The Four Pillars Of Judo
By Victor Anderson
Sandan, Sacramento Judo Club
Several years ago when I was in Korea, my sensei had a simple question
on one of his promotion examinations. That question was, "What do
you think about judo?" I dashed off some platitudes about maximum
efficiency, improving the character and so forth. Good enough to pass.
Lately, that question has come to haunt me more and more. There are some
who say Judo is a way of life, others talk about sport, and still others
argue about martial arts.
begin with, we should look to what Dr. Kano, the founder of judo said.
Kudo sensei in his book, Dynamic Judo, quotes Dr. Kano as saying:
"Judo is the way to the most effective use of both physical and
spiritual strength. By training you in attacks and defenses it refines
your body and your soul and helps you make the spiritual essence of judo
a part of your very being. In this way you are able to perfect yourself
and contribute something of value to the world. This is final goal of
No words about sport here. In the second edition of the Kodokan Judo,
Dr. Kano devotes a brief chapter to the philosophy of Judo. Here, Dr.
Kano does talk about sport and its role in character development. He also
talks about the use of physical education in training the body and the
mind. Dr. Kano speaks of the use of kata as a training tool.
The two great ideas of Kodokan Judo are maximum efficiency and mutual
welfare and respect. If one studies the main source book of Judo, Kodokan
Judo, one comes to realize that this is an art that involves physical
education, sport, and unarmed combat (self defense). I believe that the
Judo fields of study are best shown by the following diagram.
All of the areas of study overlap. Physical education, that is the training
of the mind and body, will have a bearing on both sport and combative
studies. The human body moves because of muscular action which is the
result of mental effort. You think about walking across the room and then
walk across the room. The mind leads, the body follows, and all of the
wonderful mechanics of walking occur. Without training in the skills needed,
the body and mind cannot perform the necessary tactical and strategic
movements needed for both sport and unarmed combat.
The relationship between sport and unarmed combat is not easily seen
at first. Combat sports evolved out of the need for warriors to train
in a competitive manner. One could simply engage in full fledged fights.
The problem of course is the attendant injury rate and loss of life. So,
drills and games were invented to provide a way for warriors to practice
needed skills with reasonable safety. What defines reasonable safety varies
with cultures and historical periods. A good example of a combat sport
is the joust. The joust was invented by European knights as a game to
train in the use of lance. The game evolved to the point to where special
armor, saddles, lances, and of course complex rules came into existence.
However, many of the core values of using a lance on horseback in combat
are trained by the joust. Combat sports all train certain core values
that are important to the type of combat from which the sport evolved.
Target shooting with a pistol from a fixed stance is often seen as very
distant from the use of a pistol in combat. However, the ability to hit
the target is an important core value for combat shooting.
In sport judo the techniques are confined to throwing (nage waza), locking
the elbow joint (kansetsu waza), chokes (shime waza), and hold downs (osaekomi
waza). Contest techniques are further restricted to those that will not
result in severe injury, provided the competitor is trained in falling
techniques (ukemi). What then is the relationship of sport judo to judo
as unarmed combat? In my opinion, the most important relationship is
that judo matches are conflicts between two human beings. You must attempt
to use your techniques against an adversary. In judo tournament, techniques
are judged on effectiveness. To win by throwing, you must actually throw.
It is extremely easy to throw a willing subject. It is an entirely different
thing when the opponent is fighting back. Another issue is the simple
fact that judo as a sport is rough. It is a full contact sport. You will
be bruised, have your joints twisted, endure minor sprains, heat, exhaustion,
and just general discomfort. In the small, tight world of the judo competitor
your opponent is very close, at arms length or less. In this tiny universe
you must learn to deal with fear, failure, pain, hardship and the joy
of success. This type of training prepares you for what the U.S. military
calls the "shock of combat." In other words what happens when
someone hits you on your nose and the pain and bleeding start. Next, the
ability to fall well is extremely valuable. In any fight one is subject
to falls due to any number circumstances. For example, your opponent may
throw or knock you down, or you may slip and fall due to conditions such
as mud or ice. Being able to maintain your mental equilibrium even while
falling and after is important. So sport judo provides some very core
values in addition to building skill in grappling techniques.
combat (what many label as self defense) is different from sport. In a
sense this is the actual battlefield application of techniques. It is
important to remember that unarmed combat has a wide range of applications.
The goals and needs of the civilian are different from the policeman which
are in turn different from the soldier. Unarmed combat techniques within
Kodokan Judo are found in the various kata. The kime no kata and Goshin
jitsu kata are the two main examples. Training for self defense, police
work, or any other application of unarmed combat is generally done in
the form of katas. Katas are of two types. Generally when kata is spoken
about, the reference is to formal exercises that are prescribed by those
in authority. In the case of Judo, this is generally considered to be
the Kodokan. One may also have informal drills which are used to train
specific skills. Because the techniques used in unarmed combat may result
in serve injury, kata is used as the training vehicle.
