“Judo” can be translated to “the gentle way.” It is a Japanese grappling martial art popular around the world and is a sport in the Olympics. Millions of people practice Judo with over 200 countries being part of the International Judo Federation.
Being a true global sport and martial art, in order to be recognized as one of the best Judokas of all time, one needs to be very good. There are many Judokas that are world class but very few can be considered a generational talent. The Japanese Judoka, Yasuhiro Yamashita, is without a doubt someone who deserves to be considered one of the best Judokas of all time and here is his story.
Yasuhiro Yamashita, A Judo Life
Yamashita Yasuhiro was born on 1st June 1957. He is a Japanese Judo practitioner who is currently working as an advisor and instructor for several different organizations in Japan including the International Judo Federation, the Tokai University and the All Japan Judo Federation.
Yasuhiro Yamashita stands 5 feet and 11 inches (180 cm) tall and weighed about 127 kgs (280 lbs) when he was still an active participant in Judo competitions. He was known for his unique left-handed stance and was famous for his Osoto Gari mixed with Oucho Gari.
The distinctiveness of Yasuhiro Yamashita’s Osoto Gari was that he combined it with Ouchi Gari. This particular move was used successfully by Yasuhiro Yamashita and led him to win many Judo matches, so if you look at any of his Judo matches, you will probably notice that he used this combination of Judo techniques very often.
Another one of Yasuhiro Yamashita’s go-to moves was the Uchi Mata in which he found was successful when used against opponents who weren’t native Japanese. This move was decisive against his opponents even in his later years, competing against non-Japanese combatants.
Yasuhiro Yamashita, who was a very large man, was surprisingly also very agile on the ground and could catch his opponents off guard. He used numerous choke and pinning techniques that proved to be effective on the ground. His adeptness on both the ground and standing Judo moves allowed him to become an undefeated champion for more than 9 years in combat. After being an active member participating in numerous competitive combats, he finally retired on 17th June 1985.
His astounding skill and talent in the sport and art won him a remarkable 5 gold medals in several international Judo competitions. Yasuhiro Yamashita also has an impressive 203 consecutive victories under his belt. On 9th October 1984, Yasuhiro Yamashita was awarded the Japanese National Prize of honor for his exceptional contribution to Judo.
How did Yasuhiro Yamashita Start in Judo:
Yasuhiro Yamashita started practising Judo when he was still in primary school. He was inspired by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. When Yamashita entered junior high school, he had already got a black belt in Judo.
When Yasuhiro Yamashita was still in primary school, he happened to attend a judo class at Fujitsubo Judo Dojo to watch his friends compete. At this point, Yasuhiro Yamashita was still unmotivated to start his judo training. However, after learning that the founder of Judo was Jigoro Kano, he visited the library at his school to read up on a copy of “the life of Jigoro Kano,” which was a biography of Kano Jigoro’s life.
After reading this book, Yasuhiro Yamashita was inspired by Kano Jigoro as the founder of Judo and as an influential educator and scholar. Yasuhiro Yamashita soon started his first Judo class at Fujitsubo Dojo. From here, Yamashita went on to study at Tokaidai Sagami Highschool, which was well known for its Judo program and later went to Tokai University. Yasuhiro Yamashita earned his reputation as a budding world-renowned judo champion through this process.
Yasuhiro Yamashita would eventually start training under Isao Inokuma, who was an Olympic gold medalist in 1964. Isao Inokuma attained a gold medal in the Summer Olympics in 1964. Yasuhiro Yamashita also trained under Nobuyuki Sato, the gold medalist in the world judo championships in 1967. Training under 2 Olympic champs would pave the way to Yamashita developing and refining his Judo thus becoming a true beast on the mats.
Yasuhiro Yamashita’s Major Achievements in Judo
The longest winning streak of Yasuhiro Yamashita, 203 consecutive wins, started in October 1977, and it was an exhibition match held in Russia (then the Soviet Union). The final match that put the pin on his winning streak was at the All Japan Judo Championships in April 1985, which was his 9th victory consecutively.
Yasuhiro Yamashita qualified for the 1976 Olympics as a replacement when he was just a freshman at Tokai University. When he was 19 years old, he was the youngest judo practitioner in the history of the world to win the all Japan Judo championship in the open category.
In 1979, Yamashita won a gold medal at the World Judo Championship, securing him a sure spot on the Japanese Olympic team. Later, in 1980 at the All Japan Judo Championships, Yasuhiro Yamashita reached the finals and became a fan favorite. He was out against Endo, his opponent, who put him in a Kani Basami, as a finishing move. This broke Yamashita’s fibula in his leg. They declared the match a draw, although Yasuhiro Yamashita could not continue due to his injury. Ever since his injury because of the move, the Kani Basami was prohibited from any future competitions.
At the world championships in 1983, Yamashita won the gold medal, which helped qualify him for the Olympics yet again. With all the laurels, Yasuhiro Yamashita remained an undefeated champion in international and national Judo competitions. At his final match at the All Japan Judo Championship in 1985, he emerged victorious, giving him the third consecutive win at the championships.
When he was just 28 years old in 1985, Yasuhiro Yamashita decided to retire from competitive Judo due to the numerous injuries his body had endured throughout his career.
Yamashita After Retirement
After retirement, Yasuhiro Yamashita worked as an advisor and instructor for various organizations till he was chosen to become the director of education of The International Judo Federation in September 2003.
One of Yasuhiro Yamashita’s notable works is the compiled instructional video with Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. Putin, too, holds a black belt in Judo. Yamashita and Putin met for the first time in 2005 in Tokyo, after which Yasuhiro Yamashita flew to St. Petersburg to visit the Judo School where Putin has previously trained.
Presently, Yasuhiro Yamashita is the chairman of the Japanese Olympic Committee. He was also elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee on 10th January 2020.
Yasuhiro Yamashita will permanently be crowned as a great pioneer and practitioner of Judo because of his remarkable career filled with milestones. It is no question that Yamashita held a solid will to win at competitions along with a robust skill set that allowed him to process his opponent’s moves and use them against them to his advantage, showing a true mastery of Judo. His muscular build, Judo mental discipline and technical understanding of Judo assured him the fame and victory in the sport of Judo.