the elbow, but any other joint locks are prohibited by International Judo federation rules.

  • No head dives.

  • No leg techniques or grabbing the opponent under the belt.

  • Some Judo techniques are prohibited in modern Judo competitions, for example, Kani basami and Kawazu gake.

  • You must take off any metallic objects before you step on the mats.

Of course, minor injuries might happen during the Judo game. Yet, some severe injuries might lead to fighting stoppage. The International Judo Federation offers a very strict ruleset for potential cases of medical treatments and injuries:

  • The medical team mustn’t enter the mat unless the referee allows it.

  • The fighter who opted for medical assistance once loses the Judo bout.

  • If the mat warrior becomes unconscious, the medical team is allowed to enter the mat and help him.

  • No medical attention for nose bleeds. Fighters can use cotton balls but too excessive bleeding might lead to a loss (depends on the referee and the doctor).

Penalties In Judo

The International Judo Federation rules recognize two types of warning – Shido, and Hansoku. The referee might give you a verbal warning for a longer period of nonaggression, but it is usually punished with Shido, which means a minor rule breach.

The ref usually sanctions you with a Shido after two verbal warnings (but it is not a strict rule). If the score is tied, the fighter with fewer Shidos will win the bout.

When you get four consecutive Shidos in Judo, you’ll get disqualified from the bout (hansoku). Alternately, the referee might disqualify you for any other major rule-breaking (hitting the opponent, insults, spiking, kicking…). Even illegal throwing techniques might lead to direct disqualification, but the refs usually show more empathy here and it mostly ends with Shido.

Judo − Competition Area

The two Judo competitors are competing on a stage built of tatami, a traditional piece of flooring for ancient Japanese martial arts. Its dimensions are a minimum of 14×14 meters.

Winning The Match

There are a few ways to win in this modern Japanese martial art. We will try to analyze every potential scenario. There were many rule changes in the past, and we are focusing on the rules from 2022.

The easiest way to win the combat is by throwing the opponent on his back with impetus and control (ippon). When you throw the enemy with an insufficient force or technique to score ippon, it will lead to waza-ari (two in a row will lead to victory).

There is another way to score an ippon in Judo combat- osaekomi-waza. Pin an opponent to his back onto the mat for 20 seconds – if he doesn’t slip out of it, you won the battle. You will score ippon, but if pinning lasted for 10-20 seconds, it will lead to waza-ari.

When the opponent taps out due to a choke or an armbar, you are going to win the bout via submission.

Yet, when there is no winner, the Golden Point rule applies – the Judo fighters head into a sudden death where the judges reset the clock to match time. The bout continues until one Judo fighter scores a victory or until the other fighter gets disqualified due to Shidos.

How Long Does A Judo Match Last?

The Judo battle’s contest period is 5 minutes for seniors (both men’s and women’s Judo) and this period lasts four minutes for boys, girls, and juniors under 20. The timer counts down from 5:00 or 4:00 to zero.


In Judo, there are two groups of belt holders – Kyu and Dan (black belt) grades. Kyu, or mu-dan-sha, relates to beginners or intermediate levels, and goes like this:

  • White belt (Rokyu);

  • Yellow belt (Gokyu);

  • Orange belt (Yonkyu);

  • Green belt (Sankyu);

  • Blue belt (Nikkyu);

  • Brown belt (Ikkyu).

There are also Dan grade sensei rankings (yu-dan-sha, ten grades). It kicks off with the first-degree black belt. Red and white paneled belts are designed for 6th, 7th, and 8th dan grades, while a red belt can be worn by 9th and 10th grade on special occasions.

Players & Equipment

Judo requires both physical and mental strength before the competitors enter the bout. Many skills are required on the mats, plus striking techniques are not allowed. Here is a piece of equipment one must wear before entering the tournament or heading into a training session.