What is interesting about judo kata, is that they are intended to teach
principles as opposed to just technique. These principles are often applicable
to sport as well as unarmed combat. The student of judo who desires to
know more about unarmed combat needs to study the kata. The student also
needs to realize that ideas and techniques are useful in both areas.
An important difference is to recognize that sport judo rules have a
rationale. First, the rules exist to provide a relatively safe means of
competition. Second, the rules provide a means of defining the winner
of the contest. Finally, the rules describe boundary conditions such as
the contest area, and actions that are or are not allowed. The customs
surrounding judo contests are designed to make it clear that it is sporting
event and not a common street fight. For self defense, the judoka (judo
student) should train to use all of the techniques available which includes
atemi waza (striking the weak points of body).
If all judo did was to train in the three areas above, it would not be
much different from many other schools of martial art. What defines judo
and makes it different is its philosophical base. First and foremost judo
is an educational system. It is my opinion that Dr. Kano invented the
belt ranking system ( kyu - dan ranks) as a means of grading judoka in
terms of judo education. Like grade levels in college or other schools,
this gave students a set of goals to strive for. It also provided a means
of gauging progress. Judo is about the perfection of character. This is
The two great ideas of judo are maximum efficiency, and mutual welfare
and respect. The first speaks to the concept of utilizing the body and
mind in the most efficient manner. Within judo culture, the idea of ju
is assumed to be the underpinning of maximum efficiency. But what is "ju?"
It is a hard word to pin down. It has been interpreted as meaning gentleness
and also flexible or pliable. I believe the idea is much more than a single
word. The concept has to do with being able to blend with your opponent's
force, take control of it, and then use that force to achieve your goal.
The classic example is using the opponent's push and turning into a throw
in the direction of the push. The other part of maximum efficiency is
the idea of the correct use of strength. I like to tell beginning students
that judo is not about strength, it is about the correct use of strength.
Inherent in this is the concept of concentration of force against a weak
point. Tilt someone's head back until he is off balance to the rear. Now
push sharply down and slightly behind the person's feet. If done correctly,
he will fall to the ground.
The concept of mutual welfare and respect turns judo from a mere sport
or even combat school into something quite different. It begins with the
concept of reigi or courtesy and bowing. The bow (rei) in judo has many
functions. First and foremost is the idea of mutual respect. By bowing
the student says to the teacher, "I respect you and will follow your
instructions to the best of my ability." The teacher's bow means
that the teacher respects the student and will teach to the best of teacher's
ability. Between students, the bow signifies mutual respect and a desire
to train each other. In judo tournaments today one still sees and hears
judoka giving each other help. Many times I have seen the winner of a
contest go to his opponent after the match and congratulate him or her
on a well fought contest, and then offer some advice on how to improve.
Within the school students strive and work together to improve. This idea
of progressing as a group is important in judo. Judoka are taught that
if one student improves, then all improve.
So just what is judo? Judo can be practiced with an emphasis on any one
of the three physical areas: sport, physical education, and unarmed combat.
While the judoka may choose one area in preference to the others, he or
she should learn about all three. The philosophy of judo and in particular
the goal of self perfection makes judo the unique art that it is. Without
these ideals, judo is at best an interesting sport and possibly a means
of unarmed combat. I think of judo as a martial art. Because of the philosophical
ideals judo is something more.
Viewing judo as an educational system founded on the ideas of self perfection,
maximum efficiency, mutual welfare and benefit changes it. What we have
is a martial philosophy or way of life (do). It is marital because the
base techniques have to do with fighting. The major training method ("the
giving and receiving of attacks") is martial in nature. It is on
the anvil of rondori (free exercise), shiai (contests), kata (forms),
and the general training that the judoka forges his or her character.
These are martial exercises and result in a "warrior" point
of view. The philosophy (do) takes the martial values and focuses them
so that as Dr. Kano said, "In this way you are able to perfect yourself
and contribute something of value to the world. This is final goal of
About The Author:
Victor Anderson is a martial arts researcher who has praticed judo since
1960. He has studied in California, Korea, Texas, Panama, Virginia and
is currently a third degree black belt and member of the Sacramento Judo
Club. He is a nationally rated judo referee and coach and as competitor
has placed 2nd and 3rd in USJI Masters National Tournaments. His study
of judo is to approach it as a martial art, that can be practiced as a
sport. He also studies striking of vital areas (atemi waza) as part of
judo self-defense. Other arts he has studied include Hopkido (shodan),
aikido, shudokan karate, boxing, wrestling, tai chi chaun and pa kua chaun.