Is Judo Effective In A Street Fight? Most Asked Questions


In Judo, good grappling skills you learn in Judo can often allow a smaller person to defeat a larger one in a street fight, as solid groundwork will give distinct benefits to the user.

Judo’s disadvantages with regard to a street fight include a lack of preparation for strikes and weapon attacks. Judo also relies heavily on gi techniques, so these need to be honed for anyone hoping to use the art for self-defense.

As such, Judo can work effectively in a street fight, but Judo has its limitations that you need to be aware of. This way, depending on the situation, you can choose wisely when to apply Judo techniques in a street fight situation or not use them at all.

In this article, I will illustrate further where Judo works very well in a street fight and explore some of the downsides of using Judo in a street fight. So let’s get started!

The Evolution of Judo

Judo, or “the gentle way” was first created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Kano was a student of Jujutsu, the martial art used by the samurai of feudal Japan, when it came to passing down the knowledge of the art to his students, decided to remove some of the more dangerous techniques.  This “Kano Jiu-Jitsu, more commonly referred to as judo would focus on two key principles: “Seiryoku-Zenyo”, or the most efficient use of energy and “Jitta-Kyoei”, or the principle of mutual benefit and welfare.  

Judo quickly evolved into a sport with a complex ruleset.  The objective was to bring an opponent to the ground via takedown or throw, then immobilize or subdue them through pin, or submission hold such as an armbar, or rear-naked choke.  Although this practice can make judo very proficient for self-defense, there have been many suggestions that sport judo has essentially watered down the effectiveness of the art for this purpose.  

Removing strikes from the equation can leave practitioners unprepared for the opponents they are likely to encounter on the street.  Perhaps as a consequence, martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo and Krav Maga sprouted from Judo roots, with a broader focus on both defending against and utilizing attacks other than throws and submissions.  Over the last few decades, sport judo rulesets have removed some of the more efficient takedowns seen in both wrestling and BJJ to differentiate itself from the two arts and to prevent Eastern European athletes from dominating the art.

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Does Judo Work In A Street Fight?

In an unarmed street fight, Judo is undeniably useful.  A judo practitioner typically has a higher level of athleticism, balance, coordination and as a result of being on the receiving end of many hard throws, toughness.  They should also be equipped with a large number of grappling techniques, including throws, choke-holds and joint-locks.  Many of these movements have been integrated into various police officer’s curriculums across the globe.  

A huge number of street fights end up on the ground, either through one person attempting to take their opponent to the ground, or accidental trips and falls.  Judokas almost always have a far higher understanding of ne-waza, or ground-fighting than the average person on the street.  Having this knowledge will either allow them to subdue their opponent, or help them get back to their feet to make an escape.  Additionally, throwing an attacker to the ground, can stun them, or even knock them unconscious giving the judo user time to leave the scene, or call for assistance.  

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages of Judo?

Any martial art which puts emphasis on live sparring, as opposed to drilling, or forms such as kata will typically empower the martial artist in a real-life situation.  Judo practitioners do this frequently, typically, with their sparring rounds beginning in a standing position.  From here, they will aim to out grapple their sparring partners with throws and holds.  This will build core strength, balance, coordination and overall fitness, which in a street fight are incredibly useful.  These attributes will typically lead to improved levels of confidence and an understanding on how to use the body that benefits the martial artist.  Confident people are typically less attractive targets to bullies and muggers.  

When it comes to defending one’s self, judo users not only have the benefit of this fitness and confidence, but also an arsenal of throws and submission holds.  Perhaps one of the most useful things in judo is an emphasis on learning how to break fall.  Break falls teach the user to reduce the impact of their body hitting a hard surface at full force.

There are several disadvantages to judo as a self-defense art, however. Firstly, unless an instructor is “old school”, they are unlikely to teach strikes, kicks, takedowns which attack the legs, or defending from any of these attacks.  Judo is only truly effective at incredibly close range.  With no head movement, blocks or evasive footwork, getting to this grappling range, can be difficult.  If an attacker has any level of boxing training, or is naturally fast or heavy-handed, they may land punches which can disorient, injure or knock out the trained grappler.   

Similarly, someone from a wrestling, American football or rugby background may be able to put a judoka on their back, which although they may typically be more prepared for, can stun them, leaving them vulnerable to strikes, bites or eye gouges.  That being said, how likely is it that an attacker will be a well-prepared street fighter, or super athlete?  

They however may be more likely to have a weapon, or able to grab an object which could be utilized as a weapon.  Judo does not prepare someone to fight someone with a weapon, makeshift or specifically designed.  In almost all instances, it is better to extricate one’s self from a dangerous situation, either by doing your best to calm a heated situation from escalating, or by simply running away.  This latter option should be used by almost all martial artists when weapons are brought into the fray, whether a black belt in judo, or a champion Muay Thai fighter.

Can Judo Work Effectively Without Gi?

The traditional and durable garb worn by Judo players  “the gi” is used primarily to create a hygienic training system.  However the gi is an extremely important aspect of judo, which gives competitors immense control over each other and allows them to pull off some of the more spectacular techniques that may be impossible in the absence of the jacket.  

Despite this significance, many of the throws may be designed for grabbing hold of the gi worn in judo classes, they can be modified for grabbing hold of someone’s limbs, or torso.  Judokas should endeavor to add this training to their schedules, if they hope to use them in real-life situations, cross-train, or compete in either wrestling or MMA.  Kubi Nage (neck throw), Seol Nage (shoulder throw), O Goshi (Major Hip Throw) and Ashi Waza foot throws are probably the most practical techniques for no-gi grappling.  

