What is Judo? or, "Judo: The Metaphorical Path of Laziness"

Sensei Lafon left a comment in a previous post that before we tried to articulate what the purpose of a Judo competition should be, we should first articulate what this "Judo" thing is, itself.  An excellent suggestion.  There is never unanimous agreement when one tries to define a thing like Judo, so there is a bit of "relative truth" here.  Judo is in the eyes of the beholder? 

WARNING:  I really go off on tangents on this one.  I apologize in advance, but I hope that it is still interesting.  In case you don't want to read the whole thing, here are some of the key points:

  • Judo is a "way" - part of what that implies is that there are things not meant to be included in the Art, even though they may be useful, so that you can more fully explore what is included.
  • There is more to Judo than just hand-to-hand combat, but make no mistake:  physical conflict is a core component of Judo, and we need to do a better job trueing back to that.
  • Because of it's background, Judo should give emphasis to throws over groundwork, and when groundwork is done Judo should encourage decisiveness.  BJJ, on the other hand, should place no particular emphasis on the throw, and should not have concerns about techniques that are slow to develop, or periods in a contest where little or no progress is made.
  • You'll have to read the article to see what I was talking about with the title of this post...

Ju + Do = Judo!
Anyhoo, a simple definition, borrowed from the Akari Judo web site is this:  "Judo, translated as the 'gentle way', is a martial art which teaches the use of balance, momentum, and timing to overcome your opponent."  Not bad for a starter.  The whole "gentle way" business is always problematic, though.  If you've seen Judo, it clearly isn't gentle.  I don't know enough Japanese to dispute whether "Ju" really means gentle, but I do have a good idea of what it implies:  One aspect is... well... "Lazy."  Sure throw the guy, but don't go out of your way.  Don't try to simply impose your will, but listen to what his posture and movements are telling you do.  Are his hips in front of his shoulders?  Then he probably "wants" to be thrown backwards.  Is she really reaching for that high grip?  She wants to be thrown with Seoi Nage!  Dr. Kano liked to talk about Seiryoku Zenyo - minimum effort, maximum efficiency.  That is really the Ju part of Judo, IMO.  Of course, "The Lazy Way" might attract the wrong kind of people.  And of course I am over-stating that - "minimum effort" doesn't mean that participants should exert as little effort as possible, and just lay down on the mat.  I usually go with "minimum effort to put the other guy on his back" - and when that guy is good, the minimum might be a lot.

But that's only half of the word!  Then, there's the "Do" part.  Literally, it means "the Way."  Ok...  Maybe not so useful.  If you are at all familiar with Chinese philosophy, it's the same as the chinese Tao (pronounced like the "dow" part of "down," so you start to see the relationship).  So... the "Way," as it is used here, is in the sense of a street, or path.  A metaphorical path.  A path is something that helps you travel, generally towards a destination.  A path is constrained...  that is, it isn't miles wide... You can move a little to the left or right, and more so in some parts of the path that others, but there are very definitely places you shouldn't step if you want to stay on the path.  And the path may not be the shortest way to get to wherever you are going, but the point is that by being on the path, you will see things that you wouldn't have, otherwise.  Practically speaking, this implies that there are techniques and practices that may be effective, but they should not be included in Judo.

A Way of Life?
Some people talk about the "Way" being a way of life.  That sounds good, but I'll be honest:  I don't get it.  I can see how asceticism is a way of life, but not Judo.  Certainly, many things that you learn in Judo are useful off the mat (much more than, say, things that you learn in tennis), and Lord knows there are enough "Verbal/Mental/Business/etc Judo" books out there, but in my opinion, it is a little too much to expect from Judo to teach us how to live.  Many of my instructors have been good role models, but none has taught me how to live (nor did I want them to), and I am certainly not teaching my students how to live.  So if that is supposed to be a part of Judo, it's something that has been lost wherever I have learned it, and it's not something I want anyway.

But getting back to the point, from reading some of what Dr. Kano wrote on the subject, the "Do" part (which he purposefully changed from "Jitsu" to be clear he was going for something different with his "ju do") does imply that there is something more going on.  Jita Kyoei - mutual benefit and welfare - is certainly a big part of this.  There is more that you are supposed to get from Judo than just learning a set of techniques.  But I will have to give the Do part of this more thought.

Sport or Martial Art?
I don't often make definitive statements, but here's one:  Judo is a martial art.  Period.  A core aspect of Judo is that is has, as it's core, how to deal with physical confrontation, and we cannot gloss over that.  Now, when you look up "sport," it just means "a physical activity engaged in for pleasure."  So, in that broad sense, sure, Judo is a sport, too (as long as you enjoy it, I guess).  People use the term "combat sport" also, which I think is fair.  I once heard, "Well, all of the really effective stuff was taken out so that it could be a sport that people could play."  If you believe that, you are missing the point.  I won't get in to it all here, but Kano removed things so that his students could practice all-out without injuring each other, and make the art *more* effective.

