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What is Kodokan Judo? The Origin of Judo Easily Explained

Professor Jigoro Kano(right)

Judo is one of the most popular martial arts and has been an Olympic Sport since 1960. But despite being present in every part of the world, you can often hear people using various terms to describe judo, out of which the most common might be “Kodokan Judo.” But, you may wonder, what Kodokan judo is, and how it differs from other forms?

Kodokan judo is the original form of judo created by Kano Jigoro in 1882. Kano designed Kodokan to be practiced for self-defense, mental and physical benefits, and in a sports form. Or in other words, all judo styles are recognized and rooted in “Kodokan Judo.” 

Keep reading this article to learn more about Kodokan Judo, its history, and how practical it is in real life and MMA.

History of Kodokan Judo

The story of Kodokan Judo starts in the mid-19th century in Japan. At the time, the most practiced martial art in Japan was Jujutsu (Japanese Jujutsu). A brutal military system practiced by Samurai warriors designed for real combat that adopts both grappling and striking tactics. Though practical, the system and methods of teaching were brutal and even dangerous.

This was a problem because, during the 18th century, Japan started opening up to a new world. The nation was going through big cultural changes and had evolved into a more “westernized” society. As a result, brutal martial art practices such as Jujutsu were not popular any longer. And one of the first people who spotted these changes was jujutsu instructor, Kano Jigoro.

Kano Jigoro, the founder of Kodokan Judo

Kano started rethinking the theories of Jujutsu, techniques, and methods of teaching. He witnessed Jujutsu dying and wanted to save it by implementing a few changes. So he took his skill and experience to modernize the practice of Jujutsu and adapt it to the new social context of Japan.

The final result of his work was a softer and, above all, safer martial art. He got rid of all the ugly aspects of Jujutsu, such as foot and hand strikes, dirty tactics, and a violent approach to training. He then added new techniques and rules to create a much safer form called “Kodokan Judo” in 1882. The “Kodokan” is the name of the original judo academy. The name Kodokan translates to “a place to study the way.”

Professor Kano was thinking decades ahead. His main idea was to embody both physical and mental aspects of martial art practice, which enabled Judo to be practiced as a combat sport. And, of course, became an Olympic sport many years later.

According to Professor Kano, there are three primary purposes of Judo, as mentioned here:

Prof. Kano himself said that the purpose of Judo is to strengthen body by practicing attack and defense, to complete the personality by training the mind, and finally to devote oneself to society.

Kodokan Judo Institute

How is Kodokan Judo practiced?

Judo puts a lot of emphasis on standup grappling and execution of throws, trips, and sweeps from the standing position. But the way judokas get takedowns is a small piece of science. Each throw is a mix of the following elements:

  • Technique
  • Strong grip
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Weight manipulation
  • Gi manipulation
  • Re-direction of energy

Once on the ground, the key is to subdue the opponent with pins, choke holds that stop the airflow and blood flow to the brain, or joint locks.

Kodokan judo also teaches the basics of striking. Yet, students can only throw strikes in kata when doing forms and pre-arranged attacks. They are not allowed to throw any strikes in randori (practice) or competition, though.

The learning curriculum is split into the following three categories:

  • Nage Waza (throwing techniques)
  • Katame Waza (Grappling techniques)
  • Atemi Waza (striking techniques)

The classes consist of two main elements:

Kata — are pre-arranged forms. Kata is all about repetition, mastering the correct execution of techniques, and stamping the moves into muscle memory. In Kodokan judo, there are 10 different katas, with each one including 10–20 different techniques.

Randori — means “free practice” or “sparring.” It is a part of training where judokas learn how to apply techniques against the resisting opponent. Two judokas will simulate a judo match, and the intensity is based on skill and experience.

Judo kata demonstration

Kodokan Judo belt ranking systems

The progress, understanding, and improvement of the student are denoted by a color belt ranking system created by Kano Jigoro. Students are split into Kyu (junior ranks) and Dan (senior ranks), and each rank is presented with a different solid color belt.

Kano Jigoro pioneered the color belt ranking system in 1883 based on the popular board game called “Go.” His main idea was to separate students by skill level to improve the learning process. The initial version had only two colors: black (instructors) and white (students). Over the years, Kano would add more belts and ranks, and separate the system into kyu and dan ranks.

