1. Introduction

Judo is a rapidly growing martial art that is derived from ju-jitsu and is practised worldwide. Judo literally means “the gentle way”. Unlike the majority of other martial arts forms, kicking punching or striking actions are not permitted, though it does involve grappling where the objective is to pin, throw, lock or strangle your opponent. This is achieved chiefly by manipulating the opponent’s size and strength against them.

Judo players come in various shapes and sizes and the art is often commenced from an early age while some participants continue into their seventies. Judo proves popular for several reasons.

Regarding the fitness element, judo is highly beneficial for developing strength, flexibility, coordination and balance.

Judo can also boost an individuals self confidence since they may be equipped to defend themselves from a larger and more powerful attacker should the need arise.

As personal conduct, discipline and respect are emphasized, parents are often keen for their children to attend judo classes to instil those particular qualities.

‘Some consider Judo to be an ‘art form’ developed over the centuries and steeped in tradition. To such people judo is almost a religion and a way of life. They study meticulously and spend many hours of the week perfecting their skills and trying to improve their skill range. They are prepared to go on to the end of their lives striving to develop and perfect those skills, such is the absorbing interest of judo for them’

(Reay, T. & Hobbs, G. The Judo Manual The Complete Gokyo of Throwing Techniques plus a Beginner’s Handbook7)

Judo became officially recognised as an Olympic sport, practised by men at the 1964 Games in Tokyo and by women in the 1992 Games at Barcelona. There are currently over 100 countries represented in the International Judo Federation and more than a thousand judo clubs in Britain alone.

Other than a good set of mats and the correct uniform, little equipment is required for training. There is an elaborate system of belt grading where the various colours represent the respective levels achieved. However the colours used vary in different countries at the kyu levels which are attained prior to accomplishing black belt status.

 ‘Jiguro Kano created the belt system to modernise his school along Western lines, just as the rest of Japan was seeking modernization during the Meiji Restoration. Kano broke the ranks into two levels-kyu and dan. Kyu, usually translated as “class,” refers to preliminary training or preparatory education. People who hold kyu ranks are known as mundansha, usually literally meaning “person without degree.

  Dan, usually translated as “degree,” is likened to degrees of education…Kyu ranks, when originally worn by Kano, were symbolized by a white belt, and the dan ranks wore black belts. Eventually Kano added a brown belt for the highest levels of kyu, a red and white belt for master ranks, and finally the solid red belt for senior master ranks.’

(Pedro, J. Judo Techniques & Tactics Martial Arts Series (Human Kinetics, Champaign: 2001) 6-7)

2. History and Development

Jiguro Kano, the founder of Judo, was born in 1860 and educated in Tokyo private schools and then Tokyo University. Japan was rapidly developing and became a nation that could match the power of Western countries. Kano spoke English fluently and graduated with a degree in literature in 1881 and undertook a further degree in philosophy the following year.

Jiguro Kano was not physically powerful so he began ju-jitsu training at 18 which included combat against either armed or unarmed opponents by using short weapon techniques or empty hand skills. Kano decided to utilise the most effective principles from each ju-jitsu system to form judo. Contrary to Japanese tradition, he tutored a female student, Sueko Ashiya.

In 1882 at age 22, Kano opened the first Kodokan judo dojo, teaching at the Eishoji Buddhist temple. He decided to use the term judo rather than the term jujitsu for philosophical reasons, emphasizing the doctrine of gentleness as a way of living rather than only the principle of yielding as a fighting concept. Too many practitioners at the time had bad reputations and lived the lives of ruffians. Jiguro Kano wanted to make his art appealing to all walks of life and create a situation in which the art would have a profound influence on his students making them genuinely gentle people. Thus he emphasized the concept of judo, living a “gentle way.”’

(Pedro, J. Judo Techniques & Tactics Martial Arts Series (Human Kinetics, Champaign: 2001 12)


 Judo was originally known and referred to as ‘Kodokan judo’. ‘Ko’ simply means lecture or practise, ‘do’ is way and ‘kan’ is the hall or area where practise occurs. The kodokan emblem, a red hot iron engulfed by white silk signifies the principle of the soft controlling the hard.

Kano was a leading educationalist and a prominent figure in the Japanese Olympic movement. When Kano began his study of ju-jutsu as a young man, the ju-jutsu masters of the martial arts were struggling to earn a living. Although they were willing to teach the skills handed down to them over many generations, there was little interest among people of the succeeding generation. Additionally the demise of the samurai (warrior) class had reduced the need for instruction.’ (www.britishjudo.org.uk)


Judo gained acceptance amongst the various Japanese provinces following an important match in 1886 between representatives of the Kodokan and other forms of ju-jitsu. The fifteen judoka unanimously defeated all their opponents at which point Kodokan Judo became established as a sport approved by the government and which proved popular in schools, police departments and military academies.


