To many Judo is perhaps the ultimate combat sport. With its wide range of throws, its thirty second hold down rule and the use of locks and chokes, the art takes years to master, uses massive amounts of energy and is a very punishing work out. But if you were to come at Judo from a different point of view, you will find, hidden too deeply perhaps, the complete unarmed combat system. We are not talking sport here, but a means of self-defence, restraint and total physical domination over another human being.
Since 1964, when Judo became an Olympic entity its fate was sealed in the minds of the general public. Even for those that train regularly and take it as being deeper than a mere sport, the activity contains little more than uchikomi, randori and the odd begrudged kata session. Most coaches have never heard of the renkoho, Judo’s own arrest and restraint system devised by Kano himself and few delve into the striking techniques that are part of Judo’s lexicon. Once a technique becomes banned from contest judo, it tends to get left behind: nobody bothers training it, they see the odd footage of its use, or read about it, discussing it’s merit or demerits over a post-training pint, rather than practising it to contemplate its efficacy. Even those that vaguely understand that Judo has some real fighting worth tend to lock down on the goshin jutsu, which was devised by the Kodokan as a self-defence kata in the 1950s. Practice of that is then turned into a ritual, repetitive attack and response sequence that has become so sterile that it too has been turned into a point scoring event – a sport. people train at it so they can display it and be marked at it by judges in contest.
It was not always thus. As recently as the late eighties the author attended judo clubs where it was not unheard of for the instructor to insist that judogi be removed and a session be carried out in skins or t-shirts. That odd session every few weeks made us realise that what we did went way beyond a sport. This was an emphasis on what you could and could not achieve against a lightly clad adversary on the street.
Even this, like the goshin jutsu, however, merely scratches the surface. Studied with dedication Judo answers just about every question you would want to ask about genuine self-defence. From the basic maxim of don’t be there in the first place, to the position of having another’s life literally in your hands, study Judo and you will come to understand.
My journey in Judo started when a rather large person threatened me with physical violence – not having the type of psych to back down, I decided to learn how to fight properly: little did I realise that my attitude to violence and life in general would change over the years. Later, I decided to play a little with the art of aikido, but by that time I knew enough about Judo to realise that whatever aikido could offer, both physically and intellectually, was already in Judo. Having a penchant for locks, I started to study the goshin jutsu more, but the more I studied the more I realised that Kano had got there before Usheiba. The goshin jutsu may well have been heavily influence by Tomiki, who was a high grade in both aikido and judo, but Kano has been using wrist locks since the 1880s.
After the Kodokan won the famous fight which allowed them to be the teaching force for the Tokyo Police, Kano set about devising the renkoho, specifically for police use. This is an arrest and restraint system that uses locks and come-along techniques that are still used by enforcement agencies around the world. It is still used today for one very simple reason – it works. Police forces are not in the habit of training at something that is useless in the field. Not only do the techniques work, they are simple to learn, another reason they have remained in use by police forces.
If you want out-and-out kill-or-be-killed violence, you probably need a psychiatrist rather than a martial arts instructor. There are exceptions to that of course. Lethal force is something that military personnel require, but broadly speaking it is of little use to the general public. The Krav Maga system teaches how to finish a fight off rather effectively, for sure, but the conditioning that it strives to instil means that for most people it is impractical: the law is quite clear on how far you can go to defend yourself and it stops a long way short of the total destruction that Krav Maga goes for.
Judo, however, taught correctly, also helps you to understand the escalation of violence and how to deal with that inside your own head: don’t be there, talk your way out, use of minimal defensive force. That is not just a mantra, a set of words. Look closely and Judo has in its pantheon a means of dealing with each of those stages. The founder, Dr Jigoro Kano was a philosopher of sorts. An educationalist for sure, he fully understood the utility of violence and abhorred it. Through Judo he aimed to make better citizens.
I believe that I am a product of that educational system. I have professionally been required to use Judo techniques that have seen me face and deal with many violent people. For some I managed to scale them down by using the utility of violence so that no blows took place, for others, I have been required to engage physically. The use of non-abusive psychological and physical intervention was my stock in trade. Kano’s philosophy made me a better citizen.
Later I will write more. I want to delve into the world of striking, pressure points, fighting distance, empty mind, breathing and other Judo related issues.