Judo means “gentle way” in Japanese. This unarmed style of fighting is distinguished from other martial arts by its hand-to-hand fighting throws to the ground. Based on jujitsu, a martial art from the feudal period, and developed at the end of the 19th century by Japan’s Jigoro Kano, the main focus of judo is the physical and moral betterment of its practitioners. The underlying principle of judo is that the judoka never resists his opponent’s force, but rather turns it back on his attacker. Simultaneously a defensive art, a spectator sport and a competitive sport, judo first appeared at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964, but was only permanently admitted as a men’s sport at the Munich Games in 1972. Women’s judo became an Olympic event in 1992 in Barcelona.
Size varies greatly, given the different weight classes, but a judoka always has solid back muscles and strong legs.
For athletes in the extra lightweight to middleweight classes, training is very technical, and focuses on speed. In the higher classes, muscle building is more important.
The belt, wrapped twice around the waist, indicates the judoka’s rank. In Japan, there are no intermediate ranks between the white and the black belts, whereas western countries have introduced colored belts corresponding to ranks (kyu or dan). In order for a judoka to move up a rank, he must know and master a new set of techniques. Once the rank of 1st dan black belt is reached, the practitioner must execute techniques, imposed and drawn at random, before a jury of high-ranking dans.
A judoka needs to score an ippon (10 points) or more points than his competitor during the fight (5 minutes for men, 4 for women) in order to win. There are 3 ways to score an ippon: by throwing the opponent onto his back with control, force and speed; by forcing the opponent to submit using an arm-lock or choking technique; by pinning the opponent to the ground (osaekomi) for 25 seconds.
Competitors seek to gain the advantage at the start of the contest and to continue the attack, controlling the pace and progress of the fight. They try to take advantage of the smallest error committed by the opponent, throw him off balance and counter him with carefully chosen and rapidly deployed techniques. With their trainers’ assistance, judokas prepare 2 to 5 special movements, designed for maximum effectiveness according to their size, body shape and skills. During a fight, the judoka tries to use these techniques as often as possible. Combatants can benefit from studying their opponent’s style prior to a match in order to anticipate his offensive strategy.