The following table illustrates the current judo belt ranking system for juniors:

RankJunior (15 years and younger)
10th kyu (Jukyu)White belt (new student)
9th kyu (Kukyu)Yellow belt
8th kyu (Hachikyu)Orange belt
7th kyu (Shichikyu)Blue belt
6th kyu (Rokyu)Blue belt
5th kyu (Gokyu)Green belt
4th kyu (Yonkyu)Green belt
3th kyu (Sankyu)Purple belt
2th kyu (Nikyu)Purple belt
1th kyu (Ikkyu)Brown belt
The junior belt system listed here is recommended by USJJF Mudansha Belt Colors.
However, each Judo dojo might have a different lower-grade belt color system based on their dojo tradition.
Courtesy of USA/TKJ

The following table illustrates the current judo belt ranking system for seniors:

RankSenior (16 years and older)
7th Kyu (Shichikyu)White belt (new student)
6th Kyu (Rokkyu)Yellow belt
5th Kye (Gokyu)Orange belt
4th Kyu (Yonkyu)Green belt
3rd Kyu (Sankyu)Blue belt
2nd Kyu (Nikyu)Purple belt
1st Kyu (Ikkyu)Brown belt
1st Dan (Shodan)Black
2nd Dan (Nidan)Black
3rd Dan (Sandan)Black
4th Dan (Yondan)Black
5th Dan (Godan)Black
6th Dan (Rokudan)Black belt or Red & White belt
7th Dan (Shichidan)Black belt or Red & White belt
8th Dan (Hachidan)Black belt or Red & Black belt
9th Dan (Kudan)Black belt or Red belt
10th Dan (Judan)Black belt or Red belt
Courtesy of USA/TKJ
BJJ Belt Ranking System – Easy To Understand For Beginners

What is the difference between Kodokan Judo and Jujutsu?

Japanese Jujutsu was a precursor to Kodokan Judo, and these two systems share a lot in common. This is notably true when it comes to certain moves, such as throws, locks, and chokes. Overall, Judo is often seen as a softer and safer version of Jujutsu.

Jujutsu is a military system used by Samurai warriors, and its written origins go back to the 8th century. The emphasis is on eliminating the enemy in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Students learn how to strike, grapple, and apply painful chokes and joint locks. On top of that, they learn any means necessary to survive by using dirty(deadly) tactics to defeat their enemies. It embraces brutal methods of training, and overall, a violent approach to fighting.

Judo differs a lot in most aspects. The emphasis is on standup grappling and ground fighting techniques, similar to the ones in Jujutsu. But Judo left out striking and various other brutal techniques and teaching methods. And it is more oriented toward competition and personal growth through martial art practice.

Judo vs. Sambo – The Fundamental Differences

Is there striking in Kodokan judo?

The initial form of Judo developed by Kano Jigoro in the 19th century includes limited striking. Students who train in dojos that embrace traditional teaching methods learn the principles of striking, or “Atemi-Waza.” However, most judo schools teach sport judo, which excludes striking techniques.

Atemi-Waza is only used in kata (pre-arranged forms) or can be taught in self-defense. But you can’t use it in formal randori (sparring).

Atemi-waza (当て身技): body-striking techniques.

Although taught within self defense, kata (型 or 形) and sometimes used within informal randori (乱取), striking techniques are forbidden in sport judo competitions rules.

USA Traditional Kodokan Judo (USA-TKJ)

According to the learning curriculum, beginner students learn the sport judo, where there are no striking techniques. This enables them to master and develop core judo skills without the high risk of injuries. Once they reach the advanced levels, they would start adopting the full martial art of Judo.

Striking in judo consists of leg and arm strikes. In addition, students learn how to attack and defend using punches, open-hand attacks, and elbows. They also practice various types of kicks such as roundhouse, front/side kicks, and low/high kicks.

Most of the striking techniques are direct punches and kicks that do not require much energy and time to perform. The emphasis is not on doing big damage, but to help you close the distance and break the opponent’s balance to get a takedown.

Are there submissions in Kodokan Judo?

The judo syllabus includes fighting on the ground with submission techniques. The main objective on the ground is to subdue the opponent, which involves pins, chokes, or joint locks. These submissions are similar to the ones in jujutsu, and BJJ. However, one of the major differences is that judokas can’t use neck cranks.

Kansetsu-waza (joint locks):

  • Knee lock
  • Leg lock
  • Straight arm lock
  • Cross lock
  • Triangular lock

Shime-waza (choking techniques)

  • Rear naked choke
  • Triangle choke
  • Sleeve wheel choke
  • Reverse cross choke
  • Thrust choke

However, judokas do not spend much time fighting on the ground, and both BJJ and Jujutsu are way more advanced in this segment. This is mainly because throwing techniques are the most important aspect of Judo. Just a single well-executed throw wins you ippon (one point), and a match.  As a result, chasing a submission is not as important as in other grappling arts.

In fact, ground fighting is quite limited in competition too. Judokas must remain active as the referee would reset the action and stand them back up if there has been no progress for 5–10 seconds. But, a couple of seconds is not enough for a judoka to get into a position and place a choke or joint lock.

So the rules are actually favoring standup grappling and throws over submissions.

BJJ vs Japanese Jiu-Jitsu – Key Differences and Similarities

Is Kodokan judo a sport or a martial art?

