Judo meaning “gentle way” is a modern Japanese martial art and combat sport that originated in Japan in the late nineteenth century. Its most prominent feature is its competitive element, where the object is to throw one’s opponent to the ground, immobilize or otherwise subdue one’s opponent with a pinning technique, or force an opponent to submit by joint locking the elbow or by applying a choke.

Early history of judo can be traced to its founder, Jigoro Kano (1860–1938). The word “judo” shares the same root ideogram as “jujutsu”: “jū”, which is an explicit reference to the martial arts principle of the “soft method”. The soft method is characterized by the indirect application of force to defeat an opponent. More specifically, it is the principle of using one’s opponent’s strength against him and adapting well to changing circumstances.

The second characters of judo and jujutsu differ. Where jujutsu means the “art” or “science” of softness, judo means the “way” of softness. The use of “dō”, meaning way, road or path, has spiritual or philosophical overtones. Use of this word is a deliberate departure from ancient martial arts, whose sole purpose was for killing. Kano saw judo as a means for governing and improving oneself physically, mentally, emotionally and morally.

While judo includes a variety of rolls, falls, throws, hold downs, chokes, joint-locks, and strikes, the primary focus is on throwing. The main reason for throwing the opponent is to gain control and take a dominant position. In this way the practitioner has more potential to render a decisive outcome. Another reason to throw the opponent is to shock his body through smashing him forcefully onto the ground.

Judo emphasizes a free-style sparring, called “randori”, as one of its main forms of training. Sparring, also subject to safety rules, is much more practically effective than practicing techniques on their own. Using full strength develops the muscles and cardio-vascular system on the physical side of things, it develops strategy and reaction time on the mental side of things, and it also helps the practitioner learn to use techniques against a resisting opponent. A common saying among judoka is “The best training for judo is judo.”

Although initially a fully featured martial art, judo has also developed as a sport. Judo became an Olympic sport for men in the 1964 Tokyo games. At that Games Dutchman Anton Geesink won the gold medal in the open division defeating Aiko Kaminaga of Japan. Judo then lost the image of being “Japanese only” and went on to become one of the most widely practiced sports in the world. Men and women compete separately, although they often train together. Judo became an Olympic sport for women, and it has been a Paralympics sport (for the visually impaired) since 1988. Judo is also one of the sports at the Special Olympics.