Judoka (Practitioner)

When entering the training session, the Judo practitioners must wear a gi and a belt. Elbow pads can save you from injuries, and you’ll need a bag to pack your items.

When taking part in the tournament, a mouthguard is mandatory, plus you can use the tape if you suffered an injury in some of your previous bouts. But it is an optional piece of equipment, you don’t have to wrap your fingers.

Judogi (Uniform)

The Japanese kimono, or a Judogi, is a traditional Japanese piece of equipment that fighters wear. It was the first modern piece of training gear, and it contains pants and a tunic (white or blue). According to the rules of the International Olympic Committee and International Judo federation, the gi needs to fit the athlete perfectly during the competition. Smaller gi gives you an unfair advantage.

Every gi has good and bad sides. The one made of cotton is heavier but keeps the athlete cooler, and its durability is questionable. If you wear a synthetic-made piece of training equipment, it is usually more resistant to water and stronger, their durability rocks!

Is Judo Effective In A Street Fight?

Judo can work very well in a street fight, as long as you can grab the opponent. The good side of Judo is the fact that the majority of your enemies are vulnerable to the techniques of modern Japanese martial arts, but there are no rules in the street.

As long as you don’t get hit in the face, you’re fine. Grab your opponent’s chest or stomach and you can go for a hip toss or a neck throwing technique. Don’t forget about other world-class Judo techniques – minor and major reaps, trips… All kinds of nage waza (throwing techniques) can work unless your opponent is shirtless, then you will be limited to MMA Judo techniques.

But please, take a look at this example, Judo will work well against non-trained athletes, especially when they threaten and d*ck. Please watch the video below, this martial art works very well against people strong with words. Everything’s explained perfectly.

 Is Judo Hard For Beginners?

Well, if you don’t have previous fighting experience, your first month of training can be so hard. Hip techniques are challenging, you must get under your opponent, which might be very tricky for a striker or a person with no fighting experience.

When you come from a grappling martial art, especially sport sambo, you might not have a hard time adjusting to Judo techniques. Wrestling styles will also come in handy because there is a positive transfer between Judo and wrestling.

There are some jujutsu techniques and jiujitsu moves in Judo, so this can also lead to a positive transfer. Yet, throwing techniques are different, because slamming and big amplitudes are not allowed in Brazilian jiu jitsu. So you might have to work on some minor aspects of the game. Jujutsu allows all kinds of joint locks, and BJJ is not much restrictive towards these techniques either. You’ll have to adjust a lot, but you should get into the spirit of things after a few months.

Practicing Judo is hard for a beginner due to numerous reasons – no rolling experience, Judo uniform, and sacrifice techniques. For example, you will never see a Sambo fighter or a wrestler performing tomoe nage, but judokas mostly are ready to risk a lot when they grab their opponent’s gi because it unlocks a potential waza ari or ippon.

 How is Judo Different From Other Martial Arts?

Judo is an Olympic sport, which means it has a specific rule set and a governing body. For example, Jujutsu and BJJ are not in the Olympic family because there are a lot of misunderstandings between different federations.

Jiu jitsu focuses on all kinds of submission techniques, especially on the pro level, while Judo strictly prohibits leg locks – you can only choke your opponent or fish for an armbar. The rule set is way stricter.

You can’t even compare it to the striking martial arts, because it’d be mixing apples and oranges. Try to hit your opponent in a Judo battle and you’ll get disqualified right off the bat.

In Judo, there is a lot of respect between the fighters. For example, you don’t have to bow and show respect in an MMA or a kickboxing bout. But the ancient Japanese martial art is all about showing respect towards your opponent – you simply can’t be disrespectful in a competitive Judo.

Gianluca Martucci, Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer.
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Gianluca Martucci

Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer. Since he was a kid, he has been a big fan of Martial Arts and Combat Sports: from Wrestling and now MMA to Karate and Kung Fu, for this reason he specialized in workouts for martial artistis. Our testing and reviewing method.
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