Is Judo any good for self defense?

Judo has its roots in the Japanese art of Jujitsu, the battlefield art of the Samurai, but I’ve often wondered if Judo was any good for self defense in the modern World.


I knew that it was Dr. Jigoro Kano (The Father of Judo) who, in 1882, removed the more deadly movements  of the Samurai fighting style in order to give birth to a new sport: Judo, meaning “the gentle way”. 


Judo’s primary objective is to “defeat” your opponent by either throwing them or pinning them to the ground for a set period.


It’s popularity increased after a contest between a Judo team and the most well-known jiu-jitsu school at the time, hosted by the Tokyo police in 1886.  The Judo team won easily and from this point onwards, Japanese judoka (a person who practices Judo) travelled overseas to teach this new fighting art to a growing number of people. 


Like most martial arts Judo consists of a coloured belt systems as the proponent’s skill level improves.   However, unlike many martial arts, the grading process involves judoka actively competing against each other.


Judo became an official event in the Olympic Games of Tokyo in 1964.


Today there are over 40 million people around the globe who practice judo, according to the IJF ( International Judo Federation).

Is Judo useful in MMA?

I love watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and it was this inter-style competition that proved to be the ultimate lie detector when it came to the traditional martial arts.  Prior to this, proponents of the various styles would make all sorts of claims saying that their style was the most deadly.


It was only when the UFC came along in 1993, were the various styles were actually pitted against each other.


Very quickly it became apparent that certain styles didn’t live up to their hype.  The pure striking arts quickly found that their lack of ground game came to bite them.  They were wrestled or thrown to the ground and from there, could not recover.


It was this ability to get the opponent to the ground that made Judo so useful.


One of my all time favourite fighters in MMA was Ronda Rousey whose fighting style is founded on Judo.


Ronda was actually the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in judo in the 2008 Summer Olympics.  She then transitioned into MMA and became one of the highest paid female fighters of all time.


Here’s a great video of Ronda in action….


As you can see, Ronda’s proficiency in Judo enabled her to clinch and then throw her opponent to the ground.  It’s a technique, she employed time and time again with devastating effectiveness.

Is Judo Effective?

I think that one of the things that makes judo so effective is that it’s a sport.  Two competing athletes are pitted against each other in a bid to throw each other to the ground.  


It involves dealing with a resisting opponent – you’re trying to throw someone who not only doesn’t want to be thrown, but is also trying to throw you.


Many martial arts don’t have this type of resistance – Shotokan Karate, Kung Fu – to name but a few.  These types of martial art focus on form and technical precision.


However, it’s only when you are genuinely fighting a live, resisting opponent, that you realise whether you have reached a level of technical proficiency in the movement you are trying to perform.  


The feedback is instantaneous.  If you’re trying to throw your opponent, you’ll know if your technique is effective when your opponent goes flying.


I believe that it’s the constant struggle with a resisting, live opponent that hones and refines your technique.


In this way, it differs from martial arts such as Aikido.  


Aikido also involves lots of throwing techniques but these aren’t against a resisting opponent.  On the contrary, the opponent actively assists the practitioner by jumping, falling and diving in the direction that they are being directed.   At best, Aikido is essentially like a choreographed dance. It looks impressive but that’s about it. I’ve written previously as to why Aikido is not effective for self defense in the real world.  

The Disadvantages of Judo

I think that one of the disadvantages of Judo is that it’s a grappling art and therefore there is not a lot of focus, if any, on how to block or deliver punches or kicks.  


The judoka has to get close enough to their opponent in order to grab hold of them in order to throw or sweep them to the ground.


Against a skilled boxer or kickboxer this could prove difficult and it is likely that several shots will land before they get within an effective range.


On other drawback is that, compared to BJJ, their is a limited focus on ground work (Newaza).   


Judo does have a number of pinning movements such as  Kesa Gatame: 

Is Judo good for self defense?

From YouTube

Whilst limited, these ground techniques are more than enough to overcome an untrained aggressor.  


However, in my view, you don’t want to spend any time on the floor in a street fight.  If you’re wrestling on the floor, it makes you an easy target for other aggressors to literally kick you while you’re down.


Judoka also spar using Gi’s – a jacket and trousers made of thick material.  Compared to normal, everyday clothing, a Gi is easy to grab hold of. In a self defense scenario, certain throws won’t be effective or, at least, will be significantly more difficult to execute.


Practical Judo Throws

I think the judo throws shown below that are perfect for a self defense situation as they don’t rely too much on the Gi and translate well to a real world situation.



Is Judo Dangerous?

One study by G.James and W.Pieter looked at injury rates in elite judoka sustained during competition.

The injury rate for male competitors was just over 14% with the majority of these injuries being some form of strain.

Whilst these injury rates might seem high, it’s important to remember that these were sustained by high level athletes going all out in a competitive environment.

The average Judoka will not be practising at this level of intensity and aggression, and that’s when injuries can happen.


At the same time,Judo is a martial art and there’s an element of risk associated with any fighting art.


I think this has to be accepted if you’re looking to improve your ability to protect yourself in a self defense scenario. 


Summary: Does Judo work for Self Defense?

My view is that Judo is an excellent fighting style for self defence.


Many confrontational situations don’t warrant the use of kicks or punches.  Being confronted by an aggressive drunk or someone being a bit of an idiot, doesn’t mean you should start throwing haymakers; not least because the police will take a very dim view if you have used disproportionate force. 


With Judo you can subdue an attacker very quickly and with the minimum level of violence as this clip demonstrates.