When I first took up Judo I did so on the basis that I wished to learn a fighting art. My preference for Judo above any of the striking arts was partially because I was more interested in learning a defensive art, rather than an attacking one. I saw karate, kung fu and similar activities as being aggressive in that the primary aim is to strike, rather than avoid being struck. I was also, by-the-way, influenced by the number of real fights that I had witnessed where people of varying builds were capable of receiving incoming from fists, glass and hard objects and still go on to wreak damage on their opponents.
Since taking up a full study of Judo, however, I find that like aikido, Judo in its entirety also contains striking techniques, atemi. It is a common, (and partially true) understanding that Judo as practiced in most dojos does not contain striking techniques because they are dangerous to practice in randori. It is broadly understood that striking techniques can be found in the katas of Judo: the goshin jutsu contains strikes as does its forerunner the kime-no-kata, the latter including kicking and punching to the testicles.
Kano made it abundantly clear on a number of occasions that whatever else Judo was, it remained a fighting system par excellence and as such, it is inevitable that striking was part of its lexicon. In fact, Kano’s appreciation of the veracity of strikes is evidenced in his book Kodokan Judo, in which he states there are three classifications of techniques: throwing, grappling and striking. Atemi is dealt with as a section on its own in which parts of the body best used as striking weapons are identified along with their targets. The influence for the techniques comes from Tenshin Shin’yo Ryu, a jujutsu that Kano was immensely familiar with.
Nevertheless it is true that because atemi is not used in randori and is only used minimally in kata it is not greatly understood by most judoka. As in ignoring throwing and locking techniques that are no longer allowed in randori, the danger is that practitioners can never know the full range and potential of Judo.
Kano talked of atemi being a means of causing pain, unconsciousness or even death, but whilst strikes can be devastating if delivered correctly to the right spot, they can also be used in conjunction with other techniques resulting in less damage whilst bringing an assailant under control. This is illustrated in the goshin jutsu, whereby strikes to the eyes are used both to obscure an assailant’s view and to open out his body for locking techniques.
Strikes can also be used as a diversion in another sense. The human brain is not always good at receiving an overload of information and sharp pain tends to take precedence over other sensory information. The goshin jutsu contains a stamp to the foot of an assailant that in real terms is not a fight game breaker, but delivered with force can distract attention whilst the main escape technique is employed.
The level of force used in striking is highly relevant. As I pointed out in my previous blog, many people will practice the strikes of, say, the goshin jutsu, without really understanding them. As a consequence they would not be able to deploy them correctly in a live situation. I have trained goshin jutsu and Aikido with people that have failed to understand the significance of striking as either a balance breaker or a diversion. Such strikes as that aimed at the face in goshin’s ryote-dori or the chest strike used by some aikidoka in shoman’ate must be delivered with the requisite passion to gain an effect.
To flinch is a natural human reaction and modern police techniques, derived from the SPEAR system (Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response) incorporate this. It is this flinch response that is utilised in the ryote dori defence.
It is not necessary for everybody who practices Judo to study atemi, but for those that wish to understand the full implications of Judo as a fighting skill it is an integral part of the system. Knowing how and when to strike could make a vital difference in a live situation. I have read many first-hand and witness accounts of Judo people not being able to make their art work effectively when working doors and other security scenarios: a judicial strike with the right force to the right target area may have changed that.