For the most part, techniques remain the same, but grips may change and it is important to look for them.  A great majority of the time, people tend to wear garments which function much like a gi – a business suit or leather jacket is similar in size and shape to a gi jacket.  A t-shirt, although less grab-able, can still be used, although again, the judo player may want to work on practicing throws against someone wearing a t-shirt, if they are concerned about any street or bar encounter.

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Are There Any Punches or Kicks in Judo?

In sport judo, there are no kicks or punches, however it is fairly common for gyms to practice atemi waza – body-striking techniques, such as punches, chops and kicks in kata routines.  It is much less common for gyms or groups to practice these strikes in live sparring. 

Any fighter looking to compete in MMA or be prepared for the street should endeavor to take up a striking martial art, such as boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, karate or even Taekwondo with an experienced, practically-minded instructor. 

Did Judo Ever Have Strikes?

In the early days of judo, its designer Jigoro Kano included Atemi Waza, based on some of the older techniques passed down from previous forms of Jiu-Jitsu.  As well as uke waza (defending blocks), there are 23 striking techniques in judo, including roundhouse kicks, downward knife hand strikes, eye gouges and attacks to the throat.  

Can Judo Beat Jiu-Jitsu?

While both arts are grappling focused, Judo is scored more heavily on standing and throwing an opponent, while BJJ tends to focus on newaza(Ground techniques). It is not unheard of for a BJJ blue belt to submit or control the fight with a judo black belt on the ground , however a judoka could essentially throw a BJJ practitioner to the ground and never follow up on the ground.  In this manner, a judoka could essentially strike their opponent with the ground itself in order to stun, or injure their combatant. 

Judo vs Jiu-Jitsu – Which Style Is Better For Self-Defense?

The advantages of Judo over BJJ is that throws can be a great way to protect one’s self in a real-life scenario.  A judo user can grab a neck, or lapel and unbalance their attacker, after this, sweeps can be used to toss them to the ground.

BJJ may be much more useful if the fight goes to the ground, but this often leaves the practitioner vulnerable to getting kicked, or stamped on by other assailants.  A great judo player could even throw multiple opponents subsequently if they are skilled enough.  Staying on their feet should allow the judo to extricate themselves from the dangerous scenario more easily.

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Judo vs Jiu-Jitsu – Which Style Is More Effective in MMA?

Many people will argue that no style is better than any other, all have their own different advantages and disadvantages and what matters more is the skill level of a practitioner, however, MMA has often acted as a ground to see if this theory stands up to the test. 

With MMA, Martial artists are able to discover which techniques are useful in real-life situations, while discarding those which aren’t.  Unfortunately for Judo, there have been only a few high-level judokas to have any significant success in MMA.  On the other hand, there have been many incredibly high-level BJJ artists either winning or competing for UFC titles.  

Do UFC Fighters Use Judo?

There have been a number of high-level judo users fighting in the UFC and other MMA organizations, such as Pride FC, Strikeforce and Bellator.  Yoshiro Akiyama, Karo Parysian, Kazuhiro Nakamura were all big names in the mid 2000’s, while former Olympic Silver medal winner, Ronda Rousey was for years the most dominant female champion in the entire sport.  Arguably the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time, “The Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko was also a black belt in judo and competed in a great number of judo competitions before turning to MMA.  Despite these exciting fighters of the past, there have been fewer truly successful Judo fighters in recent years.  

How Long Does It Take to Become Proficient In Judo?

As with any martial art, there are various factors which will effect how fast someone will be to get proficient at Judo.  Someone practicing multiple times a week will take roughly 3-5 years to get at a level that they can compete in.  As people often develop mental blocks to learning new physical skills in later life and the fact it typically takes longer to recover from bad knocks and falls, younger people will typically develop their skills quicker.  Compared to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which martial artists can become competent enough to get the grasp of the basic BJJ techniques within six months and this can be somewhat discouraging.

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Is Judo Hard to Learn?

Although it is specifically designed to be teachable and easy to understand, Judo has quite a steep learning curve and has a reasonably high injury rate compared to other martial arts.  As you may expect, students with a naturally high level of coordination and balance should learn quicker than those who don’t.

Much of the focus of judo classes is placed on how to breakfall correctly.  Once a practitioner has a good grasp of this, students may turn their attention to learning the various throws, along with to a lesser extent, the groundwork.  This will initially be focused on the more basic sweeps and throws, but the more classes a practitioner attends, the more techniques they will learn.  The Gokyo no Waza is the typical syllabus taught in Judo consists of 40 throwing techniques.  However, in 1982, eight techniques along with Shinmeisho No Waza were reinstated.  

Is Judo Safe to Learn?

Like all contact martial arts, practitioners can put themselves at risk honing their skills. Injuries are not uncommon. Throwing, as well as being thrown can put immense stress on a person’s body.  To toss an opponent, a judoka typically takes the weight of their opponent on their back or knees.  This can put pressure on joints and the spine.  Over time, this may lead to further issues and it is important to monitor them.  Additionally, it is important that judo users look after their hands.  While blisters and callouses may appear in the early days of taking the art up, judo players will find that their hands harden and acclimatized to the gi grips and throws involved.    

Conclusion

Judo is a fantastic art, but like all martial arts it has its own specific strengths and weaknesses.  For street fighting purposes, other grappling arts such as BJJ and wrestling have their own merits, while the enhanced cardio levels, hand speed and coordination provided by boxing or Muay Thai can be extraordinarily effective in other circumstances.  

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