I’ve often said judo is the football of the martial arts. Bruce Lee agreed with assessment noting Kano’s randori is the best training method ever developed. It allows full contact and 100% commitment to the technique. No pulling punches or protective equipment. The end result is a level of toughness and knowledge / confidence that judo works and what to expect when facing real resistance.
Recently I read an editorial on BudoDragon.com on this subject which I liked very much. They granted me permission to include it in my Black Belt Blog this week.
Why is judo so hard to learn?
Over the years, time and time again the consensus is that judo is probably the hardest and most difficult martial art for the average person to learn. There are multiple reasons for this that will be discussed in depth below. However, if you’re reading this and wondering if judo is for you, don’t be put off entirely, read the article and then make your own mind up afterwards. In short, although judo is a difficult skill to learn, it’s also highly rewarding and looks beautiful when it’s done correctly.
At the same time, in all honesty – judo simply isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain type of person and character to get into judo and is not a soft martial art. Here is why judo is so hard to learn.
Table of Contents
Grip fighting is an art in itself
In judo, grip fighting is taken incredibly seriously. Glancing over at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and wrestling, grip fighting is still a big deal – but in judo you can spend entire classes going over intricate, specific details on grips and how they work. In short, it takes years to develop good, strong grips and just as long to be able to break the grips of your opponent. For some people, this is simply too boring and isn’t worth investing the time in learning.
However, it’s true that grip fighting is a fundamental part of judo and is worth learning. If you don’t put the time into this, then you won’t progress very far. In short, this a lot of people start judo and want to dive right into the fancy looking throws, such as tomoe nage. However, against an experienced grappler or judoka, this isn’t possible without setting up the key grips. This can be hard to stick to and takes discipline that many people don’t have the time to sink into learning.
Judo can feel counter intuitive
Whilst wrestling is a highly technical martial art in itself, it’s also more stripped down compared to Judo. Literally in some cases, as the gi is not present. Anyway, the good thing about wrestling is that it often makes logical sense. For instance, if you shoot with a double leg, you’re diving in on the legs and lifting them off the ground. Of course, a penetration step is not easy to learn and is quite counter intuitive as well, but stuff like high crotch and single leg takedowns have entries that are easier to understand.
In judo, this is rarely the case, and at times it can feel like you’re throwing in extra moves for the sake of it. One example of this could be the Ouchi Gari. On the face of it, you’re just reaping the inner leg. However, this requires precise footwork and an unusual movement from your back leg. A lot of people will naturally try to rush the Ouchi Gari and neglect the subtle details. Like grip fighting, this is something that takes years to learn and perfect. It’s not something that can do overnight and is far harder than it looks.
Whilst this is true for all martial arts, it’s especially true for judo. Here, you’ll need to put in the reps and work when it comes to the less obvious stuff, and this isn’t necessarily fun or easy. With judo, the end result may be a nice looking throw. Most of the time though, it’s the work and build up before this throw that isn’t appreciated by outsiders – which is what makes your Judo succeed or fail.
Judo is tough on the body
Overall, judo is one of the most brutal martial arts to put your body through. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out why as well. Being repetitively thrown to the floor will eventually take its toll on your bones and muscles. Similarly, your fingers will end up gnarled and broken by years of grips and grip fighting. For more information on this subject, feel free to check out our comprehensive articleon the matter. This will give you a bigger idea of why so many people quit judo, or avoid it altogether.
Although physical toughness is hard, it’s also translates to the learning process. Obviously, it’s easier to commit and learn something if your body feels healthy and unbroken. However, if you’re constantly in pain then you’re less likely to stick with something.
As judo is so technical, it’s difficult for beginners to feel progress
Imagine you’re a bigger person and you walk into a boxing gym. You may get outboxed by a quicker, more technical boxer that can work you. However, you will still have the physical advantage of size and strength and as the saying goes, you always have a punchers chance. This isn’t disrespecting boxing either, but merely saying it how it is.
As for judo, this same scenario gives the newcomer even less of a chance in sparring, regardless of their size. As mentioned previously, stuff like grip fighting and detailed footwork is key in judo and lays down the foundations for success. Without these, you will be in big trouble and fundamentally your judo won’t work. This means that beginners in judo find it even harder to find success, especially during randori. As a result, it’s only natural that they feel disheartened.
This is why people say that judo has a steep learning curve because it doesn’t. You can’t just turn up in a dojo and expect to do well. Instead, you need to put the work in and learn the technique. It will also take years in some cases to feel any significant progress, whereas in many other martial arts, this process can take months in comparison. One day, it may all click in your brain, but until then the small progress that you make may not be fully appreciated by yourself.
Judo requires a level of athleticism that other martial arts don’t
If ever you’ve stepped foot in a judo dojo, typically the demographic features kids, and adults that have trained for a while. However, if you compare this to Aikido for instance, the Aikido dojo will have a lot more older practitioners that have just started training. The reason for this is that judo isn’t just hard on the body, it’s also requires a certain level of cardio, speed, and athleticism to keep up during randori.
This means that if you plan on starting judo in your 40s and you aren’t in great shape to begin with, then you may be in for a hard time. Simply put, many people aren’t used to the level of intensity required for judo and it can be a shock at first. As mentioned, certain other martial arts are much easier to dive into and require less physical conditioning.
If you do plan on sticking it out in judo and you begin whilst out of shape – then you’ll be playing catch up for the first few months or even year whilst your fitness begins to improve. This is just yet another reason as to why judo can be difficult to learn, as it adds yet another layer of problems and puzzles to solve and even if your technique is good, but you’re too slow or weak – it may feel like you’re treading water in terms of progression.
Judo can feel too repetitive at times
As touched upon earlier, there’s a lot of focus on small movements such as grip fighting and footwork that may seem too boring for some. However, this is nothing compared to the level of details poured into breakfalling as a beginner. Breakfalling is learning to fall safely, to protect your arms and head. This is a skill that should mean you don’t fall badly on your arm and break bones which is otherwise a possibility for beginners.
Because of this, there’s a lot of time spent drilling breakfalls as a beginner when it comes to judo. Perhaps one of the main reasons people train is for the fun aspects of randori where you get to test yourself and get challenged. This isn’t always the case, and although repetition breeds consistent results, some people get disheartened by this and feel it’s a waste of time and isn’t fun.
If you compare this to other martial arts, then you’ll find that repetition is a strong feature in judo. Whilst all martial arts involve drilling techniques, this is especially the case with judo where it’s more prevalent. This goes in line with judo’s highly technical image, but is still off putting to some. If you’ve ever seen the ‘wax on, wax off’ scene in Karate kid…it’s kind of similar as a newer judoka.
Overall, it’s fair to say that judo is very hard to learn compared to most other martial arts. In fact, you could go as far to say that it’s the hardest martial art to lean in terms of mastery. As a result, it’s not too surprising that some are put off by its traditions and quirks. Nonetheless, the sheer number of global judoka proves that it’s still as popular as ever and for now at least, many people enjoy and embrace the difficulties that learning judo involves.
I’m always looking for new subjects to write about regarding judo as well as contributions from my readers. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, thanks.