Many people have a pre-conceived notion of what they believe Judo to be which is well wide of the mark. Judo bears no resemblance whatsoever to many of the martial arts it is so often associated with.
Judo was developed in Japan by Dr Jigoro Kano towards the end of the 19th century and has evolved from being a martial art into one of the world’s most popular sports. Since its inclusion in the 1964 Olympic Games judo has progressed rapidly and is without doubt the world’s most popular combat sport. Judo is however much more than a sport, it is also seen to be effective as an educational system in both physical and moral spheres.
The moral benefits of judo are a direct result of the transition from martial art to what Kano termed “Do” or “way of life”. Kano added a strict code of ethics and a humanitarian philosophy to his system. His judo instructors and students were expected to be outstanding examples of good character and honest conduct. Combat outside of the training hall or behaviour that brought shame to the school would lead to suspension or even expulsion. Kano’s ultimate concern for the well being of both the individual and the community is reflected in his teaching methods and one of judo’s guiding principles is “mutual benefit and prosperity”. Kano believed that the diligent practice of judo should lead to the realisation that one could not progress at the expense of others; only mutual prosperity offered the key to any real progress in human life. These principles still underpin the sport today and this can be seen from the respect shown between rival exponents.
Contest judo is derived from techniques that were traditionally used in Japan to kill or severely injure opponents on the battlefield – these techniques have been refined and modified and contest rules have been applied to make them safe. Punching, kicking and gouging for example is not allowed, the object of the contest being to throw the opponent largely onto their back with considerable force and speed – this scores “Ippon” and ends the contest.
Naturally players are taught to fall in such a manner that they land safely, great emphasis is placed on mastering the several methods of breakfalling since this gives players the confidence to participate fully. It is also possible to score ippon by pinning the opponent to the mat for a period of twenty-five seconds. In addition to the sought after Ippon, smaller scores are given for less successful throws and hold-downs broken before the twenty-five second limit.
There are even benefits in defeat though as the sport lays great emphasis on discipline and self-control – it is rare indeed to see a player ungracious in defeat at any level from Club training to International competition. A handshake almost always follows the traditional courteous rei (bow) at the end of a contest and the defeated player, though perhaps disappointed with the result, remains respectful of the winner.
More than one hundred years after Dr Jigoro Kano the founder of judo said, “Judo is a teaching for life itself and with it we learn to overcome the pitfalls and obstacles of everyday living” his words still ring true. A man of great vision Kano summed up judo by saying “it is the way to most efficiently use one’s mental and physical strength. By training, one should discipline and cultivate the body and spirit through the practice of techniques of offence and defence, thereby to master the essence of judo. And, by these means, it is the ultimate goal of judo to build oneself up to perfection and thereby benefit the world.”