The Benefits of Judo
Article by: Dave Lowry
Article From: Black Belt Magazine, December 2000


Judo is not the same today as it was 30 or 40 years ago. Succumbing to the perhaps inevitable allure of sporting competition, it is now--with few exceptions--little more than a mildly effective form of wrestling. Enthusiasts who came to the budo (warrior ways) after this devolution, however, should know something about the qualities judo once offered...and still could. They may be inspired to follow it--if they can find one of the few places where it is still properly pursued. More likely, they might gain some valuable insight into how an art like judo can instill some core attitudes and values that will take them far into other arts they may choose to study.

"Judoka (judo practitioners) have a self-confidence that I've never seen in any other martial artist," I once heard a senior practitioner say. "That's because judo is one of the only arts that allows a person to see what he really can and can't do."

Consider the following: An aikido practitioner masters the kote gaeshi, a throw in which the wrist is reversed until the opponent is sent flying. Only it would never work that way. Kote gaeshi, in reality, could very well drop a person and dislocate his wrist, elbow and shoulder. But unless the person was well-trained in aikido, he would not take that big fall. He'd go down in a screaming heap, almost certainly putting the mass of his weight in a direction with which the aikido practitioner has never had to contend. The aikido exponent, in other words, can never practice his technique against an opponent for real.

The karate practitioner suffers the same limitations. He may have practiced his reverse punch for 30 years, but has never uncorked it against a moving, human target that didn't want to be hit and was trying to hit him back at the same time? Probably not.

When you think about it, the judoka is unique because he can practice his techniques at full force and at full speed against an opponent who is fighting back with the same energy and intent. When a judoka drops his partner with a harai goshi (sweeping hip throw), he knows the technique works. He knows what happens to his opponent during the movement, how he falls and what it feels like. This knowledge provides a lot of awareness about up-close fighting, and it encourages a realistic view of what one can and cannot do in a real situation. It also explains why martial artists who have gone on to other arts and may not have practiced judo for many years will often say that under the duress of an actual attack they instinctively used judo.

You may argue that he judoka does not have to deal with strikes. He may have practiced half a century and never taken a hard punch to the mouth. True. But the same could be said for most karateka. When they do take a blows, it is nearly always accidental. The opponent is in the process of not trying to hurt them when the error in distancing occurs. It may hurt, but it does not feel like someone is taking a deliberate shot.

Critics also observe that "Kano took all the dangerous parts out of jujitsu when he developed judo." There's something to that. There's no question that he deleted certain joint locks, nerve strikes and other aspects of classical or modern jujitsu. We are talking, however, about the sensation of trying to control and physically dominate another person who is trying to do the same to you. Part of the great genius of Kano was that he created an art that allowed for a considerably broad range of realistic attacks and responses. Correctly practiced, judo offers an interplay of offense and defense that requires an acknowledgement of rules on both sides, but also permits a broad exploration of more or less realistic combat.

It's interesting, too, that judoka rarely have the exaggerated sense of their own "deadliness" that you see in karate practitioners--or the romanticized sense of self that one sees in aikido practitioners who believe that they can effortlessly "blend" with any attack and neutralize it. I suspect that judoka have a more realistic concept of themselves and their combative abilities for the simple reason that they have dumped and been dumped so many times, they have choked and been choked so often that there is little room for misconceptions about the whole business.

It's too bad that judo has degenerated. It's too bad that more young martial artists are not able to get a foundation in it the way it used to be practiced before they branch out into other arts. I'm convinced that if they did, they'd be better off for the experience.


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