What Judo Isn't
Sometimes it is helpful to define a thing by what it isn't.   So what isn't Judo?...
  • It isn't BJJ:  I love Brazilian Jiujitsu, and it is a very very close relative of Judo.  But they aren't the same.  One thing to think about is the type of combat that they grew out of.  Judo was the direct offspring of Japanese Jujitsu, which was around for centuries and had battlefield combat as a key concern.  BJJ, as a sort of hybrid of Judo and Japanese Jujitsu, was really brought in to form, as I understand it, in one-on-one no-holds-barred fights.  A key difference there is that the BJJ focus was, by definition, one-on-one, whereas the Japanese Jujitsu (JJJ?) could be one-on-one, or you may have multiple opponents to worry about.  So that, I think, is why Judo, by definition, should focus much more on throws than BJJ.  In Judo, it is proper that a solid throw can end a match, and (though it generally pisses me off when it happens), it is also proper that contestants should have to re-start if no progress is made on the ground.  I don't think that the IJF uses the right timing, but Judo groundwork should have more emphasis on decisiveness than BJJ should.
  • Judo isn't wrestling:  Wrestling can also reasonably be called a martial art, though I think it is far enough removed from those combat origins that one need not necessarily call it that (and Judo under the IJF is headed down that path, but the good news is that the IJF can only set international contest rules, and doesn't define Judo itself - the instructors do that).  But I digress...  I am also a big fan of wrestling, and think that Judoka can greatly benefit from cross-training - the techniques are useful, and wrestling practices typically have some great training methods that we Judoka could learn from.  A key difference, though, is that Judo does need to true back to those combat origins.  You can point to a rule set that encourages defenseless turtling and say that Judo has already missed that boat.  But again, I say that the IJF tournament rules don't define the Art.  The problem is that most instructors (myself included) have allowed our instruction to get pigeon-holed by those rules.  After all, you don't want to train your folks in a way that will get them regularly DQd in contest.  Another aspect where Judo isn't wrestling is that... well... we wear clothes, and they don't.  Now, I can't think of any philosophical underpinning on why Judo must be done with gi (though one could argue that it is one of the constraints of the "Do"), so I think that is a gray area, and I don't have any objection to no-gi Judo. 



kodokanjudo said...

Great points in this post!

Winston Churchill said: "If a man of twenty is not a liberal, he does not have a heart; but if a man of fourty is not a conservative, he does not have a brain".
When I was 15, judo was a sport but now, 35 years later judo is a "martial way".
I guess that my judo has matured a bit in all that time.
When you are a beginner you dream of how it would feel to be a bb, but when you finally get there it's not a big deal at all.

Excellent blog Chad!

Chad Morrison said...

Thanks for the kind words, Leo.

kodokanjudo said...

My pleasure! I really enjoy it.

I'd like to comment on your "path of laziness" (very interesting...)translation/definition of judo.
I can tell you that the traslation of "ju" is a complex one. "Pliability" or "flexibility" are better terms to use than "gentle", as we know that judo can be most anything but "gentle" (LOL).
"Laziness", however does fit the definition, as we strive to accomplish the most work with the least effort, or find a shortcut to complete a task.
Example: Kimura (who most everyone consider the best judo competitor ever) never touched a set of weights. He, as all before him, believed that judo itself is a "strength magnifier", so everything he did was for the purpose of improving his judo skills (pushups, situps, squats, uchikomi on a tree, etc.). Today's elite competitors split their training time between weights and judo skill. Do any of them today compare? Does anyone today have an undefeated record for 13 years? All ippon victories against many men nearly twice their size?
Kimura simply used the true "lazy way" to win.
BTW, the Japanese word for sport is "supo-tsu", a modern imported word from English. The traditional Japanese language did not have a word for "sport". The closest they had was "tawamure" that means play, fun, joke, jest or flirtation.
I hope that other club members are reading your blog and the comments.

Jacob said...

I know we are trying to make a point with the laziness thing here, but.....

So, laziness is a state of being where you avoid work or effort because you are adverse to those things.

Judo teaches in a manor so that we become most skillful. That whole "least effort" stuff is about doing it well as opposed to "forcing it". I believe that judo is teaches that mental fitness in accompaniment with physical fitness overcomes any amount of strength.

Do you remember what Yoda said to Luke in the swamp, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is [judo], and a powerful ally it is.... Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter *points to bicep*"

So, it really not laziness at all - its skill.

kodokanjudo said...

Yes, exactly!
Like Kano wrote: "Mind over muscle".
Somehow I can't keep from thinking that Okano-sensei, even at his age, can still wipe the tatame with us all and still afford to be "lazy".:)LOL!

Chad Morrison said...

Yeah, the "lazy" thing was a bit tongue-in-cheek... That said, one of my instructors goes by the mantra "If it's hard, you are doing it wrong." Which isn't a bad self-diagnostic, really. And it's also the lazy man's creed. =:>

Patrick Parker said...

ooh! Chad, I never knew you were listening to me when I told you, "If it's hard then you're trying to do it wrong." ;-)

Chad Morrison said...

Words to throw by. It's a simple and effective diagnostic. I guarantee my students have heard it more than once.

Patrick Parker said...