From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

History and philosophy

The early history of Judo and that of its founder, Japanese educator Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), are inseparable. Kano was born into a well-to-do Japanese family. a Shinto priest and government official, with enough influence for his son to enter the second incoming class of Tokyo Imperial University.

Due to his extremely small stature, Kano had difficulty finding a martial arts instructor who would take him seriously as a student. When he went off to the University to study literature at the age of 18, he eventually gained a referral to Hachinosuke Fukuda, a master of the Tenjin Shinyo. Fukuda is said to have emphasized technique over formal exercise, sowing the seeds of Kano's emphasis of randori, or free practice, in Judo.

Little more than a year after Kano joined Fukuda's school, Fukuda took ill and died. Kano then became a student in another Tenjin Shinyo school, that of Masatomo Iso, who put more emphasis on formal kata than did Fukuda. Kano eventually became assistant instructor to Iso at the age of 21. Iso, too, took ill, and Kano, feeling that he still had much to learn, took up another style, becoming a student of Tsunetoshi Iikubo of Kito Ryu. Like Fukuda, Iikubo placed much emphasis on free practice; on the other hand, Kito Ryu emphasized throwing techniques to a much greater degree than Tenjin Shinyo Ryu.

This began a period of experimentation and development for Kano's individual style. He resolved himself to applying scientific principles to classical jujitsu and refining it into a system that would help men and boys to develop physical skills, good health, and a system of morality. Kano was worried about Judo having the “thug” image that Jiu-Jitsu had at the time. He began to teach a class at his University; and though it was years before the name evolved, this was the beginning of what became "judo."

The word Judo is composed of two kanji: "jū", which means gentleness, and "dō", way or road (the same character as the Chinese "tao"). Thus Judo literally means "the gentle way", or "the way of giving way", and may also be defined as "the way of suppleness", "the way of flexibility, or "the way of adaptability". To English speakers, Judo and Jujutsu would mean "the easy way", as in the easiest way to accomplish something. Kano made this one of his two guiding principles in Judo. (Maximum efficency with minimal effort and mutual welfare and benefit.) Judo takes from jujutsu ("gentle art") the principle of using one's opponent's strength against him and adapting well to changing circumstances. For example, if the attacker was to push against his opponent he would find his opponent stepping to the side and allowing (usually with the aid of a foot to trip him up) his momentum to throw him forwards (the inverse being true for pulling).

Kano saw jujutsu as a disconnected bag of tricks, and sought to unify it according to his two unifying principles. Jujutsu techniques which relied solely on superior strength were discarded or adapted in favor of those which involved redirecting the opponent's force, off balancing the opponent, or making use of superior leverage.

Techniques and Strategies

Judo is hallmarked by its myriad of throws, trips and sweeps, as well as submission techniques and pins. Modern Judo is a balance of throwing techniques while maintaining control so that pinning and submission techniques can be pursued once you are on the ground. Groundwork is only permitted to continue while progress is being made so it cannot be used for stalling or resting. About 30% of the techniques winning with ippon in modern international competition are on the ground.

Osaekomi (Hold downs)

Osaekomi (hold downs) are scored based on how long you hold your opponent to the mat. The rationale being that with the opponent held down, you have the opportunity to deliver strikes or escape in a real world scenario.

However, if the person being held down has wrapped his legs around any part of his opponent's lower body or your trunk, he is pinning his opponent as much as he is being pinned, as the opponent cannot get up and flee unless the bottom man lets go. With the legs wrapped around his opponent there are various attacking techniques the bottom man can launch from this position, including strangles, armlocks and 'do-jime' (body scissors). In this position, often referred to as "the guard" in English, the man on top does not have enough control over his adversary for the position to be considered osaekomi. The man on top can try to pass his opponent's legs and pin or submit him, or to break out of his opponent's guard and stand up, and the bottom man can try to submit his opponent from his guard, or to roll him over to get on top of him. Do-jime, is illegal in Judo competitions, but not in BJJ competitions.

Joint locks

Joint locks are effective combat techniques because they enable a judoka to control his opponent through pain-compliance, or if necessary, to cause breakage of the locked joint. Joint locks on the elbow are considered safe enough to perform at nearly full-force in competition to force submission from one's opponent. Judo has, in the past, allowed leglocks, wristlocks, shoulder locks, spinal locks and various other techniques which have since been disallowed in competition to protect athletes' safety. It was decided that attacking those other joints would result in many injuries to the athletes and would cause a gradual deterioration of these joints. Even so, some Judoka still enjoy learning and fighting each other informally using these banned techniques, and many of these techniques are still actively used in competition in other arts such as SAMBO and Ju-Jutsu.


