Overview of Judo

Judo is one of Japan's martial arts, with a strong international following, and an official Olympic sport since 1964.

Judo, literally the "way of softness," developed from an earlier form of unarmed martial art called jujutsu (literally the "technique of softness"), learned from the Asian continent. Judoists practise such techniques as throwing, grappling, and attacking vital points for self-defense and for competition, but the practice of judo is also meant to develop sharp mental powers and to build a correct moral attitude.

Judo's history begins with unarmed combat techniques practised by warriors grappling on the battlefield during Japan's civil war period (15th-16th centuries). When Japan was at peace during the Edo period (1600-1868), these techniques were incorporated into a popular art of self-defense and mental and physical training called jujutsu that spawned some 179 schools.

Jujutsu declined in the Meiji period (1868-1912) along with the wave of Westernization and modernization, but was revived under the efforts of martial arts expert Kano Jigoro (1860-1938). Kano modernized the techniques of one school and organized a system of training and competition, which continues today. In 1952 the International Judo Federation was established, which in 1998 had 177 member countries. Judo is taught from elementary school level in Japan.

Techniques (waza) are divided into three categories: throwing (nagewaza), grappling (katamewaza), and attacking vital points (atemiwaza). The first two are used in competition, but the atemiwaza is used only in practice. Agility is essential, and judo movements are loose and natural. In modern-day judo competition, a match begins after competitors bow to each other and the main judge gives a command. A full point, called ippon, is awarded for a successful throwing, holding, strangling, or joint-lock technique. The match ends as soon as one of the contestants receives ippon. If time runs out, the judges can award victory based on partial points or call a draw.

Kano Jigoro also devised a system of ranks (dan) and classes (kyu) for judoists, which is recognized internationally. Judoists ranked 1 to 5 may wear a black belt, 6 to 8 scarlet and white striped belt, and 9 to 10 scarlet. Colored belts may only be worn after qualifying through a series of classes.

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