In 2012, in an attempt to foster patriotism, the Japanese government made it compulsory for junior high schools across the country to teach its students one traditional Japanese sport during P.E.; kendo, sumo, or judo. Previously, ‘budo’ or martial arts were merely one of the sports boys could study during gym class, but since the law was passed both boys and girls are required to learn a martial art.
Sadly, while the government has issued this mandate, it has not provided the financial support to make it happen for Japanese schools. Schools are responsible for finding its own teachers and maintaining its own equipment and facilities. As such, schools tend to gravitate towards the sport that requires the least equipment: judo. There are a plethora of problems involved with teaching judo and other martial arts in school, but as an avid judo fan and player, here are the reasons why learning judo in school is a good idea and why you should give it a try yourself!
Judo or ‘the way of gentleness’ was created by Jigoro Kano in 1882 as an alternative to the physically punishing Jiu-jitsu. ‘Winning’ a judo match involves either throwing your opponent in such a way that he/she lands squarely on their back, or by pinning your opponent on his back to the mat for 25 seconds. There are many other complex rules, but this is the basic gameplay.
Before you learn any throwing technique at all in judo, first you must learn how to breakfall or ‘ukemi’. Learning how to fall down without hitting your head or hurting yourself is not only important in judo but is also a valuable skill outside the dojo. Imagine slipping and falling on ice or in a puddle; falling backwards and hitting your head could cause potentially life-threatening injuries.
Assuming that both you and your opponent can take a proper breakfall, next players work on trying to throw each other. While both players try their hardest to win, it is not beneficial for either player to intentionally harm each other. In judo, you will always need an opponent to practice with, if you hurt your partner then he/she cannot practice anymore and therefore neither will you. Unlike karate or even kendo to an extent, almost every aspect of judo involves working with someone else so you must look out and be mindful of your practice partner. Being mindful of others is a type of respect that follows good judoists even when they are off the mat.
Judo is a physically and mentally taxing sport. To be a competitive player, you have to have a certain amount of physical strength. While judo techniques do not solely rely on power, building strong muscles is an important aspect of judo training. Physical training can help control weight issues, ease depression symptoms, and has many other great health benefits. I also feel that judoists also possess a mental toughness that is slightly different from people who practise other sports. Think of judo like physical chess; players are constantly trying to figure out their opponent’s next move, how to counter an attack and how best to attack. This concentration and focus can benefit both students in schools and adults in the workplace.
These are great skills that kids today can learn in school. However, without a proper teacher kids can’t learn anything. Schools are put under pressure to find judo teachers. There might not be a fitting candidate available, but because there is no alternative around, schools end up hiring an unskilled teacher. If the teacher is an unqualified judoist or simply not a very good teacher, students could be injured during practice.
Judo should be enjoyable for anyone who tries it. With the right teacher, judo players can learn a great sport as well as valuable skills useful both on and off the mat. It would be a shame if kids start to dislike judo just because of a bad experience in middle school with one judo teacher. There are many great judoists in Japan willing to share their knowledge if you are willing to learn. See you on the mat!