Chokes/strangulations are Judo's most effective techniques. They enable the one applying the choke to force the adversary into unconsciousness and even death (though the people who have died doing Judo since 1882 have done so from falls and throws rather then chokes). The differences between a choke and a strangle is that chokes block the airway from the front of the neck, and a strangle cuts off the blood supply to the brain via the sides of the neck. In competition, the judoka wins the round if the opponent submits and/or fails to get out of the hold in 25 seconds. A properly applied judo choke can knock an opponent unconscious in 3 seconds.

Randori and "aliveness"

Judo emphasizes fighting (randori) as its main form of training. This distinction is significant as many of the traditional martial arts practiced in contemporary times focus entirely upon pattern repetition and non-contact sparring. Ideally, half the training time is spent fighting on the ground (ne-waza) and the other half standing up, (tachi-waza). Rarely does this happen in most Judo schools. Most schools are about 80% stand up and 20% ground. This real-time, full-speed practice is what develops the speed, timing, strength, and endurance necessary for any fighting system to be effective in a real-world scenario. This type of training is referred to as "alive" training as coined by Matt Thorton.

Judo's Balanced Approach to Fighting

Judo's balance between both the standing and ground phases of combat gives judoka the ability to take down opponents who are standing up and then pin and submit them on the ground. This balanced theory of combat has made Judo the most popular martial art in the world.


Judoka (Judo practitioners) wear white cotton uniforms called Judogi (which means Judo uniform in Japanese) for practicing Judo. Sometimes the word is seen shortened simply to "gi" (uniform). This judogi was created at the Kodokan and similar uniforms were later adopted by many other martial arts. The judogi consists of white cotton drawstring pants and a white quilted cotton jacket fastened by a colored belt indicative of kyu or dan rank. It should be noted that the colored belt system of ranking players was developed by Kano.


Typical European judo belt colors

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Brown
  • Black


Jigoro Kano's Kodokan Judo is not the only style of judo. Kano took the name Judo from Jikishin Ryu Judo, which is an older school but not really seen outside of Japan. A sub-style of Kodokan Judo that developed in Japanese inter-scholastic competition is known as Kosen judo with the same range of techniques but greater latitude permitted for Ne-waza (ground technique).

Teaching in France, Mikonosuke Kawaishi developed an alternative approach to instruction that continued to teach many techniques banned in modern competition. In Austria, Julius Fleck and others developed a system of throwing intended to extend Judo that they called Judo-do.

Mitsuo 'Count' Maeda introduced Judo to Brazil in the early 20th Century. At this time, groundfighting (newaza) was very popular and not yet limited by the rules. He taught Judo to Carlos Gracie (1902-94) and others in Brazil. The terms Judo and Jiu-jitsu were at that time interchangeable. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu remained rather aloof to later changes in international Judo rules which added emphasis to the standing phase of the fight, and thus evolved into a separate art.

Sport and beyond

Despite the literal meaning of judo being "the gentle way", competition judo is one the roughest and most demanding of sports. Regulation time in a World Championship or Olympic match is only 5 minutes, but will leave participants exhausted; in the event of a tie, matches may also proceed to an overtime phase which lasts as long as regulation time.

Because competition judo does not contain the kicking and punching so common to other martial arts, Judo is often portrayed as friendlier than boxing or kickboxing. Some believe this contributes to judo being underrated as a method of self-defense. However, while throws executed with proper break falls on soft mats can seem light and graceful, their more practical application on a hard surface (and potentially with greater intent to harm) could be very dangerous. Even in the controlled environments of a match or dojo training session, injuries can easily occur due to a lapse in focus or overzealous application of a technique. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Judo techniques are often effective in self-defense situations.

Due to their knowledge in ne-waza/grappling and tachi-waza/standing-grappling, various accomplished judo practitioners have also competed in mixed martial arts matches. Hidehiko Yoshida, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and World Judo Champion in 1999, is well-known in PRIDE Fighting Championships, as is Fedor Emelianenko, PRIDE's current heavy weight champion. Karo Parisyan, an Armenian-born judoka now fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has demonstrated the application of judo techniques to mixed martial arts in the United States. It should be noted that the ability to throw an opponent to his back and apply a pinning technique is of enormous importance in these kinds of competitions, as is the ability to finish off a downed opponent with strikes or a submission-move. Judo, uniquely among combat sports, puts equal emphasis on the initial throwing and the final pinning and submitting phases of combat, ideally enabling practitioners to dominate grappling-fights from the get-go.