Judo is a Japanese martial art that combines the principles of self-defense, combat, and wrestling. There are three main categories of judo: the first one, called ‘Kempo,’ focuses on techniques; the second is known as ‘daito,’ which increases strength through grappling and fighting techniques; and lastly, there is ‘kendo,’ which teaches fencing techniques with a bokuto (wooden sword). Judo is a Japanese martial art and sport that requires excellent balance and coordination. This makes it extremely challenging to learn, even for seasoned athletes. 

As a result of the rigorous physical activities involved and the many nuances and rules, learning judo can feel like a job instead of something you love doing. However, practicing Judo helps train for strength, speed, balance, and endurance, among other traits that ultimately develop physical fitness. The popularity of judo has grown exponentially over time, especially after gaining recognition as an official Olympic sport in 1964. Today, the International Judo Federation has more than 200 member nations and organizes world championships for both men and women yearly.

Origin of the Art

Most of the major martial arts that we know today have an origin that can be traced to Japan, and Judo is one of them. Jigoro Kano created Judo in 1882 as one of the many martial arts forms that sprang from Ju Jutsu. Judo stresses sparring as a method of practice rather than utilizing pre-arranged sets of instruction, setting it apart from Ju Jutsu. One factor that boosted the prominence of the sport was its consistent dominance over its mother art, the Ju Jutsu when the martial arts schools met for tournaments. These contests were hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, which eventually adopted Judo as its principal combat art.

Kano Jigoro founded Judo at a period when the practice of Ju Jutsu was steadily dwindling owing to rising westernization. Kano intended to study Ju Jutsu at the time as a form of self-defense against bullies, but finding a teacher was difficult because many of the masters who taught Ju Jutsu had abandoned the job in search of a more profitable alternative. 

After several attempts, Jigoro Kano eventually found a teacher, Fukuda Hachinosuke, who taught just five students then. Fukuda was renowned for emphasizing free practice techniques (randori) over formal exercise (kata), which is still very evident in the randori emphasis of Judo today. Unfortunately, Fukuda passed away in 1880; thus, Kano was forced to finish his education elsewhere. Isa Masatomo, his new master, paid more attention to formal exercises than randori. However, Isa entrusted the duties of the randori to assistants, among which Kano eventually became part. However, after Masatomo’s passing, Kano was again forced to continue his education with a different instructor. And just like his first instructor, Iikubo Tsunetoshi also placed great emphasis on the randori, with special attention to throwing techniques (nage-waza)

Kano eventually went on to establish a school of his own, where he taught the principles of Ju Jutsu, with a strong belief that the ideas and concepts taught by Ju Jutsu might be applied more broadly to life. Even though Kano believed in the Ju Jutsu’s guiding principles, he felt that the word Jutsu, which means method, was insufficient to capture its broad range of applications. Therefore, he changed it to “do,” meaning way or path, which birthed the name Judo. However, at that time, Ju Jutsu seemed irrelevant to Japanese society, which had entirely lost interest in the art. Teaching Ju Jutsu under another name was influential in drawing more attention to the art.

Judo Techniques

Judo’s fundamental techniques (waza) are the Nage-waza, Katame-waza, and Atemi-waza, each of which is further subdivided. The individual on whom the waza is performed is known as the Uke (receiver), and the person who performs it is known as the Tori (taker). Judokas (Judo practitioners) use break falls (Ukemi) to avoid hurting themselves while practicing these techniques, 

Nage Waza

Nage is the Japanese word for throwing; hence, Nage-waza is a throwing technique. Using this method, the Tori tries to fling the Uke, hoping to land him on his back. The move is divided into three steps: upsetting the balance of the opponent (Kuzushi), getting ready for the throw (Tsukuri), and delivering it (Kake). Judokas continually carry out these three moves to practice the Nage Waza. The throwing technique can be performed while standing straight up (Tachi-waza). It can be done with the hands, the hips, or only the feet, known as Te-waza, Koshi-waza, and Ashi-waza, respectively. You can also accomplish the Nage-waza by giving up your upright posture to toss the Uke (Sutemi-Waza)

Katame Waza

This is a grappling technique that can be performed by pinning the Uke with his back to the floor (Osaekomi-Waza), choking (Shime-waza), or painfully manipulating the Uke’s joint (Kansetsu-Waza). However, the grappling technique is commonly done while lying down.


Atemi-Waza involves striking the Uke with a powerful enough stroke to disable him. The hit is usually directed towards a key area of the body.

Competitive Judo

You must throw, pin, or choke your opponent to win in a Judo match. However, the use of weapons and strikes are not allowed either in the randori or in competitive Judo. Today, Judo is recognized as a major sport, governed by the International Judo Federation on a global scale.

Dutchman Anton Geesink won the inaugural Olympic gold medal for the sport in 1964, the year the art was originally incorporated into the Olympics events. It was later included as a paralympic sport in 1988. Although Kano Jigoro’s Judo is currently the most widely practiced Judo style, others are still in existence, including the Kosen Judo, Russian Judo, and Sambo.


Despite the early indifference to martial arts in Japanese culture, Judo has come a long way from its roots in Ju Jutsu. Today, it is practiced as a major competition in more than 200 nations of the world and has been an Olympic sport for more than 50 years now.