Monday, May 5, 2014

Principles of Judo

I share below some thoughts from a module entitled “Judo Technical Principles”, about some fundamental judo principles. In particular, the 3 principles of judo as outlined in the Illustrated Kodokan Judo, 1955 edition; the principle of softness, the principle of maximum efficiency, and the principle of mutual benefit. (I led this module as Visiting Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, teaching the European Judo Union Coach Award).

Principle of softness

We see the concept of jū, [柔] in Ju-jutsu / ju-jitsu as one of the six martial arts, or Roku-bugei, the 6 compulsory martial arts for all samurai, these are; Kenjitsu (sword), Kyujitsu (archery), Bajitsu (horse), Sojitsu (spear), Hojitsu (gunnery), and Jujitsu (hand to hand).

柔, is also known as Yawara. Commonly translated as softness, yielding, pliable, as in the example of snow falling on the willow tree. 

In the year 700 there was a Chinese military code in Japan, Lao Tzu's "Three Strategies", the "San-Ryaku". In this code we find the four character phrase: "jū yoku sei gō”. Another way to say this is; jū yoku gō o seisu, 柔よく剛を制す, meaning "Softness subdues Hardness" meaning that flexibility overcomes rigidity.

As we all know the techniques of Judo enable a smaller person to utilise the opponent's own power to throw him in spectacular fashion. Thus demonstrating the principle that "Softness overcomes Hardness". Indeed it is this drive to show the spectacular throwing techniques of judo that motivates many of the rule changes to international competition judo, brought about by the IJF in recent years. It could be argued that the implementation of the IJF rule changes are in fact a desire to demonstrate the fundamental principle of softness overcoming hardness, the principle of jū, enshrined in the first kanji of the name judo.

Lao Tzu illustrates the point with the phrase; 

“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.”

In 1922 at the age of 62, Jigoro Kano founded the Kodokan Cultural Council, The Kodokan Bunkakai. This was the 40th anniversary of the Kodokan. He chose the founding of the Cultural Council to launch the two underpinning principles of judo. By considering the date of the launch we can understand that these principles were formulated after 40 years of reflection about the principles of judo. Each of them is expressed as four word phrase.

Principle of maximum efficiency

seiryoku zen'yō, 精力善用, the maximum efficient use of power, also described as; maximum efficiency, minimum effort, or maximum efficient use of physical and mental strength. 

Jigoro Kano realised that the principle of jū alone, did not encompass all of the techniques in judo, for example, armlocks, or atemi-waza. The answer was about applying your power in the most efficient way. This underlying principle for training in the techniques of judo, can be applied to all actions in daily life.

The judoka learns to be efficient with their training, to be efficient with their time, to fit all the training around other commitments of work, study and relationships. The ideas of “not too much, not too little” that underpin maximum efficiency can also be applied to daily tasks, such as cleaning. Trevor Leggett often gave the example of holding the pencil half way up, for more efficient writing. (I had the great fortune to study zen under Trevor Leggett in the 1980s.)

Principle of mutual benefit

jita kyōei 自他共栄, or mutual prosperity for self and others, often translated as mutual welfare and benefit.

At the opening of the Kodokan Bunkakai in 1922, Kano explained that seiryoku zen'yō  was required to provide the platform for jita kyōei.

For individuals, anger, worry and conflict, are not efficient uses of their power. In fact they are a waste of power. For a society, if many people are inefficient in their power, the society will fall into decline. The most efficient use of power for a group, relies on them supporting each other, providing mutual welfare, and then the whole society can benefit from that mutual application of maximum efficient use of power. In this way when seiryoku zen'yō is applied to society it becomes jita kyōei.

Examples of jita kyōei, include; respect for others, consideration to ukes, consideration to losers, helping people who need help, and helping the world to be peaceful. 

Often some of these ways to communicate jita kyōei in the dojo, is by encouraging young judoka to follow a version of the judo moral code.

I believe that a judo club can achieve great things, and make a significant contribution to their community, by the judo coaches and teacher taking efforts to apply the principles of judo into their daily classes.

If you would like to understand more about how to coach judo to build your club, improve your athletes, and improve society, then consider following the path of hundreds of successful coaches, by registering on the EJU Coach Awards.

Request our regular newsletter here.
Read our news stories at
Follow us on facebook via
Follow us on twitter via