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What Is Judo?

Judo is the modern form of the old jujitsu arts of attack and defense without weapons, developed in medieval Japan. Ju means soft, and the main principle is to oppose 'hard' brute force by 'soft' techniques which depend on speed and skill. For example, a rigid oak tree is uprooted by the typhoon, whereas the reed survives by yielding to its force. Applying this principle to judo, a man standing on a cliff-edge ducks to avoid being pushed by an assailant; the push misses and the assailant is carried over the edge by his own force. From the 17th century onwards, jujitsu was elaborated by the samurai warrior class. Much of its effect depended on surprise and so most schools kept their methods secret, though this sometimes led to ossification.

In 1868 the samurai class was abolished and jujitsu fell into neglect and even disrepute. Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) was responsible for collecting jujitsu methods and secrets from the old samurai schools, and he made comparative studies of them on scientific lines and evolved new principles; these he collated into a new system, judo, which he taught at his Kodokan Academy in Tokyo. Through his position of authority and influence in Japanese education, Dr Kano established judo as part of the curriculum of all schools; he later founded the Japanese Olympic movement and acquired an international reputation.

In the sport of judo points are scored by throws, locks on joints, certain pressures on the neck, and immobilisations. The old techniques were modified so that no injury or strain is caused. There are more drastic methods not used at competition level and normally taught only to advanced pupils. Dr Kano stressed that judo must be used only for protection of the weak or in self-defense when absolutely necessary, and should not be taught to those of uncontrolled character.

Students are awarded grades which are distinguished by the colour of the belt; novices begin with a white belt and work through several colours to black, the 'master' belt, and so the most coveted. There are grades of Black Belts, or Dans, the highest held for some time being ninth Dan. Big contests are generally won by fifth Dans-the higher grades are for teaching ability and contributions to theory.

The highest grade so far reached by a Westerner is seventh Dan, which has been awarded to two Britons, Charles Palmer, president of the International Judo Federation, and Trevor Leggett; and also to the Dutchman, Anton Geesink.

The International Judo Federation was founded in 1951, the same year that the European championships were first held, and interest in judo has steadily increased since then. In 1956 the first World Championship was staged- in Tokyo. Two Japanese contested the final (there was only one-unlimited weight-class), but third place went to Holland's Anton Geesink who because of his height (1.98 m) and weight (114·30 kg) was to revolutionize the sport. Previously it had been believed that weight divisions were unnecessary in judo because it was possible for a small man to beat a larger but less skillful fighter. But, as a result of Geesink's World Championship victory in 1961, weight categories were instituted when the sport first appeared on the Olympic programme in 1964.

Although all the weight-restricted classes were won by the Japanese, Geesink's combination of strength, size and skill brought him the open class title. Since then the biennial World Championships and the Olympics have been a struggle between European countries (notably Russia, Holland, France and Britain) and the Japanese, who with tradition, hard training and numbers-eight million people practice the sport in Japan-have maintained their supremacy.

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