The Ultimate Guide to Judo

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The Ultimate Guide to Judo

Judo, one of the most popular martial arts practiced today as well as it is an Olympic sport, is a relatively new martial art compared to many other martial art styles. An estimated 50 million people practice Judo and there is a great reason why, it is becasue Judo is a highly effective grappling based martial art that helps people both on the mat and off of the mat.

Judo in Kanji
Judo in Kanji

The literal meaning of Judo in Japanese is “gentle way” and it was developed in Japan by Jigoro Kano as a way to bring Jujutsu to the masses in a safe, efficient and effective manner.

Kano intended to do this by creating a sport element in his new found art which focused on throwing or taking down an opponent to the ground in order to effectively apply grappling techniques such as chokes, joint manipulations and pins.

A very interesting and unknown fact about Judo is that there were actually striking techniques included, they just were not allowed when competing and were there for more a self-defense purpose. Strikes such as kicks, punches and the famous Judo chop were part of Kano’s Judo curriculum.

Kano refinement of the older art of Jujutsu, organization and structure of his system became a prime example for other arts to follow and it is not uncommon for modern Japanese arts to be heavily influenced by the methodology that Kano used in creating his new martial art.

Who was Jigoro Kano

Jigoro Kano Judo Founder
Jigoro Kano Judo Founder

Jigoro Kano was born in 1860 in Japan into a prosperous family and it should be noted that Kano’s father was a Shinto priest as well as he did work for the Japanese government, this must be noted as it had direct influence on Kano’s education as well as perhaps Kano’s understanding and appreciation of philosophy – which can later be seen in his choosing “do” as the suffix of the named of his system instead of “jutsu”. “Do” meaning “way” and “Jutsu” meaning “system”.

Kano’s First Martial Art was Jujutsu

The first martial art Kano practiced was Jujutsu, starting with the Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu school of Jujutsu and under the tutelage of Fukuda Hachinosuke. There was an extreme emphasis on learning and focusing on the technical aspect of Jujutsu over the physical aspect, meaning placing higher priority on sparring and less attention on exercise and conditioning.

A very interesting fact about Kano’s relationship with his first Jujutsu master is the fact that Hachinosuke’s granddaughter was one of Kano’s first students and eventually became the highest female Judoka (10th dan) ever until her death in 2013.

Kano needed to switch instructors approximately a year after beginning his training as Hachinosuke passed away, Kano chose to continue with the saem style of Jujutsu and learn from a man named Iso Masatomo. Over the course of a few years, Kano developed great skills that would enable him to become an instructor of the art at the young age of 21.

Quite like his previous instructor, Masatomo’s health deteriorated and thus caused Kano to once again search for a new school to practice and improve his skills, this led Kano to learn from a man named Iikubo Tsunetoshi. Tsunetoshi taught a different school of Jujutsu that focused much more on throwing, the school being called Kito-ryu Jujutsu.

Through constant emphasis on developing technique and Randori (free practice/sparring) Kano started to develop the skills, strategies and tactics that would evolve into his new found art…Judo.

How Did Kano Develop Judo

After years of training and ideation, Kano started training his own students, a total of 9, with some help from Iikubo at the Eishi-ju Buddist temple located in Kamakura. The name of the temple would eventually become “Kodokan”(a school or studying the way) and the art Kano would teach later became known as Kano Jiu-jitsu and Kano Jiu-Do. Kodokan would eventually be the official source and authority on Judo.

Kano wanted to differentiate from Kito-ryu by creating new techniques and a focus not only on the physical element of the martial art but on the expansion of the martial art into everyday life with emphasis also on development of character, mentality and body.

What Does Judo Mean

The name Judo came later in time as Kano wanted to differentiate his martial art from Jujutsu and it started in his naming of the art. Within the words Judo and Jujutsu there are 2 separate words, in Jujutsu it is “Ju” and “Jutsu”, where “Ju” means “gentle” and “Jutsu” means “art”. Judo is a combination of 2 words “Ju” and “Do”, Ju of course meaning “gentle” and “Do” meaning “way”. It is very important to note and understand the name’s meaning as it exposes the true nature of the martial art and reasoning behind Kano’s development of Judo.

Judo’s principles are all based upon efficiency, balance, leverage and redirecting force. On top of being a fighting system and a sport, Judo was intended to be a way of life and help people outside the Dojo (place of training) to also develop as human beings in a physical, emotional, spiritual, moral and mental way. Replacing the word “Jutsu” with the word “Do” is an immense change as it encompasses not only a fighting system but a way of life.

