Judo explained by Commonwealth athlete Anastasia-Alexandra Nenova

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South-African Anastasia-Alexandra Nenova exclusively writes for Star Sports on her career and explains the martial art she loves. The 2nd Dan in Judo is due to represent South Africa in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and has competed in the world Judo championships.

What is Judo?

Judo is a martial art and Olympic sport that was born in Japan and was established in 1882 by Jigoro Kano, who combined JiuJitsu and a form of wrestling to create the sport. 

Judo is a dynamic and tremendous combat sport that demands a combination of physical prowess and mental discipline. From Tachi-Waza (standing position), it involves techniques that allow you to sweep and lift, allowing you to throw your opponent onto their side (Wazari score) or back (Ippon score).

In Ne-Waza (on the ground), Judo involves techniques that allow you to pin and control your opponent in a hold-down for 10 seconds (Wazari score) or 20 seconds (Ippon score). You also have the ability to apply various joint locks on your opponent’s elbow, as well as various chokeholds- the purpose is for your opponent to submit by tapping.

In order to win a match, judokas need to achieve an Ippon score, or gain two Wazari scores (to be equivalent to an Ippon). A judoka can also win a bout if their opponent acquires 3 penalties. The 3rd penalty is equivalent to a Hansoku-Make (which literally means disqualification). Judokas get penalties when they break the rules. For example, touching or grabbing your opponent’s trousers while in Tachi-Waza.

If an athlete tries an illegal technique, it will result in a direct Hansoku-Make. If both judokas have equal scores at the end of their fight (4 minutes), they will continue to fight into Golden Score (unlimited match time)- until one or the other manages to win by an additional score, or by penalties.

When people hear the word “Judo” they often think of Kung Fu or Karate. This is a common misconception. Unlike Karate and Kung Fu, Judo doesn’t involve striking, kicking, or punching techniques of any kind. Judo doesn’t involve the use of any weapons or equipment. Instead, Judo involves using the power of your opponent against them with movement, balance, and power.

The international governing body is the International Judo Federation, and competitive Judo competitions are in the international IJF professional circuit. It also influenced other martial arts around the world, including Brazilian jiu-jitsu, sambo, and mixed martial arts.

judo outfit

What Does Judo Mean?

Judo can be broken down into two parts: “Ju” which means gentle, and “do” which means way. The literal definition of Judo is “gentle way” and represents one of the major concepts in the sport, that gentleness controls hardness and unarmed combat.

The History of Judo

Jigoro Kano founded Judo in Japan in 1882. When Kano was in school, he was small and weak for his age- resulting in him being bullied. Due to this, Kano began Jiujitsu at age 17. Kano devoted himself to Jiujitsu and even began developing his own philosophy and techniques, while finding himself beating his instructor.

By that time, the martial arts he was practicing naturally evolved into Judo. Kano’s goal wasn’t to develop a new martial art, instead, his goal was to refine Jiu Jitsu by removing dangerous techniques. Over time, Kano realized that his fundamental concept and style were very different from Jiu Jitsu, and needed a separate name. Thus, Judo was born.

Rank in Judo explained

The understanding and improvement of Judo is denoted by rank, which is a system that splits the rankings into Kyū and Dan grades. These ranks are indicated by a system of coloured belts, with the black belt indicating that you’ve attained a certain level of competence. The coloured belts vary from country to country, but generally, this is the structure in Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and so on:

  • White 
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Red and white panelled
  • Red

For Dan ranks, the first five ranks are black. The 6th, 7th, and 8th being red and white panelled. For the 9th and 10th rank, the colour is solid red. 

A total of fifteen people have been promoted to 10th Dan, the highest ranking of Judo. Of which, the majority are men. Only one woman has achieved the rank of 10th Dan, Keiko Fukuda of Japan. She was also the last living student of Jigoro Kano. 

Scoring in Judo

  • Ippon – 1 full point awarded when the opponent is thrown on their back. This wins the match.
  • Waza-ari – Half an ippon awarded for a controlled throw on held on the back for up to 20 seconds. Two wins the match.
  • Yuko (advantage) – When throwing opponent sideways, only counted if a tie.
  • Golden Score – If still level, the game continues and the next point wins.
Judo is an Olympic Sport
Judo has been an Olympic Sport since 1964

Judo At the Summer Olympic Games

Judo was included in the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games for the very first time in 1964. With the exception of the 1988 Summer Olympics, it has been an Olympic sport ever since its first inclusion.

