My thoughts about Judo

Judo was the first martial art I have ever practiced and, even after many years, I have good memories of the experience and I can still use good part of what I have learnt at the time.

Description

Judo is essentially a martial art based on throwing techniques: the intent, when two people start fighting, is to drop somehow the opponent and then follow up with grappling.  Grappling means wrestling on the floor using various techniques to immobilize the opponent (keeping both shoulders on the floor for at least 10 seconds), to strangle her or to apply joint locks, specifically elbows: once one of the fighters is caught in one of these situations she will have to give up by tapping with one hand the floor or the opponent body to avoid real damage.

History

Judo is a Japanese martial art that was defined by Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century as a fair, sport orientated, derivative of Ju Jitsu.  Most ancient martial arts were invented and practiced for situations when loosing a fight meant being seriously injured or killed.  Ju Jitsu is a martial art with over 500 years of history that was taught to samurais, useful to fight bare handed in a broad range of situations with the intent of surviving life threatening attacks.  Many applications of Ju Jitsu are meant to seriously arm or kill the opponent and this obviously doesn’t apply very well in a competitive sport.  Judo was the first martial art to be an Olympic sport and it gained  at some point great popularity in the US and Europe as long as it was one of the few martial arts broadly available.

What I like about Judo

Judo teaches and greatly improves awareness about balance and how to cause an opponent to loose it: it works well if and when an attacker grabs you by the lapel or any part of your clothing.  It is also ideal when somebody pushes you aggressively: with a simple movement or a little sweeping technique you can simple drop the attacker on the floor and, if she has no experience in martial arts, she won’t know how it happened.  In a typical Japanese fashion Judo classes are highly structured, instilling good discipline and great respect for the opponent.  Although much of its training is very physical it is reasonably safe and a great work out of for most parts of the body.  Given the relatively gentle approach that can be applied to its teaching, Judo can be taught to young children both male and female: it could be a great starting point for children interested in martial art and for parents that support the idea.

What I don’t like about Judo

I find Judo inadequate for self defence purposes because of its basic structure.  Although its aim is to redirect the opponent’s force and use it to your advantage I found it not as applicable as it sounds.  I met many people, with senior ranks in Judo, that had the opportunity of testing this on their on skin, with dear consequences. It is known that Judo’s curriculum includes, for top ranked practitioners, strikes similar to the ones used by Karate or other striking styles.  Nonetheless I never encountered or heard of anybody practicing these techniques.  That means that all training relies on the opponent grabbing you with the intention of applying a Judo technique.  This is pretty much useless if somebody, as it can happen in many cases in the street, attacks you with a strike of some kind, either a punch or a kick.  The other bad habit instilled by Judo is relying on an opponent wearing a Gi (typical jacket and trousers made out of thick cotton fabric) that has broad and strong sleeves and a belt: if you face an opponent wearing t-shirt and shorts you’ll find that good part of the common techniques of this style do not work because you cannot grab your opponent in a way that allows you to apply the technique itself.  Although in terms of safety Judo training is reasonably safe I know of many joint and shoulder injuries caused by excessively zealous joint locks or wrong fall breaks.

Conclusions

I am convinced that some of the basics of Judo are very useful concepts to be aware of: at the same I would not rely on this martial art for self defence because of its intrinsic limitations.  I therefore would not suggest considering Judo as a unique martial art to be learnt.

In any case I firmly believe that a decent or good knowledge of two or three martial arts is fundamental to have a reasonable understanding of how the same thing can be done differently.

5 thoughts on “My thoughts about Judo

  1. I have around 10 years of Judo experience myself (when I was a youngster!). I agree with a lot of what you say on the subject. It is true that many Judo techniques depend on the GI and assume a confrontation that involves grappling/wrestling either on the floor or standing – having said that, we used to practice defences against strikes at my Judo club. I think that ALL martial arts have limitations in self defense situations. Having studied kickboxing and multi-combat for the last four years, I am finding limitations in those systems also. This makes me agree stongly with your points that you should learn as many different styles/schools as possible in order to give yourself ‘some’ experience in many types of confrontation. Having lots of options in an unpredictable situation like a street fight seems sensible. I think it is rediculous for any ‘style’ to claim it works in any situation. Show me a style that stops bullets with bare hands and I may change my mind! 😉

  2. While pure competition-style Judo does seem to make Judo a pretty limited style, any decent Judoka has gained a solid grappling base that makes for an excellent “self-defense” style (I put self-defense in quotations because the notion of training a martial art solely for self-defense is silly; if you’re that worried, save yourself the time and money and just buy a gun…)

    It seems like you don’t account for the Judoka’s ability to do things differently outside of a pure Judo competition or training environment. Sure, most of the throwing techniques rely heavily on the Gi, but anybody with a solid base in Judo can apply these techniques with modified grips for a no-gi environment; Judoka don’t have a hard time transitioning into wrestling. Furthermore, many Judo throws can be modified to some degree to be more dangerous (dropping an opponent on their head instead of the back, for example). I’d also like to point out that, in light of you mentioning “the street”, few things are more dangerous than being forcibly thrown onto concrete.

    Finally, the ground aspect of Judo, which is very similar to basic Brazillian Jiu Jitsu (the latter having been developed largely from the former), entails choking and joint-lock techniques. These are fight-enders. Somebody cannot continue to competently attack you after you dislocate their shoulder, snap their elbow, or especially after you choke them unconscious =).

    While it is true that Judo is a grappling-only style, I would argue that the low cost, high availability, and full-contact training environment of Judo make it one of the best martial arts to train for the hypothetical self-defense situation.

  3. @Jim: Thank you for your comment that contains very useful concepts. First of all I would like to point out that my post’s title is “My Thoughts about Judo” and obviously it reflects what is my experience in practicing the martial art: otherwise I could have called it, arrogantly, “the truth about Judo”. I will therefore dispute some of your statements because my point of view and perspective is different. Perhaps your definition of a decent Judoka is different from mine but I would expect that 2-3 years should be enough to have an idea of what an art is and how it applies. Judo instils great grappling skills, nearly 30 years after I stopped training it I still feel comfortable practicing it. In any case my simple points about Judo weaknesses are still the following: lack of training against strikes – if an opponent strikes first either punching or kicking the average Judo practitioner will struggle to block that attack; if the first attack lands well the fight might be over and have no time or energy for retaliation. Judo relies in some measure on body mass – a 50 Kg practitioner will have little or chance against an 80 or 100 Kg one. Judo doesn’t apply to multiple opponents – while you grab and take care of one opponent the other(s) can simply surround you and attack you from different angles and with a variety of strikes. Last but not least Judo’s training doesn’t even contemplate the possibility of an opponent striking you while grappling as it happens in MMA fights and how it would likely happen in the street.

    A little example of what I am saying, going back to self defence, is given by one of my students: I am aware to be statistically poor being it a sample of one but I like to mention it anyway. A.M. is a 5’7” (170cm) tall, 65Kg, 37 years old male, who was attacked by 3 large guys, in their early twenties and all over 6’ (180cm) tall: there was no reason for the attack if not the simply “let’s have a go at a smaller guy”. Relying on his striking skills he shove one away, punch another one to the throat and another one to the nose, breaking it. The attackers run away. I am assuming a judoka would have been beaten up.

  4. Very well written/detailed description about how judo works as a martial art. You make a lot of good points on how it has some holes in its teachings

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