How is Judo Practiced

Judo is practiced in a “Dojo” (Place of the way). A Dojo can be anywhere but it needs to have soft mats in order to properly train Judo throws, takedowns, breakfalls and rolling techniques. Judo uses mats called “Tatami” mats which are perfect for the rigours of Judo. 

Tatami Judo Mat
Tatami Mat for Judo

Originally Tatami mats were made of woven rice straw but modern tatami mats are made from plastic and rubber foams that have a specific cover as well as a non-slip bottom. Generally several to even several dozen Tatami mats are placed together to inorder to prepare the Dojo for Judo practice and/or competition.

What are the Techniques of Judo

Judo is an elaborate martial art that focuses on grappling techniques such as throws, pins, take downs, trips, sweeps, chokes, joint locks and reversals. 

Kodokan Judo (Kano’s original system) also had striking techniques although in modern judo, striking techniques are very rare to be seen. There are 99 official techniques of Judo but there are hundreds more unofficial techniques that have been introduced through the sport of Judo by different countries such as Georgia, Mongolia, Brazil, France, Russia, Korea and more.

Techniques can be split into 2 main areas which are Tachi-waza (Standing techniques) and Ne-waza (ground techniques). When practicing techniques there are always 2 participants, the person performing the technique is called a “Tori” (meaning “Taker”) and the person that the technique is being performed on is called an “Uke” (Receiver).

Tachi-waza Technical Groups

Uchi Mata in Judo Competition
Judo Throw Uchi Mata

 Tachi-waza comprises several areas such as Nage-waza (Throwing) and Sutemi-waza (sacrifice moves). Tachi-waza is split into 3 more groups: Koshi-waza (Hip techniques), Te-waza (Hand techniques) and Ashi-waza (Leg techniques). Sutemi-waza is split into groups as well, Ma-sutemi-waza (where the attacker falls backwards) and Yoko-sutemi-waza (where the attacker falls on their side). 

The goal of each throw and takedown is to achieve what is called an “Ippon” (which is the highest number of points allocated in Judo, somewhat like a knockout in boxing. An Ippon is when a throw/takedown is performed flawlessly and the opponent lands flat on their back with both shoulder blades contacting the ground simultaneously).

Ne-waza Technical Groups

Ne-waza is split into 3 technical areas which are Kansetsu-waza (Joint locks and manipulations), Osaekomi-waza (pins and holding) and Shime-waza (chokes and strangulation techniques).

Judo Ne-waza armbar
Judo Ne-waza armbar

What Does a Typical Judo Training Session Look Like

A typical Judo session will start with a very thorough warmup that includes many types of rolls and breakfalls (a method to land from a throw safely), line drills with certain throwing movements, footwork drills, hip switch drills and more. 

The session will generally move to training of techniques – generally 1 technique with variations (variation can be of Judo grips), the technique will be practiced for a period of time which can differ between different schools. 

After practicing technique, there will be some time devoted to “Kumi-kata” (grip fighting). The main portion of many schools will be the “Randori” (free practice, sparring) where “Judokas” (Judo Practitioners) try out their techniques under resistance from the opponent, this can be standing up, on the ground, both standing and ground and under certain set circumstances.

Following Randori, there will be a conditioning aspect to the session that can include a variety of push ups, situps, pullups, rope climbs, squats and line walks (many times holding a training partner on the shoulders) as well as other specific judo conditioning exercises. Once conditioning is completed, there will be a period dedicated to stretching with the final phase of the Judo session dedicated to a moment of silence and a bow to the Sensei (instructor) which could be a local Sensei or a picture of Jigoro Kano.

Now it is very important to understand that each Judo class may be organized in pace, emphasis and or structure but most of the time they follow a structure more or less as provided above.

What is Kumi-kata and why is it important

When watching Judo, it is very hard not to notice the amazing and beautiful throws the art compromises of. Every single Judo throw and takedown starts from a grip and even a combination of grips. Judoka’s place a heavy emphasis on being dominant in attaining a proper grip and once a Judoka achieves a proper grip, the throw is relatively easy as they can effectively use leverage and Kazushi (breaking balance) through the grip.