Women competed for the very first time at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. Before that, women only participated in Judo as a demonstration sport. 

Judo athletes compete in different weight classes as follows:

Women: -48 kg, -52 kg, -57 kg, -63 kg, -70 kg, -78kg, and +78 kg. 

Men: -60 kg, -66 kg, -73 kg, -81 kg, -90 kg, -100 kg, +100 kg.

One athlete per weight category may qualify to represent their country at the Summer Olympic Games.

In Judo, two bronze medals are awarded per weight class. The losing semi-finalist competes against the winner that lost their quarter-finals, but won their repechage fight. The athlete that loses their bronze medal contest places 5th, while the athlete that loses their repechage fight places 7th. Gold and silver medals are won during a single elimination bracket.

What Makes Judo Unique?

Judo accepts people from all walks of life. No matter their age, sex, or individual range of abilities. They can all participate together to learn and practice the sport and perform the Kata as a group.

Judo techniques can help develop your fundamental and basic physical fitness in many ways, including strength, agility, flexibility, static and dynamic balance, explosive power, speed, and endurance. Judo also helps develop your coordination, reaction time, and physical self-confidence overall. 

Beyond that, Judo teaches you to control your emotions, feelings, and impulses. Free sparring in the dojo educates the values of discipline, perseverance, loyalty, and respect. You learn to overcome your fears and to show courage even when you’re under pressure. Judo offers intellectual, physical, and moral education. It isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of living and being. Judo pushes you to your limits, and beyond.

Notable Judoka include Aliuska Ojeda, Cecilia Caballero Navarro, Hillary Wolf (actress), Nils Johan Ringdal (author), Vic Vargas (actor), André Kamperveen (footballer), Chris Adams (wrestler), Hsiao Huang-chi (singer), and Paulo Leminski (poet).

Anastasia-Alexandra Nenova wins at Judo
Anastasia-Alexandra Nenova (far right) at the Union Africane De Judo

From An Athlete’s PerspectiveAnastasiya-Alexandra Nenova

An athlete’s perspective is raw, true and real. There’s no doubt about it. I’ll be sharing with you my perspective of Judo; through my eyes as a Second Dan and competitive athlete.

My Story

Let me give you the short version—I started doing Judo at the age of 7 at the TuksJudo Club in LC De Villiers under coach Nikola Filipov. At age 10 I stopped training, after a 7 year lay-off I came back to the sport training at the same club under the same coach, inspired by Roy Meyer and other athletes who starting competing at a later age. I’m competitive, I love the sport, and I excel at it.

I need someone to help open the door for me, so that I can walk through it to show achievement and success. My coach and club have qualified 8 athletes for the Summer Olympic Games in Judo. I’m hoping to make the cut too, at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France.

National Trials

Anastasiya-Alexandra Nenova competing at Judo
Anastasia-Alexandra Nenova competing at Judo

I would definitely say that National trials are the most intense. You’re really fighting for that one spot on the team. You need to be first or nothing. The most intense part is that you don’t know if it’s going to be you. You can easily lose everything you’ve worked towards in that one moment.

Any Advice?

You have complete control over your life. Life is what you make it. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are- when you set your mind to do something, just go and do it. It can be a great sport for kids, age is not a barrier.

Achieved Goals

I became continental bronze medallist at my first Senior African Championship in 2020, to me, that is a goal achieved. It’s a goal achieved because that result qualified me to compete at the 2021 Senior World Championships in Budapest and at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

I’ve also achieved my rank of 2nd Dan (Ni Dan). Here’s an interesting fact, Sho Dan (1st Dan) means “beginning degree” and Ni Dan (2nd Dan) means “second level”.

Goals In Progress

My goal is to win more continental medals. My other goal is to start winning fights internationally at tournaments like Grand Prixs and Grand Slams. Most importantly, I’m aiming to qualify for the 2023 African Games in Ghana and the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. In order to do so, my other goal is to find potential businesses, companies, and individuals to collaborate with in order to fund my journey. 

If you’re interested in following my journey, follow me on Instagram and like my page on Facebook: @madeinbulgariaxx and Anastasia-Alexandra Nenova (@nenova_solutions)