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In The Arena Blog

Judo: A Brief History

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In mixed martial arts, there are many ancient sports that athletes study in order to become better fighters. These include Greco-Roman wrestling skills and boxing, both of which date back centuries. Judo, however, is quite important to MMA, but was only developed in the later part of the 19th century. You will find it similar to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in many ways, and that’s not hard to understand, since BJJ actually developed out of the world of Kodokan Judo.

In Judo, the main objective is to find a way to knock your opponent to the ground and then use a lock or a choke in order to gain an advantage. Judo students do learn striking, however, throwing techniques and grappling skills are far more important. In fact, striking is not a part of either sparring practice or allowable in competitions. In the century or so since Judo was developed, there have been many figures important to the sport.

Obviously, Jigoro Kano deserves the first mention as he founded the art, which became the first martial art included in the Olympic Games. Kano, much like Helio Gracie, was a bit of an underdog. Small and physically weak, he turned to jiujitsu to increase his strength. Eventually, he added wrestling techniques and techniques from other martial arts that he found to be effective, and out of many arts, a new one was born.

Like many who have sought out the teachings of Judo, Mitsuyo Maeda was not a particularly strong or large man, but he wanted to get stronger and he wanted a solid set of defensive skills. Taught by Jigoro Kano, he did so well that he was sent to other countries to spread the martial art. While visiting Brazil, he met Carlos Gracie, who was quite impressed with Judo and became a student. Eventually, Gracie opened his own school and with the help of brother Helio, the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed. Maeda was an impressive fighter and earned a 7th dan black belt from the Kodokan Institute.

Maeda’s primary teacher was Tomita Tsunejiro, and he certainly has earned his place in the world of Judo’s Greats. Tsunejiro was one of the very first students of Judo, trained by Kano Jigoro himself. Tsunejiro also was the first student to earn a black belt and is also considered to be one of the Four Guardians of Judo.

Aside from boxing and wrestling, Judo was the first true martial art to be a part of the Olympic Games, and it was displayed as early as 1932 and became an official part of the summer games in 1964. The first gold medalist in the sport was not from Japan, but The Netherlands. Anton Geesink was the first Judo gold medalist, and although he eventually earned the rank of a 10th dan black belt from the International Judo Federation, this rank was unrecognized by the Kodokan Institute, which has awarded very few 10th dan black belts and none to anyone outside of Japan.

Because Judo is so effective as a way to overcome an opponent no matter what their size, it is very useful for mixed martial arts. There are several Judo experts in the world of MMA, such as Yoshihiro Akiyama and Anderson Silva. Ronda Rousey has used Judo effectively to win each of her professional MMA fights, and she won the bronze medal in Judo at the Olympic Games of 2008.


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