Kodokan Judo – 129 yrs old and stronger than ever!

Judo - All Africa Games 2011

There are reasons why Judo was introduced to the Olympic Games 45 yrs ago, why it is still there, and why at that level, only Olympic Gymnastics tickets sell out faster.

Reputed to be the most widely practised sport in the world (after soccer), it is many things to many people. At first impressions, what (you think) you see, is not what you get. It takes time to grasp that this is more than a physical contact sport – time that many beginners are not prepared to put in because it is infinitely more technical than most other sports.

Currently, 67 throws alone and an indefinable number of grappling, strangulation and joint-locking techniques make it a life’s work to master a very small percentage of these. The plus side is that even at the beginner stage, one discovers a sense of belonging. Friendliness and consideration are standard and sportsmanship follows naturally.

Developed in 1882, Judo was soon introduced to the Japanese education system, as much for its development of character as for its physical benefits. The two main principles of Judo translate to “Best use of Energy” (the most effective way of doing something ) and “Mutual Benefit” (a shared activity is best when it benefits both parties), and these two principles summarise the ethos of Judo. These principles extend way beyond the judo mat and into general life. Judo has been prescribed by child behaviourists, by psychologists and by other professions all of which recognise its beneficial effect on a growing body – and mind.

Everyone wants to win. Judo athletes are no different, but the difference is in how they learn to accept defeat. With grace and honour and dignity.

The rules of Judo are largely based on safety – safety of one’s partner or opponent and of oneself. Winning is not an “at all costs” matter. It is defined by the rules, a coach applying them in training and a referee and 2 judges applying them in contest. Injury to an opponent in a match through carelessness often results in disqualification, so, in training, coaches continually stress the safety aspect, knowing that months of preparation can be thrown away in a moment of thoughtlessness.

Because training is a “turn and turn about” process, every judo athlete learns from an early stage what it means to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and anyone with a “tough” attitude very soon discovers that there is always someone tougher, often more highly skilled. Bullies are soon identified and allocated to stronger partners. Judoka tend to be non-confrontational in daily life, probably because they have confidence in themselves and because they get all the ‘fighting’ anyone needs – on the judo mat, in regular doses.

As a judo-ka begins to show interest in competing, so the demands on the participant increase: the self-discipline, application to a training regime and the acceptance of personal responsibility for progress. The influence of a sensei is paramount, not simply for instruction but also as a role model.

‘Sensei’ means ‘one who has gone before’ so it follows that a pupil must appreciate that he/she is being guided along a path the coach has trod before, and sensei/student relationships last a lifetime because of it. No matter how many times a judo athlete changes training venues he/she will remember each coach en route for what he/she gained from that coach.

Good sensei recognise their influence for good, and while students may at times rebel against parental and school controls a wise sensei will always reinforce the authority of parents and the importance of school. This may be difficult during competition when emotions run high, but by his example, the coach should exert a calming influence, comforting losers and their supporters, while showing respect for opponents, officials and the spirit of Judo. Finding excuses for defeat shows weakness of character and that weakness leads to more defeat.

It’s often said that “Judo is for Everyone” but that’s not entirely true. It’s not for those in search of a quick-fix, instant invincibility, competitive success or glamour. It shuns showmanship, maintains etiquette dated by modern standards, lauds courtesy, respect and consideration and rewards the participant – each to his own level of achievement and personal satisfaction.

There are no styles, or off-shoots. or breakaway factions in Kodokan Judo.

Just Judo.

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