Judo, meaning "gentle way", is a modern Japanese martial art (gendai budo) and combat sport, that originated in Japan in the late nineteenth century. Its most prominent feature is its competitive element, where the object is to either throw one’s opponent to the ground, immobilize or otherwise subdue one’s opponent with a grappling maneuver, or force an opponent to submit by joint locking the elbow or by applying a choke. Strikes and thrusts (by hands and feet) – as well as weapons defences – are a part of Judo, but only in pre-arranged forms (Kata) and are not allowed in judo competition or free practice (randori).

Ultimately, the philosophy and subsequent pedagogy developed for judo became the model for almost all modern Japanese martial arts that developed from "traditional" schools (koryu). Practitioners of judo are called judoka.

Judo is many things to different people. It is a fun sport, an art, a discipline, a recreational or social activity, a fitness program, a means of self-defense or combat, and a way of life. It is all of these and more.

Kodokan Judo comes to us from the fighting system of feudal Japan. Founded in 1882 by Dr. Jigoro Kano, Judo is a refinement of the ancient martial art of Jujutsu. Dr. Kano, President of the University of Education, Tokyo, studied these ancient forms and integrated what he considered to be the best of their techniques into what is now the modern sport of Judo.

Judo is a Japanese Martial Art. Judo is a style, or school of Jujitsu. Jujitsu is a martial art with a long history in Japan and is essentially the empty handed combat of the Samurai warrior. Judo is often translated as “Gentle Way”, but this is an overly simplistic translation and there is really much more to it.

"Ju" refers to flexibility, agility or gentleness. A gentleness like water, kind to all living things but can wear away the strongest rock. "Ju" also implies a "mind -body" connection.

"Do" is a road or a path, a way. "Do" sometimes means principle.

So a less elegant translation of the word judo would be the “principle of mental-physical coordination and a special kind of agility." The word "judo" shares the same root ideogram as "jujutsu": "jū" (柔, "jū"), which may mean "gentleness", "softness", "suppleness", and even "easy", depending on its context. Such attempts to translate jū are deceptive, however.

The use of ju in each of these words is an explicit reference to the martial arts principle of the "soft method" (柔法, jūhō). The soft method is characterized by the indirect application of force to defeat an opponent. More specifically, it is 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 (often 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 a principle; he found it in the notion of "maximum efficiency". Jujutsu techniques which relied solely on superior strength were discarded or adapted in favour of those which involved redirecting the opponent’s force, off balancing the opponent, or making use of superior leverage.

Judo was introduced into the Olympic Games in 1964 and is practiced by millions of people throughout the world today. People practice Judo to excel in competition, to stay in shape, to develop self-confidence, and for many other reasons. But most of all, people do Judo just for the fun of it. A practitioner of judo is traditionally known as a judoka. According to Nobuo Akiyama and Carol Akiyama’s Japanese Grammar, 2nd edition, "the suffix -ka, when added to a noun, means a person with expertise or special knowledge on that subject." The term judoka refers to any practitioner of a judo; no "expertise" as such is necesssarily implied.

Judo is best known for it’s spectacular throwing techniques but also involves considerable grappling on the ground utilizing specialized pins, control holds, arm locks, and Judo choking techniques. Judo emphasizes safety, and full physical activity for top conditioning. Judo is learned on special mats for comfort and safety. Judo is unique in that all age groups, both sexes, and most disabled persons can participate together in learning and practicing the sport. Judo is an inexpensive, year-round activity, that appeals to people from all walks of life. Many people over sixty years of age enjoy the sport, as well as very young boys and girls.

Judo develops self-discipline and respect for oneself and others. Judo provides the means for learning self-confidence, concentration, and leadership skills, as well as physical coordination, power, and flexibility. As a sport that has evolved from a fighting art, it develops complete body control, fine balance, and fast reflexive action. Above all, it develops a sharp reacting mind well-coordinated with the same kind of body. Judo training gives a person an effective self-defense system if the need arises.

The literal meaning of judo is "the gentle way", but competition judo, one of the roughest and most demanding of sports, could hardly be called gentle. 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 proceed to an overtime phase called Golden Score which can last 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, for instance, Karate (although some forms of Karate emphasize the control of character and aggression). Proponents believe this contributes to judo being underrated as a method of self-defence although advanced kata do contain defences against kicking, punching, and armed techniques. In addition, 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 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.

Filed under: Martial Arts Styles

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