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Judo – The Gentle Way


The Combat Sport of Judo


Judo, which translates to “the gentle way,” is a Japanese form of martial arts that is today practiced as both a combat and Olympic sport. Judo is largely practiced in a competitive format, contrary to many Eastern martial arts. The primary focus of judo is in its throws, takedowns, and immobilization techniques, though it also incorporates a variety of other movements. Judo is a widely-recognized martial art and is popular worldwide, as well as being responsible for inspiring offshoot schools of martial arts, such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Sambo (a Russian martial art form).


Judo is a full contact martial art, meaning that during competitions and sparring full contact between fighters is permitted. This stands counter to light and semi contact martial arts, which are focused more on technique and form than on actual strikes.


The Philosophy of Judo


The philosophy of judo ties closely with its physical expression – judo is all about performing techniques with the highest possible efficiency, turning opponent's force against them to counter any type of attack. One of the core concepts of judo is the idea of “ju yoku go o seiso,” which means  “softness controls hardness,” and this applies not only to the physical exchange between fighters but their mental states as well.


A combatant that is focused, serene, and aware will prevail over an opponent whose mind is not properly centered. The philosophy also promotes adaptability, both in combat and in lifestyle and mental state, and students who have trained in judo for extended periods of time often exhibit resistance to stress and a high level of mental endurance. Another tenet of judo is jita kyoei, which means “mutual welfare.” Jita kyoei encourages students of judo to help one another become more skilled at their martial art, but also to aid each other in daily life.


Judo also takes several ideologies from Confucianism, and uses the martial arts training form as a way to improve the self and strengthen the spirit. Despite initially negative social perception of the martial sport, judo came to be widely accepted and practiced around the world.


Judo's History


Unlike most other forms of martial art, judo's history can largely be tied to a single man – the founter of judo, Jigoro Kano. The son of a wealthy family, Kano later became an educator and sort of Renaissance man, but as a child he was bullied so much at his school that he sought out a means of self-defense through training in jujutsu. Kano was unable to find a teacher willing to train him for several years, due to jujutsu's failing popularity after the Tokugawa shogunate's decline.


Kano trained under Fukuda Hachinosuke, with a strong emphasis on free practice (rather than highly structured drills) that carried over into Kano's development of judo. When Fukuda later passed away, Kano trained under Iso Masamoto, who began to give Kano control of training sessions as he showed great promise. Eventually, Kano created a dojo of his own, using a Buddhist temple as his training grounds, and took on students until the school later gained popularity.


Today, judo is practiced worldwide, with a number of different specializations and styles being taught at various schools and dojos. Elements of judo have been incorporated into other martial arts, and its techniques are present in everything from Hollywood films to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.


Judo Techniques


Techniques in judo are referred to as waza, and there are three primary types of waza used in judo. Nage-waza are throwing techniques, katame-waza are grappling techniques, and atemi-waza are striking techniques. The focus of judo lies mainly within nage-waza and katame-waza, though the level of specialization varies between dojos. Each major category of waza can be subdivided into more specific techniques.


Nage-waza includes standing techniques and sacrifice techniques, each of which has several forms. Standing techniques are designed to allow the tori (taker, or person performing the throw) to throw the uke (attacker, or person being thrown) without sacrificing one's balance. Sacrifice techniques are called such because they sacrifice the center of gravity during the throw, making them higher-risk. Standing techniques include hand, hip, and foot or leg throws, while sacrifice techniques include rear and side throws. Each nage-waza has several phases – kuzushi, which is the point at which balance is broken, tsukuri, the turn and preparation for the throw, and kake, the execution of the throw.


Katame-waza are broken into three forms, each of which can be used to achieve a different result. Osaekomi-waza are holds or pins, shime-waza are strangles, and kansetsu-waza are joint locks. The holds in katame-waza has the tori pin the uke on his back against the floor. Strangles allow the tori to force a submission via a choke hold. Joint locks can be used to set up throws or force submissions by putting pressure on joints, though currently in competitive judo only elbow-locks are accepted.


Atemi-waza is a minor technique in judo, and is not typically permitted in a competition setting. However, the striking techniques are learned as a form of self-defense, and to help students learn to defend against striking techniques of other martial arts schools. Strikes in judo are aimed at vital points on the body, in order to disable opponents.


Training in judo can take several different forms, with the most common being randori, or free practice (randori literally translates into “taking chaos”). Unlike many other types of Eastern martial arts, judo's freeform practice sessions are highly emphasized, as it simulates something closer to an actual combat scenario than predetermined exercises. Depending on the type of waza being practiced as well as the skill level of the students, different paces and intensities may be set.


That said, predetermined exercise routines do have their place in judo, and these are known as kata. Kata in judo are almost always practiced with a partner, and are geared more toward newer students or when introducing a new technique. They can also be used to help students change their execution of a given waza, or to demonstrate movements that are not allowed during free practice. Some schools also perform kata in order to demonstrate historical waza which are no longer used in competition.


During any form of practice, it is important for both partners to be fully aware of one another's movements. Improper execution of a throw or any form of poor technique can lead to injury for either member, and thus one of the most important things that new students learn is ukemi, which is essentially how to fall correctly. The uke partner actually tends to be the more experienced partner in a given sparring match, as knowing how to correctly tumble or fall from a given technique is crucial to avoid injury.


Modern Judo Competition


Modern judo rules are designed not only to keep competitions fair and safe, but also to enforce good etiquette and sportsmanship. Each form of competition may have variations on any set of rules, but common rules include limiting combatants to the competition area (typically a mat), as well as penalties for attempting to stall the match or performing illegal or unsafe techniques. Some competitions will disqualify or penalize competitors that demonstrate poor sportsmanship or behavior.


Judo competitors are typically broken up by weight class, with seven divisions ranging from below 60 kg (about 132 pounds) to over 100 kg (220 pounds). Matches are won either by throwing an opponent with his back landing on the mat. Sufficient force will score an ippon and secure a win, while insufficient force (but a successful throw) will score a waza-ari, two of which will also win the match. If the opponent lands on his or her side after a throw, a yuko is scored. A match cannot be won through yuko, but they are typically the deciding factor in a tie.


Ippon can also be scored through a submission hold, or pinning an opponent on his or her back for twenty seconds. Submissions occur when the competitor being held taps the mat or his or her opponent, or gives a verbal signal. Pins of insufficient length will score either a waza-ari (more than fifteen but less than twenty seconds) or yuko (at least ten seconds).


If no advantage is held at the end of the match's time limit, then a sudden death is typically called, during which the clock is reset and the first competitor to score wins. If the clock runs out again, the match goes to decision (Hantei), and the judges use various factors such as yuko points to decide the winner. Some competitions have done away with the judge's decision, and use a sudden death round with no time limit instead.


A match may also end in one contestant being disqualified if too many shido (“guidance”), a light penalty, are called. Shido are not considered in overall score, but accruing four shido penalties results in a hansoku make, or “foul play defeat,” which means an automatic loss.