‘Initially, the Kodokan was managed entirely by Jiguro Kano, but in 1894 the first consultative body was formed and in 1909 it became a foundation. It was in the same year that Kano became the first Japanese member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and, two years later, founded the Japanese Athletic Association, becoming its first president.

The Kodokan is now the headquarters of the All Japan Judo Federation, the formalized institution that has been established in 1949. The sport’s governing body, the International Judo Federation, was formed in 1951 and was presently situated in Seoul in South Korea. Jiguro Kano’s eldest daughter, the late Noriko Watanuki, was the head of the women’s division for many years, and his grandson, Yukimitsu Kano, remains the current president.’

( Butcher, A.   Judo The essential guide to mastering the art (New Holland Publishers, London: 2001, 11)


3. Philosophy of Judo


Judo is more than just a sport, a set of complex physical skills or even an art form. Judo players are expected to exhibit good attitude and behaviour. This includes the demonstration of permanent awareness coupled with a disciplined mind and control of the body enabling the Judoka to react to any situation.


It is a commonly held opinion that the standing and kneeling bows in judo have spiritual or religious significance. Bowing frequently takes place upon entering and leaving the practise hall, when stepping on the practise mats, before facing an opponent in combat and when requesting permission to participate or leave a session. Judo proponents however are adamant that the origins of bowing relate to Samurai warriors exposing the back of their necks demonstrating mutual trust and respect. It is therefore often compared with the Western handshake where soldiers would hold right hands to prove their intent was not to use weapons against each other.


However bowing is just one element of judo as a wider discipline. Although Jiguro Kano did not advocate a specific religious philosophy, since he desired to teach a way of life that any person irrespective of their faith or nationality could abide in, he did not attempt to separate the spiritual from the mental and physical aspects but instead, actively endorsed it.


“Judo is the means of understanding the way to make the most effective use of both physical and spiritual power and strength. By devoted practise and rigid discipline, in an effort to obtain perfection in attacking and defending, it refines the body and soul and helps instil the spiritual essence in judo into every part of one’s very being. In this way it is possible to perfect oneself and contribute something worthwhile to the world.”

(Jiguro Kano cited in Goodman, F. a handbook of martial arts, Southwater, London: 2004 132)


In Kodokan judo, exact meditative techniques appear not to be indoctrinated. In some instances though, particularly in preparation for competition, progressive muscle relaxation may be combined with breathing exercises.


‘Concentrate on your normal breathing. With each exhale, allow your body to sink deeper into the floor or chair. Lie or sit there for the next 15 minutes just enjoying the sensation of letting go.’

(Angus, R.   Competitive Judo Winning and Tactics Human Kinetics, Champaign: 2006, 183)


Interestingly though, it is not uncommon for judo players to focus on their breathing and some advocate an awareness of ki energy.


‘Breath control is not taught in judo dojo. Many Japanese dojo make it a habit to sit quietly in zazen (sitting meditation) for several minutes at the beginning and end of a session, but the practise is not widespread in Europe…A stranger to a judo dojo soon notices that at moments of psychological tension some players yell out as they wring the last drop of energy from their bodies. The cry is spontaneous and is called a kiai. It shatters an opponent’s presence of mind and physically tightens the muscles of the lower trunk, making extra strength available…In classical terms the vitality (ki) received from inspired air abides in the siakatanden, an area of the lower abdomen. It is psychic energy likened to volume upon volume of massed water. The mind has the power to release its potential and lead the flow through the limbs of the body so long as they remain pliable and receptive.

(Reay, T. & Hobbs, G. The Judo Manual The Complete Gokyo of Throwing Techniques plus a Beginner’s Handbook 28-29)


In addition to Jiguro Kano’s Kodokan judo, Kenshiro Abbe established another form of judo in 1895 known as the Butokukai which aimed to train and cultivate Budo (‘Bu’ meaning ‘military or martial’ ‘do’ referring to ‘way or path’) in a true Samurai spirit and to spread Japanese martial arts around the world. and


‘Modern budo systems generally consist of unarmed techniques of grappling or sparring that serve as a means of physical exercise or sport, methods of self-defence, or a form of spiritual training, the goal of which is to bring man into harmony with the values of a peace-seeking international society.

(Draeger cited in Malizewski, M.   Spiritual Dimensions of the Martial Arts, Charles E.Tuttle Co., Tokyo: 1998,  68)


Subsumed within the classification of modern budo are such disciplines as Aikido, modern judo, Karate-do, Kendo, modern Kyudo and (Nippon) Shorinji Kempo.’

(Malizewski 1998 68 cited in Malizewski, M.   Spiritual Dimensions of the Martial Arts Charles E.Tuttle Co., Tokyo: 1998 1992)


Furthermore the origins of Zen judo are closely linked to the influence of Kenshiro Abbe.


