Why Choose Judo?
It’s worth asking. I mean, with all the martial arts out there, Why practice Judo?
In this blog we’ll look at 3 areas of Judo, the history, the character development found within Judo and the pragmatic application of Judo as a martial art.
If you’re like me the history of the martial arts in Japan is a subject that fascinated you since childhood with stories of Samurai and Ninjas, the almost mythological figures who founded arts like Karate and Aikido, or famous swordsmen like Miyamoto Musashi and Yamaoka Tesshu.
Jigoro Kano, though his achievement as a martial artist is hugely impressive, doesn’t ever appear as a larger than life character, but rather a conscientious and diligent person who dedicated himself to mastering his body and mind, and sharing his art with others.
For me this is very inspirational because it reminds me that with effort and consistency I too can improve much more than I often think I can.
Kano founded Judo in the 1880’s during a period of intensive cultural change within Japan, a period of modernisation, industrialisation, and Westernisation. With this came a rapid change in the Japanese understanding of warfare and policing.
The archetypal warrior and keeper of order in Japan, the Samurai, were full-time warriors and loyal to a particular Daimyo, a regional Lord underneath the ruler of Japan, the Shogun.
As full-time warriors Samurai were expected to master a vast range of skills and weaponry. From riding and maintaining horses, mastering archery, swordsmanship, the use of the spear, being able to move across hostile terrain in full armour, battlefield tactics, and unarmed combat. In addition to this the higher caste Samurai were expected to master a non-combat artform such as the tea ceremony (Chado), calligraphy (Shodo), poetry (Haiku) or other art.
As such Samurai were similar to medieval European Knights in that they both shared nobility, education, prowess and social respect. As the cultural and technological landscape of Japan shifted the status the Samurai came under threat, and so did their martial arts.
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When Jigoro Kano studied Jujutsu, which he did under a number of different teachers, it was typically seen as a disreputable thing to do. Kano wanted to change this and so along with the physical art of Judo, Kano emphasised the pedagogical and social benefit of Judo, and in 1911 Judo became part of the national school curriculum of Japan.
Repeatedly in Kano’s writing he mentions not only personal benefit in studying Judo, but that Judo’s benefit should ripple out into one’s personal and social life. How?
Through character development and understanding certain core principles Judo benefits oneself and others. What are these principles and how do they apply to both combat and benefiting others?
A core concept in Judo is Seiryoku Saizen Katsuyo, shortened to Seiryoku Zenyo, which means ‘putting your energy to work most effectively’. In BJJ this is often what is meant by Alavanca, a concept derived from Kano’s Judo.
Waza, or technique, in Judo should follow the concept of Seiryoku Zenyo. When you are trying to throw a resisting opponent to the floor against their will it is crucially important that one’s technique be as absolutely energy efficient as it can possibly be!
Whether one is an adult or a child a beginning Judo this lesson of making the best use of one’s energy in whatever endeavour we undertake is taught through the practical act of taking part in Judo.
This concept of using one’s energy wisely then is implicitly taught through the practical application of randori, or sparring, which Kano was pioneering in heavily emphasising in his Judo.
A second core concept in Kano’s philosophy of Judo is ‘jita kyoei’, which means ‘mutual benefit’.
Mutual benefit is something that is important for us as individuals and for us a culture. Mutual benefit is taught very naturally to both adults and children studying Judo.
When we train we understand that if we take care of our training partner and help them learn they will take care of us and help us learn.
Jita kyoei, mutual benefit, occurs very easily when I am throwing someone and they help me to see where my technique is not as good as it could be.
If I have an aggressive personality and am rough on my training partners then there will very likely be someone much better than me in the dojo. By being rough on me and helping me see that this is unpleasant and counterproductive to learning then mutual benefit again occurs. I change my behaviour, and become a helpful addition to my dojo. The wider implications to culture are easy to see here.
A third concept in Judo is ‘Jinsei no koro wa tada itsu aru nomi’, or ‘There is only one path in life’.
The meaning of this is to be clear in one’s intentions and dedicated to one’s goal. Life will inevitably have many setbacks, frustrations, hardships, and even successes that can easily waylay us from our goals and aspirations in life.
Judo, through the practical application of technique and sparring, teaches us that no matter how many times we get knocked down, we have the capacity to get back up and make progress.
Whether we are an adult or a child this is a crucial lesson in our ability to be of benefit to the world around us and have an inner wellspring of positive self regard.
The practical application of Judo as a martial art is grounded in the historical context of its founding, which it has remained true to.
The posture of Judo is upright so that one stands on one’s own two feet. This allows mobility, awareness of one’s surroundings, and a strong connection between the upper and lower body through the ‘hara’, or center of power in the abdomen.
The ability a Judoka develops to control another person while standing, to throw them, to control, submit, or render them unconscious on the floor has obvious implications as a martial system. It also has obvious implications as a peaceful system as an individual doesn’t need to rely on using strikes to injure one’s opponent.
To see all these principles manifest themselves there is a beautiful video of Judo Fanatics instructor Yarden Gerbi teaching children Judo here:
To see Olympic medalist and World Champion Judoka Yarden Gerbi’s instructional series ‘Fundamental Judo Mastery’ on Judo Fanatics go here!