Judo Master Kumi-Kata
Judo Master Kumi-Kata

Kumi-kata is the art of judo grip-fighting and it may look simple but it is a complex physical battle of wits in order to get a dominant grip with over 60 different patterns based on what side arm is grabbing the opponent’s “judogi” (judo uniform, also known as a “gi”), the level of the grip – low on the gi, high on the gi etc….and even the grabbing of the back of the gi and belt.

What is Judo Randori

An absolutely essential and paramount part of any Judo training session is randori, this is where Judoka can test out their techniques, strategies and tactics while specifically increasing their overall conditioning. Randori generally is less intense than a regulated Judo match but make no mistake as high level competition teams have very energetic randori sessions. 

Randori sessions can focus on Throwing, they can focus on groundwork and they can focus on both. Generally randori sessions are of a good sporting attitude where no matter the outcome of the match both practitioners are learning and becoming better, perhaps it is in execution of a certain technique, a reversal on the ground, a Judo submission or even surviving a certain period of time against a more advanced opponent. 

Judo Randori Throw
Judo Randori Throw

In addition to positional types of randori (standing, ground or both) there are several different types of randori which focus on certain situations/techniques (defense only, offense only, evasion etc…) that a Judoka can encounter (“Kakari Geiko”) and even on certain levels of resistance (“Ju Renshu” for example is when attacking is done in a gentle manner) in order to gradually build up the Judoka’s technique and athletic attributes.

In the case of Tachi-waza randori, once a throw/takedown is executed, they restart the match and if there is an ippon, the match is won. Ne-waza is a bit different as once there is either a pin held for a certain period of time or if there is an application of a submission or choke hold the Uke will tap their hand on the mat or on the Tori to signal that the match is over.

Newcomers to Judo often do not understand the true reasoning behind randori but it must be noted that randori and specifically the method in which Judo uses randori is one of the factors in Judo’s true dominance as a grappling art. 

Simply said, randori is a chance for Judoka to train their techniques under pressure, thus quickly throwing out techniques and tactics that do not work under pressure and focusing on high % techniques that they can count on in both competition and battle (should they need for self defence). Randori also helps increase a practitioner’s ability to use and predict Kazushi and develop their reactions to attack and/or defend an opponent’s attacks.

Does Judo Have Kata

A common misconception regarding Judo is that there are no “Kata” (form). A kata is a set of patterns where 2 practitioners perform a Judo move basic on an attack and defend pattern. The Kodokan officially recognizes 7 kata although there are more kata within Judo, they are just not recognized by the Kodokan.

What Uniform does Judo Use

Many martial arts have a standard uniform but nowhere is the uniform as important as in Judo, and it’s for a good reason. The “Judogi” (judo uniform) also known simply as a “Gi” is used as a tool for Judoka to grip and perform techniques off of. Every gi is accompanied by an “Obi” (belt), every level of expertise in Judo has its own dedicated belt colour.  

There are 2 different colours of Judogi, one being a white gi and one being a blue gi. The white gi being the original colour and the blue gi being an addition in order to better differentiate competitors in Judo competition.

Due to the fact that Judoka were throwing, gripping the uniform, taking down, choking and pinning opponents using the opponent’s gi and sometimes their own gi, the Judogi was developed to be very tough and durable. The big difference between Judogi and other martial arts system’s gi is the fact that the Judogi is much thicker and better woven (especially the jacket and collar) in order to not rip during use.

What are The Different Ranks and Belts in Judo

One of the most interesting aspects of Judo is the ranking system as it is different in certain regions of the world. Generally speaking, western countries such as Canada, Europe and Australia have 6 belts prior to black, the belts being in the order of – white, yellow, orange, green, blue and lastly brown. These are known as “Kyu” (class) in Japanese.

After a student has earned these belts the next belt is the ever so coveted black belt which in Japanese is called “Dan” (step or stage). Each level of black belt is awarded a dan, so for example a 3rd degree Judo blackbelt would be a 3rd Dan. 

The Judoka will wear a Blackbelt until the rank of 6th dan, as when 6th dan is achieved the Blackbelt will be replaced by a white and red belt (in alternating lines). This white and red belt will be worn until they reach 9th dan. It should be noted that in certain countries, the actual width of each stripe (white and red) will differ according to the dan, so for example 6th dan will be 20cm, 7th dan will be 15cm and 8th dan will be 10 cm.

The last and highest belt in Judo is the red belt which is reserved for the 9th dan and 10th dan. There have only been 15 Judokas to ever have achieved 10th Dan.

