Saturday, August 30, 2008

Judo is dead in Japan

There is quite a spirited discussion going on over on the judo listserver about the scope of judo and whether or not Olympic-style competition is good for judo and judoka in general. Richard Porro of Friendswood Judo posted the following interesting story (which I got permission to excerpt here).
I thought that this story was very interesting, because I too, have heard from Japanese who learned judo in Japan in the 1950s, or whose teachers were 1950’s judoka, that judo (real judo) is dead in Japan. And that it (the judo ideal) only lives on in isolated pockets throughout the world (USA, Brazil, Southwest Mississippi, etc...).
2 weeks ago at the dojo I was lecturing the students after observing a session of randori. For the first time since I started judo I have a group of high school and early college students. They all want to compete ... After they were watching the Olympic matches from the links you folks sent to me and which I forwarded on to them. They all wanted to emulate the athletes. Well low and behold I started seeing too much grip fighting, the "tee pee" stance. And a reliance of force over technique. I stopped the class and started my tirade. I told them not to emulate these people. They are not doing judo and that they are merely wrestling.

One of my students is a 6 year old boy half Japanese and half American. He was brought up in Japan the first 4 years of his life and started judo when he was 5 in Florida. Japanese is his first language and his mother, who is Japanese, comes to class and watches every week. As I was bitching about the muscling of judo I noticed her paying attention and nodding her head. After class she paid me the biggest compliment I ever received. It almost brought a tear to my eye and gave me validation. She told me that she called her mother in Japan to send her some matches of judo so her son could see high level judo from Japanese players. She told me that her mother replied and said judo was dead in Japan. I asked her why she said that. She told me that judo is no longer the same judo that her father and grandfather studied. That the sport has devolved into a form of wrestling and muscle was substituted for techniques. She then went on to tell me that of all the judo schools she checked out that mine was the closest to that of her father taught her. And that I was keeping the principles of Japanese judo and its philosophies alive.
She told me about a conversation she had with her mother that judo today whether American or Japanese was dead as she and her family learned .it. She went on to tell me that "ju" in judo was replaced with "go" something I said on list a few years ago. She also told me that the emphasis in judo was to apply these techniques using kusushi by movement and control of Uke. Not by forcing an opponent off balance but to "lead him off balance. Now by no means am I comparing my judo that I do personally to any figure past or present. But I am trying to teach the art the closest I can from papers I have read and my own personal research I have complied. students have become very adept at applying their techniques fairly slowly and using principles of body rise and body fall. Even though Uke my be attacking quickly by moving off line and leading them to a balance point. they can throw most people the compete against. My past students always win medals from regional on down/ although I had 3 triple crown winners and the same three winning gold s at the junior national a few years back using my methods. So not only did I, and do I get validation from my theories in contest but now I get them from a Japanese citizen who did judo in Japan when she was young as well as her family.
This one compliment from ... the mother, was so near to my heart that if I died today I felt like I accomplished something. Judo may have changed over the years to a mere sport where the object is to get your opponent on his back by any means necessary opposed to getting him on his back with the applied principles of the art. And yes there is a difference.
What do y'all think of that?


  1. I think that is very interesting... I'm learning chin na from a bunch of ex karate guys (1st - 3rd dans) who now are devoted to Praying Mantis and chin na.

    One of the reasons for their devotion to their given arts is the sports dilution in many of the other arts. Now I know Wikipedia is a questionable source but I thought this little gem might add to your post:

    "BJJ is closer to the original early 1900s judo than current Olympic judo is."

    Another version of the taekwondo effect?

  2. Frankly, the situation doesn't surprise me. We all have dreams--well, some of us have dreams, anyway--of seeing widespread participation in our martial arts, done the way they're supposed to be, but the horrible reality is that most people just aren't interested in learning the real thing. Most people are just more interested in winning a game and having some fun. If they can delude themselves that what they are learning will be valuable for self-defense against someone bigger and stronger and/or better-armed than they are, so much the better. But the game comes first.

    And you know, that's fine for them. Each to his own, y'know? To my mind, there will always be people interested in the old techniques and methods--just not very many.

  3. From what little I know (and I stress "little"), the judo I watched in this year's Olympics looked a LOT different than the tapes of Mifune and his students you showed me before. It really does look different with Tori leading Uke off-balance than forcing him there. I also completely agree with Dan as far as most people just doing it to win some game and doing what they need to within the confines of the rules to win.

  4. One of my early training buddies was this huge Judo national player, and he told me of the massive amounts of politics within his game - and also of the fact they promoted him to black belt because he was huge and strong and needed a BB to compete in some international tournament. Yet he hadn't really learned many of the things he needed for that level and like you said often relied on his strength to pull him through the day.


  5. Give me a break.

    These people arguing about "Japanese judo" can't even keep there own argument straight.

    On the one hand, they want everyone to play "ippon judo" but that is attacking-style judo with big throws. Then on the other hand, they want to decry people not playing defensively and using people's force against them.

    They criticize players that go for pickups even though morote-gari and kata-garuma are in Mifune's Cannon of Judo (he's the poster boy for their style).

    Then to top it all off, they have the gall to criticize other players (always Westerners) for being "too defensive" and relying on sacrifice throws that -- now get this -- USE THE OPPONENT'S FORCE AGAINST THEM.

    You can look at any thread on to see loads of this.

    Basically the problem is that the foreigners have learned too much and the Japanese can't stand it. Nobody outlawed ippon. It's right there for people to score.

    It's one of those "he won but..." arguments where the guy isn't breaking any rules but he's beating people that aren't supposed to get beaten. So the rules have to be tweaked to ...ahem...prevent that little discretion.

    But don't mind me...:)

  6. Good points, Formosa Dave, but I think the contrast between purity and pragma is a good thing. It helps to keep you steered in the right direction and also helps you stay grounded in reality.

    You have to promote both the ippon ideal as well as the sufficient proficiency ideal. see my earlier article at:

  7. Pat,
    Good points raised in that other post.

    Depending on what rules the IJF will change, the dynamism between those two ideas may get narrowed a bit.

    I see a certain amount of healthy tension between the traditional and sport elements in judo. But many people want that tension to go away (see the forum I mentioned) in favor of traditional, especially after the last Olympics.

    These two aspects are what makes judo such a great art. without both of them, I don't think I'd be learning the art.

    IMO people had better be careful that they don't kill off what makes the art appealing.

  8. I compare watching olympic judo with watching a ben stiller movie. You hold you head down the whole time, embarassed about whats on the screen.

    Someone mentioned general breakdowns in martial arts and I agree, Judo has become the new Taekwondo, watching olympic taekwondo is like having teeth pulled...out of your thigh...


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