Judo is both a popular combat sport and a martial art designed to be practical in real life. Unlike in other martial arts, the sport form of Judo does not have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the system. In fact, the contrasts between Kodokan judo and “sports” judo are negligible.

Whether you train in Judo for martial arts benefits or compete in matches and win medals, you will learn the same techniques. There is just a slight contrast in the way you approach training. The structure of training is maybe a bit different in sports form as students must learn how to obey the rules.

Kano Jigoro was a man ahead of his time. When he was designing Judo, his main idea was to create a self-defense martial art that would be safe to train in and that could also be practiced as a sport. He integrated both of these elements together, which is the main reason why traditional and sports forms do not differ too much from one another. And why Judo is seen as both a sport and a martial art system.

Is Kodokan Judo good for self-defense?

Judo is very practical in a self-defense scenario, and the skills judokas learn will make them superior to average people in a street fight. The system is notably practical if the fight is in a closed space such as the bar, room, or hall. Being at close range enables you to quickly secure a strong grip, and utilize one of many powerful throws to slam the attacker down to the ground.

Most street fighting scenarios, regardless of the place, include a lot of grabbing, pulling, falling, and missed strikes. It is not a pro-MMA match between two skilled athletes, which is why most street fights are all over the place. But judokas are already conditioned to handle such a chaotic environment.

As a judoka, the only thing you need is for the attacker to get in your face, or gets a hold of you. You can use this to your advantage to break the hold or secure a strong grip, and take them down in a blink of an eye. Even if the attacker is physically superior, they won’t be able to defend efficiently.

Judo is all about skill, leverage, balance, strength, and technique. It takes years to learn how to defend against judo attacks, all the procedures and improve body mechanics, which gives you an edge over untrained people. Once the fight hits the ground, judokas can quickly subdue the attacker with pins or painful joint locks.

The biggest downside is the lack of striking defense. Though traditional judo covers this segment, students throw strikes only in katas, and they never learn how to apply punches and kicks in a real fight.

How effective is Kodokan Judo in MMA?

Judo is more than present in modern MMA, and some of its elements work really well in cage fighting. Still, you can’t just rely on judo skills and expect to succeed. MMA is a versatile sport, and judokas need to develop an all-around game in order to win fights. But having solid judo skills is a good starting point.

Some of the judo skills are quite effective in MMA, where there is a lot of grabbing. For example, the segment in which judokas shine is the clinch fighting, where they can put their skills to work to score takedowns. Once a judoka gets into a preferred position, it would be really hard, almost impossible to stop them from doing what they know best.

Judokas’ ability to manipulate the opponent’s weight, re-direct energy, and maintain a strong balance in close range makes them a tough matchup for anyone.

The biggest downside of Judo in MMA is the lack of striking, advanced ground game, and wrestling defense. To succeed in MMA, each judoka must focus on mastering all the segments of the game, no matter how advanced their judo is. The best example is a former Judo Olympic competitor, Hector Lombard, who trained to become a very good MMA striker.

What is the difference between Kodokan Judo and BJJ?

First, Judo has been around for much longer. It was founded in 1882, while BJJ emerged in the 1920s. Next, Judo is a precursor to BJJ, meaning that these two martial arts share many similarities. But, there are also more than a few differences, notably when it comes to emphasis and objectives.

Judo focuses more on standup grappling using powerful throws and limited ground fighting. The main objective is to get the hold of the opponent and rely on technique, strength, and balance to execute a powerful throw to take them down to the ground. A single well-executed throw can win you a match in the competition.

BJJ does it the other way around, as ground fighting is far more important. The main objective is to take the opponent down using judo and wrestling techniques. Then, the key is to secure a dominant position, from which you can either control the opponent or finish them with chokes and joint locks. This also means that BJJ includes more techniques overall, notably when it comes to submissions, escapes, etc.

BJJ vs Japanese Jiu-Jitsu – Key Differences and Similarities

Related Questions

What is a judo uniform called?

Judogi is the Japanese name of the uniform used in Judo, but they also call it “keikogi” and “dogi.” The uniform consists of a jacket (top), long pants, and a rank belt made out of thick cotton, and it weighs around seven kilograms. Since there is a lot of intense grabbing and pulling, judogi has heavier stitching and double-layered knee patches for extra durability.

Why does judoka tape their fingers?

Judo is hard on your hands and arms since there is a lot of intense grabbing and pulling. Wrist and finger injuries are quite common, and practitioners often tape their fingers to add extra protection. Tapping the fingers prevents sprains and lowers the risk of a broken finger, and it also improves grip strength. 

Will Judo help my wrestling?

Absolutely. Wrestlers can benefit greatly from learning Judo throws, trips, sweeps, and other skills. This adds more variety to your arsenal and gives an edge over opponents unfamiliar with these moves.