What are The Different Elements of a Judo Match

As mentioned before, there are different phases to a Judo match. Judo matches all begin standing up (tachi-waza) with both Judokas fighting to attain a proper Judo grip and thus trying to perform a throw or takedown. There are many different tactics in order to attain a proper grip with a multitude of techniques deriving from each and every grip. It is very common to see Judokas use fakes and combinations in order to effectively throw/takedown an opponent.

Ura-nage Judo throw

Once a throw/takedown has been initiated the match will continue on the ground (Ne-waza) should there be no ippon (immediate win by perfect throw for perfect points), with Judokas trying to pin, strangle, choke or apply a joint lock. Judokas are allowed only a short amount of time on the ground to apply such techniques and certain techniques can even allot points such as pins (Osaekomi-waza).

Pins that are held for 10 seconds until 19 seconds are rewarded a Waza-ari (one half point) while if a Judoka holds the opponent for 20 seconds they receive an ippon and immediately win the match.  

 It should be noted that prior to 2017, pins that were held for 20 seconds but under 25 seconds were awarded a “Yuko” (moderate advantage) with Wazari being 25 seconds to 30 seconds and an Ippon being 30 seconds, this is no longer the case as the IJF (international Judo Federation) removed the Yuko and changed the time standards for all Osaekomi-waza and associated points per time the pin is held for.

The key to high level judo is not only being competent at both Tachi-waza and Ne-waza but at the ability to effortlessly fuse the 2 together to create incredibly powerful attack combinations.

The Olympic Sport of Judo

Judo is an incredibly popular Olympic sport with 182 Olympic nations out of 197 total nations being part of the International Judo Federation (IJF)

Judo’s first Olympic appearance was at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California. Judo was an official demonstration sport that was conducted by Jigoro Kano and around 200 participants. It was only until the Tokyo Olympic games in 1964 that Judo would become an official Olympic sport. Judo originally only had 4 weight classes until 1992.

Kayla Harrison Olympic Judo Choke
Kayla Harrison Olympic Judo Choke

Women’s Judo was welcomed into the Olympics in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Male Judo matches are 5 minutes in length and Female and junior’s Judo matches are 4 minutes in length. In the case there is a tie at the end of a match, there will be an overtime period called the “Golden Score” where the first person to be awarded a point will win or if one of the opponents receives a 2nd “Shido” (light penalty) that opponent will lose. In the case that there still is a tie after the golden score period is finished, the winner will be decided by a judges decision.

IJF and Olympic Judo tournaments are held in a single elimination knockout tournament format where each the winner of a match moves on to the next round. The winner of each weight class will receive a gold medal while 2nd place receives silver and unlike most Olympic sports,there are always 2 bronze medal winners. 

What are Judo’s Weight Classes

There are officially 7 different weight classes according to the IJF (International Judo Federation) for both male and female competitors.

Male weight classes are the following:

  1. – 60kg
  2. 60 – 66kg
  3. 66 – 73kg
  4. 73 – 81kg
  5. 81 – 90kg
  6. 90kg – 100kg
  7. + 100kg

Female weight classes are the following:

  1. – 48kg
  2. 48 – 52kg
  3. 52 – 57kg
  4. 57 – 63kg
  5. 63 – 70kg
  6. 70kg – 78kg
  7. + 78kg

What are The Best Judo Countries

There are currently 182 countries that are registered with the IJF and millions of Judo players around the world who practice and compete in the sport of Judo. The most dominant Judo country is Japan and for good reason as it is the birthplace of Judo and home of the Kodokan. Japan has 3 times the gold medals than another Judo country. 

Some other historically dominant Judo nations are:

South Korea




United Kingdom


There are also some very strong Judo countries that have had a very significant influence on modern Judo as well as always being nations to deliver high quality Judo athletes:







Judo in MMA

Over the last 3 decades there has been much successful representation by Judo fighters in Mixed martial arts competitions around the world. Mixed martial arts is a form of Martial competition where any martial art, fighting system or combination of fighting systems may enter in order to fight each other. MMA fighters do not wear a gi and wear small 4-6 ounce gloves.

Fedor Training MMA Judo Sambo
Fedor Training MMA Judo Sambo

Judo has an incredible advantage when it comes to MMA as Judokas have a very dynamic takedown game, a fast and dominant ground game and the ability to defend and/or reverse any takedown, pin or submission attempt. Judokas excel at the transition of the fight from takedown to ground and often find themselves in a dominant position to either apply a tight submission or set up strikes on the ground in order to finish the opponent.

