Vladimir Putin's efforts aside, it's probably fair to say that judo lacks the popular glamour of other martial arts. You won't find plank chopping, roundhouse kicking or flailing nunchucks here. But it does have one of the largest grassroots participations, with around 950 clubs affiliated to the British Judo Association (the national governing body).
Judo developed in Japan in the late 19th century from ju jitsu. Its name means "gentle way", although this belies the rough and tumble of a fast-paced sport.
The action takes place inside a 14m x 14m fighting area known as a tatami, with red mats demarcating the border. Bouts between players (judoka) last five minutes, and are initiated by a call of ‘Hajime!’ by the referee.
There are three ways to win by throwing your opponent:
- Flat on the back scores ippon, and wins the match there and then.
- Almost flat on the back scores waza-ari. Two of these equal an ippon, giving you the match.
- Landing on the side scores yuko. No amount of these can equal ippon, but their number will be taken into account at the end of the match, if no one has an ippon.
You can also win with so-called 'groundwork', in the following ways.
- Pin your opponent to the mat for 25 seconds. Lesser times can score waza-ari (20 seconds) or yuko (15 seconds).
- Place your opponent in a strangle hold, forcing them to submit.
- Place your opponent in an armlock, forcing them to submit.
A series of penalties can also be issued. Make one transgression (including stepping outside the area) and you get a warning. A second gives your opponent a yuko, a third yields a waza-ari, and a fourth gets you disqualified (the dreaded hansoku make). You can also be immediately disqualified for a dangerous move or serious transgression.
That should be enough info to follow the action, but the complete set of rules can be found on the International Judo Association's web site.
Fourteen medal events are up for grabs, comprising seven weight categories for men and seven for women. All the rounds take place in the ExCel centre in Docklands between Saturday 28 July and Friday 3 August.
As you might expect, the sport is dominated by central and east Asian countries. In the Beijing Games, Japan and China took seven of the 14 golds between them, with South Korea also faring strongly. Team GB has fielded a number of silver medalists over recent decades, including Neil Adams (1980, 1984), Raymond Stevens (1992), Nicola Fairbrother (1992) and Kate Howey (silver, 2000), but medals have been elusive at the past two Games. This time round, Team GB will field 14 competitors, seven men and seven women, representing all weight categories. The athletes are bullish about gaining at least one medal, and recent success at the British Open European Cup has helped lift the squad from its recent doldrums. Gemma Howell, Euan Burton and Sophie Cox are our most widely tipped competitors.
The Paralympics includes judo events for the visually impaired, the only martial arts at the Games. Competitors fight on textured mats and receive warnings from the referee when they stray close to the edge. Otherwise, the rules are similar to Olympic judo. Ben Quilter and Sam Ingram, who won a Bronze in Beijing, are the main hopefuls for Team GB in London. Events take place at ExCel between 30 August and 1 September.
Want to give it a go? Judo dojos can be found throughout London. This map will help you find the nearest club to you.
We’re bringing you the Londonist lowdown on all Olympic and Paralympic sports in the run up to London 2012.
Image from the London 2012 website.