‘One can see in Abbe’s principles the influences of both Taoism, Buddhism and also Sensei Ueshiba’s Aikido, especially in his third principle which emphasize perfect accord and harmony. For Kenshiro the universe revolves and therefore always keeps in perfect balance. All motion in the universe may be resolved, basically in a series of circular movements. It is only by applying this fundamental principle of motion and avoiding stiff angular stances that we can achieve the best in Judo.’ (www.rrjudo.com)


4. Is Judo compatible with Christianity?


Concerning the styles of judo, some incorporate spiritual principles more than others. Zen Judo is clearly incompatible with Christianity as its roots are entrenched in the Chinese religions, Taoism and Buddhism. Therefore practising Zen judo in a class, even for the purpose of being a witness in that arena would be compromising faith in the Lord Jesus Christ since opposing faiths are being blended together. Moreover, even the idea of Zen Christianity unmistakeably opposes the gospel and salvation through Jesus alone, as the emphasis is on being your real self, instead of repenting, believing and obeying Him.


Regarding competitive judo in Europe, there is far less eastern philosophy advocated than in other forms of judo or other martial arts such as Tai Chi, Taekwondo or Kung Fu. Undoubtedly many would argue that there is no spiritual involvement for judo players who compete in judo purely as a sport. From carefully investigating several judo club websites, it is evident that the ones that view judo simply as a sport, often do not mention spiritual aspects.


This does not necessarily mean that if judo is practised merely as a sport, it is legitimate for all Christians to practise it. This requires careful consideration and prayer and a comparison of the principles of judo with those of the Bible would be a good idea. Although the founder of Judo, Jiguro Kano desired that judo should be an activity where religion was not a barrier to participation, it has already been mentioned that he viewed it as a means of utilizing spiritual power and strength.


Kano opened the first dojo in a Buddhist temple. Whilst playing cards in a Buddhist temple would not automatically make playing cards outside a Buddhist temple an unbiblical pastime, the fact that Kano chose to commence his training there, demonstrates that his philosophy was not opposed to Buddhism and therefore by its very definition Kano’s philosophy contradicts Christianity. While Kano believed that one could perfect oneself and contribute something worthwhile to the world does not make judo in itself a bad thing, it would certainly be worthwhile for any believer that practises judo to be aware of Kano’s philosophy and his tendency towards humanism.


Again whilst in Europe, the practise of meditation during training or competition may be the exception rather than the rule, it is quite possible that in Japan individuals may attempt to summon ki energy to activate and release their psychological and spiritual energies.


Hence at the very least it would be wise for any Christian to pray and ask for God’s guidance as to whether judo participation would be a hindrance or a help in their walk with the Lord and as part of their Christian witness. If for the sake of argument a believer In Christ was able to practise judo in good conscience, a recently converted or less mature Christian may well believe that participation in another form of Judo or martial art that is unequivocally based on eastern religious practises is reasonable.


If a Christian decided to participate in Judo solely as a competitive sport and to use that involvement as a platform to witness to non-Christians, a constructive question to respond to would be that if Christianity were a crime within that particular club would there be sufficient evident to convict them of being a Christian?


5. Scriptural Support and Reaching Out


Many judo players and Jiguro Kano himself was not formally of a strong physical constitution before practising judo. Naturally they desired to be capable of defending themselves and others effectively. Some use judo to alleviate themselves from the fear of being attacked by larger aggressive offenders. Others may feel that judo has increased their confidence, or sense of self esteem. ’The gentle way’ has been encouraged as a lifestyle, a form of security and a path individuals can follow, to be safe from stronger and more powerful aggressors.


Hence, here are some scriptures that may be of help for Christians in determining whether they should continue practising judo. They can be used for reaching out to judo players too.


I Corinthians 6:12 ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.’


Colossians 2:8 ‘Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ.’


Psalm 118:8 ‘It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.’


Proverbs 3:25-26 ‘Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.’


6. Conclusion


Since martial arts vary regarding the extent to which spiritual disciplines are incorporated, it would make sense for any Christian to research the philosophy behind a specific martial art they wish to become involved in.


Some forms of judo and in particular Zen Judo, are based on eastern religious principles contrary to Scripture. Other varieties, particularly Kodokan judo may largely marginalise spiritual principles, nevertheless the values espoused lean more favourably towards the basic principles of the world than to Christ.


Christians that practise judo should seek the Lord’s guidance as to whether their personal life with Christ is affected by their participation in judo and seriously consider whether less mature believers are being encouraged to take part in martial arts that have a greater spiritual emphasis.




Nancy says:

There are spirits behind Judo and other Martial Arts.  When my son was 14 we were on holiday and I had taken a teaching tape along which revealed the spiritual roots of Judo.  He had been kicking out at his sister a great deal and I was praying about it and ended up talking to him about it.  I found Judo equipment and an instruction book in his suitcase, which I threw out, and after prayer, he quit kicking his sister and became less agressive overall.  Later in his teens he went on WYAM training and while there, he received some deliverance ministry.  During this time, he began kicking out and the workers discerned a spirit of the Martial Arts and he was fully delivered at that time.  He returned home very gentle indeed.