Judo vs 柔道

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Aug 5, 2012 06:26
Are you enjoying London 2012 Olympic Games? Luckily, I obtained tickets for fencing and judo, so I had days off and went to the arena with my family. Today, I'd like to write about the judo games, Men's -100 kg and Women's -78 kg semifinals to finals.

I'm a Japanese, so I know a bit about judo. However, when I were to choose either judo or kendo in PE classes in my high school, I chose kendo, the sword-fighting of samurai. So I don't have experience in judo myself. Still, in Olympic Games, I often enjoyed watching judo games on TV, supporting Japanese judo masters for medals.

The arena in ExCel at Royal Docks near River Thames was full. It wasn't that big. Maybe its capacity was 1000 to 1500. But many spectators wore their own country colours or had their country flags. It was really 'international'.

To our disappointment, the male and female Japanese players had been easily eliminated in the morning session before we arrived in the afternoon. Our preparation of supporting goods was in vain. So, I was to watch Olympic judo games without any Japanese players on tatami mats.

It was time. There was an announcement introducing players' names and the players came onto the tatami mats at the centre of the arena. Then, I felt, "Something is different." It was music. The players appeared with a rhythmic and exciting loud music (in Western pop music style, of course). It was more like boxing or pro-wrestling but not like 柔道.

I don't know much about judo games, actually, but I'm quite sure if the games were held in Japan, there should be no music whatsoever during the games. Then, I realized that what I was watching was 'judo' but not 柔道. In other words, it was an international entertaining sport rather than martial arts originating from samurai tradition. I liken this relationship to internationally popular 'sushi' in contrast to authentic 寿司 in Japan.

People in the arena were roaring in support of their countries' players. They stamped the floor and waved their flags. The arena was full of excitement.

Meanwhile, there was an announcement telling that Prime MInister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin had arrived. Soon, there was another announcement of the arrival of Duke of Edinburgh. Luckily for them, or thanks to their supports, a British woman and a Russian man advanced to the finals. The British lady won the silver medal, whereas the Russian won the gold. British spectators gave her a big round of applause. Putin, who plays judo very well himself, praised the feat of the gold medallist from his country.

So it was quite an exciting show. I probably didn't know that judo had become such an internationally successful sport. I hadn't expected to see much excitement in the spectators, to be honest. I thought most of them would be just curious about the oriental martial arts or something. But I was wrong. People were really enjoying it with sheer excitement, which you'd expect to see in football games for example.

To be fair, judo as a sport has its own simple attraction. Everybody can see the beauty of 'ippon', a successful throw or lock.

Two days ago, I also watched fencing games (men's foil semifinals and final) and found them 'interesting' at first. But after watching the judo games, I changed my take on fencing. It was boring! Although fencing fighters are very picturesque, you can't really see the crucial moment in the games, because foils are very thin and movements of the fighters are really quick. What you can see is only blinking lamp on fighters' masks...

I think that Jigoro Kano did a great job. He organized jujutsu (柔術), martial arts of samurai, into a modern sport. That was a great idea and judo became popular rapidly.

In London 2012, however, for the first time in the history of the Olympic games, men's Japanese judo team failed to acquire a gold medal. Not only the judo players, but also the coaches and other judo-related people were deeply shocked.

But maybe they don't have to worry about the popularity of judo itself. It's now established. I can see it. Perhaps, judo doesn't need Japan any more. It seems that many countries have already developed their own coaches, referees and training systems. You don't have to learn about Japanese culture to watch or play judo games.

Jigoro Kano named his new martial arts 柔道, where 道 (do) means that it's a long way to seek your spiritual development. Thus, 柔道 is included in budo 武道, which also includes 剣道, 空手道 and 合気道. Japanese people can see the continuity of 柔道's history and can accept it as a sport and a budo at the same time.

But it could be quite difficult for people with different cultural backgrounds to understand the budo 武道 aspect of judo. Perhaps, they tend to see judo as nothing more than an exciting sport. Perhaps, when 柔道 was transliterated into 'judo', the concept ofwas gone.

Indeed, it has been repeatedly argued in Japan that, in international matches including the Olympics, judo players from other countries tend to steal small scores, no matter yuko or waza-ari, whereas Japanese judo players are always expected to beat them with a spectacular 'ippon'. To get 'ippon', Japanese judo fighters often have to risk themselves, and as a consequence they may lose their games by small scores. This may be or may not be the case.

While watching the games, I was a bit concerned about judo player's bows. Several times I felt they weren't long or deep enough to show respect to the opponent. This is only my imagination, but they might even say, "A bow in judo is just a formality, you know?"

Anyway, to win gold medals in judo in the Olympics, Japanese 柔道家 (judo players) may have to learn more about 'judo' rather than 柔道, just like 寿司職人 (suchi masters) has to learn about sushi to sell sushi in the global market.

For further reading:
山口 香 「柔道はなぜ期待はずれに終わったか」 (日本経済新聞)

小田嶋 隆「一本を取って勝つことと金メダルを取ること」(日経ビジネスオンライン)