Take That: Judo Myths Debunked

Executed so skilfully, powerfully and elegantly, judo techniques and movements leave no one indifferent. Stepping onto the mat to train and compete takes cast-iron dedication and discipline, and you can’t help but admire judo players in action.

But maybe in the school playground or by the office watercooler you’ve overheard some nonsense or other about judo or judo players. There are all kinds of false statements and misconceptions floating around out there.

With insight from our head coach, Billy Cusack (7th dan) – a widely respected figure in the judo world – we decided to debunk some of this misinformation.

Join us as we throw some judo myths for ippon.

Myth 1: You’re going to get beaten up

Unfortunately, some people think of martial arts clubs as a hangout for aggressive people looking for a tear-up. ‘Walk into a judo club and you’re going to get beaten up’, they assume.

Let’s nip this alarming misconception in the bud with a few words from Billy on how we train at Edinburgh Judo:

‘The word ‘judo’ means ‘gentle way’ and is very much about looking after each other in the club. In this kind of environment, there’s not any bullying. There’s not any “Who’s the biggest and strongest?” It’s very much about looking after each other and going on a journey together. You’re looking after and helping your partner. Without partners, you don’t have anyone to do judo with. There’s a real camaraderie.’

You see? We’re not just people who enjoy teaching, learning or practising judo: we’re friends.

We show you how to look after your partner when executing throws and groundwork techniques. Just as importantly, we teach you how to break your fall to avoid injury, too. Once you know how to do that, you start learning the throws and all the other fun stuff!

Hey, we like people to train hard, of course – it’s how we produce winners! But training hard is about showing commitment to training, focusing on the mat, giving your best in each and every session and observing the principles of judo inside and outside of the dojo. Hurting or demoralising your fellow club members is not judo.

Myth 2: Judo is only for boys

If there ever was a prize for the most nonsensical statement made or greatest misconception ever held about judo, this is surely it. Ask a judo player if our fighting form really is only for boys and you’ll have to wait a good few minutes for them to stop laughing.

Nevertheless, I decided to run it by Billy to see if there’s even the tiniest grain of truth in it. Preparing to get laughed long and loudly out of the club (and also getting ready to duck!), I put it to our head coach. Did he agree? Let’s find out:

‘Not at all. Absolutely not at all. At the recent Commonwealth Games in 2014, the women’s team for Scotland were much more successful than the men’s team. The men’s team took one gold; the women’s took four, so judo’s very much a girls’ and boys’ sport, men and women’s sport. Because of the nature of the sport…. because everybody looks after each other, you can have a forty-five… fifty year old woman or you can have a 90 kilo man still practising judo together, looking after each other. So it’s very much across the board.

Sarah Clark, former European and Commonwealth Games Champion supervises a beginner practising a hold-down.

You only have to look at our own club to see the diversity, from the top, top, top competitors that are looking to go to the Olympic Games, and the people that are doing judo to keep fit or to get back into sport or just to look after themselves, all on the same mat. There’s such a wide range.’

In our club, you’ll see junior girls and senior girls and women who fight on national teams. You’ll see women who are at beginner level and have just started out on their judo journey. You’ll see senior ladies coaching. They’re all on the same mat, working together.

In other words, a big fat ‘balderdash’ to ‘judo is only for boys’ and a deafening cheer for ‘judo is for everyone’!

Myth 3: Black belts only train with black belts

Very misinformed. The poor misguided souls who believe that black belts only train with other black belts have seen high-class judo players training in performance environments, put two and two together and come out with 100! They haven’t witnessed the full spectrum of judo training.

So let’s get the lowdown from someone who has, as Billy explains a little more about our club training sessions and what makes them different from the performance judo environments in the myth:

‘We push the black belts to go on with the lower grades so they can help look after them, coach them, and also it breaks down the barrier. Because somebody wears a yellow belt or a black belt or is a third or fourth dan makes no difference in the class. We’re all equal. We’re all the same. Although it’s a ranking system, the ranking system is a system of responsibility, not of power or strength… responsible for the guys that are below your grade, to help them. That’s the way this club works.’

At EdinburghJudo, we encourage people to train with judo players of all abilities, which is different to training in a performance environment. Lower grades can learn from the black belts and not just enjoy the sport, but also make (amazing) friends at the same time.

A few truths about judo

So far, we’ve been dispelling the myths, misconceptions and general codswallop some people believe about judo. Having discussed the things that judo isn’t, we’d like to finish with a reflection on the true meaning of judo, what judo is and on what it does for people. There’s more to judo than being a martial art, as Billy relates with these heartfelt words:

‘Judo teaches much more than just all the physical attributes. It teaches the social interaction with each other, how to behave, how to look after somebody in the class who’s not as strong, how to look after somebody in the class who’s not as confident; but then also a person that’s too robust or too aggressive – how that’s curbed with discipline and curbed with other guys who are going to be just as strong as them.

So you learn all the lessons that are needed for life through judo because it’s not a sport – judo is a way of life. It was created as an education system –how to educate and how to develop strong individuals for society… strong, good individuals for society… not for champions or black belts. How to behave. That’s what judo, for me, is really all about.’

What better, and truer, interpretation can there be than that? Judo is a way of life. The values and lessons judo teaches us will guide us on the journey that lies before us all. Judo can provide you with the drive and inspiration to keep moving forward and win, even when life is pushing hard in the other direction.

Ultimately, judo can transform us into better versions of ourselves.

In fact, not just a better version, but the best we can be.

Why settle for anything less?

By Peter Jenkins

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