November 2, 2014

Judo as a Fighting Art

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.




9 Comments on “Judo as a Fighting Art

Mark Fricker
November 23, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Excellent! Look forward to part 2.

November 24, 2014 at 3:01 am

I’m a Sandan from the USA, and am a 3rd generation Judoka in an extended family of Judokas. Many of the things you said in your article my father told me during the commutes to and from Judo practice. I was raised the gentle way and I’m now raising my children the gentle way. Judo not only makes you a better citizen it make you a better family member, and is the glue for families like mine. Thank you for your writings.

Justin Guerrero

Glenn Jeffery
November 26, 2014 at 10:54 pm

I have practised the art of judo for many years and always harped back to my first instructors teachings and remember sitting and watching in ore as he demonstrated arts like renkoho and the Goshin Jutsu. I say in ore because you must understand that this was a 70 year old instructor that understood every move every consequence of movement and displayed if effortlessly truly a master class. I see more and more that the foundations and basic principles of the ART of judo seems to be losing its way as it developes in the 21st century and to lose the true ART of Judo and it’s principles would be disappointing. What a great Article and thank you for bringing back some terrific feelings about an art I love so much by simply penning this article

John Connolly
December 1, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Thank you very much for sharing this fantastic and well written article on what judo Instructors should be educating their students about. Judo saved my life when I was a rookie NYPD officer apprehending a violent drug dealer in Oct. of 1993. Because of the Martial Art of Judo I was able to subdue this violent perp and subsequently arrest him. The technique I used was Morote Gari which is illegal now in Judo competition and therefore not taught in the dojo. That is unfortunate.
Thanks again and I look forward to reading more of your informative articles.
Yours in Judo,
John Connolly

ken wylson
December 2, 2014 at 12:27 am

I think Judo is the perfect edition to my style I always recommend it to students wanting to cross train but I find a lot of the Atemi Waza and leg and neck throws are illegal in all sport based judo dojo.
Would love to learn pre-war Judo that includes these techniques

ibrahim khalil ibrahim
December 2, 2014 at 11:22 pm

how old were you when you started doing judo ? and when it comes too late to start ?

December 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm

I started doing judo at the age of around 20 Ibrahim, but you can start when you like. You have to listen to your body so that you do not push too hard, but there is no age not to start. I have many pupils who take up judo because of their children and my own partner has started at the age of 46.

Dequantis Shannon
December 5, 2014 at 8:00 pm

How much when and where

December 29, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Do not understand the question Dequantis.


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