Why Do Judo

Today a co-worker asked if I did jujitsu or Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I explained that I do both. He asked the difference and I explained that there wasn’t one – some guy in South America was doing what everyone else was but called it something else. When people ask me for advice about which martial art to do they’re usually looking for some eastern mysticism and hokey concept of structure or discipline. I always make perfectly clear that what I do (judo, BJJ, jujitsu, whatever we call it) is fundamentally the same as wrestling. I grab a guy, go to the ground, and hold him until someone tells me to stop. I don’t practice in environments where there are senseis, dojos, or ritual the way people think of martial arts. In judo we bow and we talk in Japanese, but that’s a simple sign of respect and the use of a universal language to avoid ambiguity. In BJJ we “shake” hands and talk in English for the same reasons.

The co-worker noted that he had been told that BJJ, unlike something like kickboxing, was supposed to be good because you have definitive resolutions. You don’t have to pull your punches to prevent injury – you can move on the ground with the other person at full speed. You can know that the choke will work, that the armbar will work. There is no question about maybe I would have gotten out. They submit or they do get out. That part is true. Unlike boxing or karate, we don’t need to pull our punches (literally or metaphorically) to prevent injury. We just need to be cognizant of the limitations of our and our partners’ bodies. I also clarified that when looking for a kids martial art, BJJ starts younger than most people think because there are no submissions for kids. It’s like a very relaxed wrestling class.

So here’s the thing: knowing that what you do works is great, but it’s not why I’d recommend judo. I’m by no means saying it’s false. I’m just saying that if you work where I work and live where I live it’s grossly unlikely that you’ll actually be in the skirmish where you need to know it works. My ecosystem just doesn’t lend itself to violent encounters. You will however find yourself at a high risk of using judo six months out of the year (more like five, but it sounds more ominous if I say winter is a six-month season here).

I am talking of course about the risk of falling and busting your ass on the ice. We get to freezing temperatures usually between late October and Early November, and heck if it’s not still freezing at night in early April. The difference between knowing ukemi from a combat sport like judo and not knowing ukemi is the difference between your hand really smarting from slapping the concrete and fracturing your tailbone. Trust me, you’d rather your hand hurt for a couple days.

I’m serious though. You’re at a way higher risk of needing falling skills than needing fighting skills, and you should know them. There was a story in the Budo club about a guy getting hit by a car while he was on his bike. His ukemi was so good that the six pack of beer in his backpack was completely in tact (albeit shaken) from the collision because he fell properly. Urban legend or totally this guy that Brant knows? I’m not really sure. The point stands: ukemi comes up. Be it falling down stairs, tripping over the invisible bench that found its way into your walking path (that’s a thing, right?), or slipping on ice you can and will benefit from knowing how to tumble.

If anyone ever says they’re looking for something they can use, that’s my answer. Learn judo, if nothing else you’ll learn how to not break your collar bone when you fall.


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