Some of the most famous Judokas to compete in MMA are Hidehiko Yoshida, Kim Dong-Hyun, Yoshihiro Akiyama,Hector Lombard, Kazuhiro Nakamura,  Ronda Rousey, Kayla Harrison, Naoya Ogawa, Leonardo Leite, Pawel Nastula, Karo Parisyan, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Satoshi Ishii and Fedor Emelianenko.

Many MMA champions have either come from a Judo background or have trained extensively in Judo as it’s techniques, mentality and physical attributes are a perfect match for any MMA fighter to use within the MMA cage and ring.

Most Judo MMA fighters crosstrain in a striking style such as boxing and Muay Thai in order to compliment their Judo skills. Judokas generally modify some of their grips in order to adapt their Judo for MMA and grappling without a gi.

Are There Different Judo Styles

Judo has several different styles as well as Judo has heavily influenced some other martial arts and grappling styles. 

It must be noted than when speaking about Judo, there is only Kodokan Judo which is Jigoro Kano’s style but as time went by, there were other styles of Judo that focused on certain aspects of Judo combat as well as students of Judo that went on to create their own martial arts.

Kodokan Judo

Kodokan is Judo…period. This is Jigoro Kano’s original style, his life’s work. Kodokan is derived from Japanese Jujutsu and it is the embodiment of what Kano wanted to teach the world. 

Olympic Judo

Olympic Judo is Kodokan Judo although you will see techniques that are not officially recognized as Kodokan Judo, a great example are variations on techniques brought from countries such as Mongolia, Georgia, Russia and Brazil. Olympic Judo fully focuses on the sporting aspects of Judo.

2018 Summer Youth Olympics

Russian Judo

A close relative to Japanese Judo (Kodokan), the difference between Russian and Japanese Judo are the fact that Russian Judo emphasizes much more unorthodox grips such as grabbing the back of the gi (the Georgian grip) and the pants. 

Russian Judo uses much more pickups than Japanese Judo does and Russian Judo emphasizes more flying submissions such as the flying armbar. 

Russian Judo is influenced by Sambo and other cultural and folkstyle jacket wrestling styles of the former USSR such as Chidaoba. Russian Judo also emphasizes more power than Japanese Judo.

Kosen Judo

Masahiko Kimura Kosen Judo
Masahiko Kimura Kosen Judo

Kosen Judo allows many more ground techniques than Olympic Judo does, it is somewhat an offshoot of Kodokan Judo. Kosen Judo matches allow for much more time on the ground than Kodokan and as result, the Kosen Judo Ne-waza is much more developed. The most famous practitioner of Kosen Judo was Masahiko Kimura.


One of the founders of Sambo, named Vasili Oshchepkov studied Judo under Jigoro Kano and became the first European Judo black belt. He used much of the knowledge he had in Judo to create his own martial art called Sambo. Sambo stands for “samozashchita bez oruzhiya” and translated to “self defence without weapons”. 

Sambo is a Type of Judo
Sambo is a Type of Judo

It is a mixture of Judo, Wrestling, Catch Wrestling and many other folkstyle wrestling systems of the former Soviet Union. The main differences between Sambo and Judo are the uniform,  grabbing the legs is permitted for throws, there are no chokes allowed in Sambo, Sambo matches do not have an “ippon”,Sambo allows leglocks while Olympic Judo forbids leg locks and it is forbidden to close the guard in Sambo.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

An extremely popular and modern martial art, BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) was developed by the Gracie brothers in the 1920’s after the brothers studied Judo under a Japanese Judoka named Mitsuyo Maeda. 

Maeda was a student of Jigoro Kano and specialized in Ne-waza (ground fighting techniques). The Gracies were small in stature so they preferred ground techniques as they could use much more leverage when on the ground in comparison to stand up techniques. 

The Gracie’s eventually developed their own self-defence system. They would name their self defense system – Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and this would go on to be known globally as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ’s main differences to Judo are the fact that all ground moves and techniques are allowed (positions and submissions), the time limits for matches are much longer and generally without stoppage, there is no “ippon” and there is a much larger emphasis on ground techniques than standing techniques.

In Conclusion

Judo is a deep and wonderful grappling based martial art that is practiced by millions of people around the world, it is an Olympic sport and a self defence style but most importantly is it helps create confident and healthy human beings and is not on a martial arts system but a way of life to those who call themselves a Judoka.


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