From the Japanese, “judo” translates literally as “the gentle way.” The development of the sport is credited to Dr. Jigoro Kano, a teacher and scholar who is known as the Father of Judo. Having studied the ancient combat technique of jujutsu, Kano did a comprehensive study of multiple forms of self-defence in 1882 and decided to integrate the best of them into one art. His system was built on three major techniques: throwing (with hand, hip, foot, half-body, and full-body), groundwork (holds, strangulation, locks), and striking (of the upper and lower limbs).
To name his new art, Kano replaced the suffix “jutsu” (technique) in “jujutsu” with the suffix “do” (way) to create “judo”. He opened a training hall in Tokyo called “Kodokan”, meaning “a place to study the way.” Kano’s system was soon adopted by the Japanese police and navy, leading to judo’s spread overseas.
In the 1930s, Kano proposed the creation of an international governing body but he passed away before he could see it come to fruition in 1951. The first judo world championships were held in 1956 and judo made its Olympic debut at Tokyo 1964. Off the Olympic program at Mexico City 1968, judo returned to the Olympic Games for good at Munich 1972. Despite women having been involved in judo almost since its creation in the late 19th century, women did not compete at the world championships until 1980. Women’s judo events were included as a demonstration sport at Seoul 1988 before gaining full medal status at Barcelona 1992. Judo debuted at the Pan American Games in 1963 and has been on the program ever since, with the exception of 1971. Women’s events were first included at the Pan Am Games in 1983.
Just like the other combat sports in the Olympic Games (wrestling, boxing, taekwondo), judo awards two bronze medals.
All matches are five minutes in length with no designated rest periods. However, the referee will stop the clock during breaks in the action to ensure that the athletes compete for the full five minutes.
The aim in judo is to control the opponent. To do this, athletes apply principles of balance and leverage to throw the opponent to the mat on his/her back, immobilize an opponent on any part of his/her back, apply arm-locks to the elbow (joint locks elsewhere constitute a serious rules violation) and choke the opponent while avoiding any action that might injure the opponent’s neck or spine.
Unlike taekwondo and karate, there is no kicking or punching in judo. Rather, a common move is a leg sweep, designed to knock an opponent off balance. Off-balance judokas are likely to find themselves thrown. A perfect, full-point throw results in the abrupt termination of the match. If successful, this move – called an “ippon” – can end a match in as little as four seconds. Otherwise, the match continues with the athletes upright or on the mat grappling for pins, chokes or arm-locks.