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Undestanding a Judo Competition

Watching a Contest

So, you’re at a judo tournament. What is going on? Hopefully the following will be an easy introduction to the rules that will help you to understand the tournament.

What are they trying to do?

Quite simply they are trying to:

  • Knock the opponent over so that s/he lands hard on the back (a throw); or

  • Hold the opponent on the back for 25 seconds; or

  • Make the opponent submit by a strangle (chokes 13 years and older) or an arm lock (18 years or older)

If any of those three things are done successfully the score given is called “Ippon” and the match is over, like a knockout in boxing or a pin in wrestling.

How do they hope to do it?

There are hundreds of variations of throwing techniques. Some throws use mostly legs, some mostly arms, some a combination of arms, legs, and torso. Some throw their opponent over their own hips, shoulder, or back. They can also sweep the opponent’s feet out from under him, or they can drop down and throw the opponent over their own fallen body.

To pin the opponent, they press down from a face-down or side-down position on the opponent (generally controlling the head and an arm or leg) so that the opponent’s back or a shoulder is on the mat.

To obtain a submission, pressure can be applied directly on the elbow of a straight arm or the arm bent at a right angle can be twisted in either direction (arm lock). To strangle, or choke, pressure is applied to the sides of the opponent’s neck (not the windpipe) by one or both forearms or by using the opponent’s own collar. Strangle holds are only allowed on players 13 years old or older. Arm locks can only be used if the player is at least 17 years old.

Although strangles and arm locks may seem dangerous, the players are trained to know when they are in danger, and will submit by tapping either the mat, or the opponent, twice, before any damage is done. The referees are extremely alert when one player attempts to apply a choke or an arm lock. If the referee thinks the technique is about to cause serious injury, he can stop the match and declare a winner.

What aren’t they allowed to do?

There is a long list of things not allowed. Mainly, players are expected to play fair and continuously attack. They will be penalized for things like intentionally going out of bounds, refusing to attack (stalling), being too defensive, making rude comments or gestures, and performing dangerous acts (like not giving the opponent a chance to submit). The rules are rarely broken except in the tactical areas, such as stepping out or stalling. Penalties in judo are severe; a repeat of any transgression results always in the next higher penalty, the lower one being removed. The equivalent score is given to the opponent. Again, listen to the referee. The four possible signals, lowest to highest:

  • Shido #1: 

  • Shido #2: 

  • Shido #3: 

  • Hansoku-make: Ippon to the opponent

Because of the escalation of penalties only 4 minor transgressions will result in Hansoku-make (disqualification.)

This is reprinted from the USA Judo Media Guide and serves as a good introduction to the sport.

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