Friday, August 7, 2009

The first Kodokan Judo Kata International competition & its katas

In October 2007, the Kodokan hosted the first global Kodokan Judo forms (katas) competition in Tokyo. This article briefly outlines the background of the competition, the competitors, the motivations for this competition, the historical development of judo katas, and their importance to the correct study of judo. Sources include personal kata study, observation of the two-day competition, interviews, and English and Japanese texts. Judo katas are an often neglected aspect of judo training, but there is growing interest in this classical, important part of the study of judo. The katas preserve the oldest techniques of judo, including its classical jujutsu roots.

The first world judo kata competition was held on Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28, 2007 in Tokyo, Japan, at the Kodokan, the headquarters of worldwide judo. There, 78 judo players from seventeen different countries, representing hundreds of years of judo experience, participated. Thirty-nine teams competed in four different forms (katas, or prearranged formal exercises) performed before five-member panels of twenty expert judges from thirteen different countries. Those teams were either seeded by regional international judo associations or were winners from regional competitions over the past year in the Pan-Am, European, African, and Asian Judo Unions. Eight teams from Japan, two competing in each kata, were chosen from top performers in the All-Japan Judo Federation's All-Japan Judo Kata Competition earlier in 2007. Like some judo competitions, there was no age or weight discrimination. Unlike other judo competitions, judo kata competitions were not segregated by sex.

But what role do the katas play in judo, and why are they important today?

Judo is comprised of relatively modern adaptations of selected techniques from numerous traditional styles of Japanese jujutsu combined with newer techniques. Since establishing the Kodokan in 1882, Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, and his technical instructors modified traditional jujutsu techniques into a sporting, competitive, rule-defined, modern martial way (budo). While originally constructed to help teach a total way of life, judo continued to evolve. Today, in most countries, competition plays the largest role in judo, much larger than originally envisioned, and partially as a result, today's judo is different from the original judo of 120 years ago.

Therefore, arguably the purest form of the early judo and its jujutsu origins are preserved not in the competition, but rather in its oldest katas. Perhaps the purest presentation of these forms worldwide is during the annual Kodokan kata national contest in Japan, so everyone knew the competition was tough for international competitors.

In his opening speech, Yukimitsu Kano, president of both the Kodokan and the All-Japan Judo Federation, and grandson of Jigoro Kano, noted that the founder stressed that judo must be studied through both free sparring (randori) and kata, comparing them to the grammar and composition of judo. He congratulated the contestants on their interest, skills, and long hours of practice. He also noted growing interest in judo katas worldwide.

Modern judo primarily trains via basic technique (kihon) practice and free sparring, as well as periodic competitions (shiai). Unfortunately, in the view of judo purists and traditionalists, most dojo typically seldom practice katas. While modern judo techniques are safe enough to practice via free sparring or competition; traditionally, jujutsu's more dangerous techniques were and are still practiced in pre-arranged katas, not via randori or shiai. This is because the traditional no-holds-barred jujutsu techniques still practiced in the judo katas are incapacitating if not lethal--including knife-edged hand slashes ("chops"); chokes; joint breaks; head-first body slams; eye gouges; stomps; kicks; and club, knife, and sword attacks. This may be judo's greatest innovation: the modification of these dangerous jujutsu techniques to enable safe, competitive free practice of a deadly art; in fact, taught and performed correctly, judo is statistically one of the world's safest contact sports.

For this competition, four of the main Kodokan katas were chosen; Nage no Kata (Throwing Form), Katame no Kata (Grappling Form), Kime no Kata (Decision Form), and Ju no Kata (Flexible Form).

Nage no Kata is typically shown in every kata competition because it demonstrates the core of modern judo, with samples of all the main throwing techniques. Every Japanese judo practitioner from 1st-degree (dan) black belt is required to demonstrate increasing proficiency and depth in this kata, which was compiled around 1884. Kano was an advanced practitioner of both Tenshin Shinyo-ryu and Kito-ryu jujutsu, which provided many techniques to the Kodokan judo repertoire.

The original Nage no Kata was later modified and expanded, largely by adding more rapid, agile moves afforded by the wear of modern, lightweight judo clothing (judogi) rather than the traditional, top-heavy cumbersome moves of armored warriors. The attacker of the technique (uke, "giver") strikes, grasps, and shoves, ever modifying the attacks to adjust to the previous defense. The defender (tori, "taker," "receiver") responds with hand, hip, foot, sacrifice, and side sacrifice throws. They repeat all fifteen techniques from both left and right sides for a total of thirty throws (and thirty jarring falls for uke).

The Japanese teams in the Nage no Kata were the winners in the annual Kodokan Kata Taikai national competition earlier in 2007. Japanese teams from across the country, winners of a series of regional competitions, performed four different katas.

Kime no Kata (Decision Form) is a combative kata from 1888. Appropriately for the early Meiji era (1868-1912) when it was established, it starts with eight armed and unarmed attacks from the formal, seated position (seiza), and ends with twelve standing attacks using holds, fists, a wooden knife, and a wooden sword (bokken). Judo's jujutsu roots are evident in this kata, in which tori uses strikes, joint locks, strangles, and throws to defeat the attacker.

Katame no Kata (Grappling Form) was compiled between 1884 to 1887, and was largely influenced by Tenshin Shin-you-ryu jujutsu. It can be difficult for the layman to follow because the action is all floor grappling: tori demonstrates pins, joint locks, and chokes to immobilize the suprine uke, who then attempts various escapes.

Ju no Kata was invented in 1887 to develop strength, balance, and flexibility in female judo neophytes. This kata sometimes resembles paired gymnastics because the players move in graceful cooperation without throws or falls, rather than in attack and defense sequences. Even today, women often fill the Ju no Kata teams at competitions, but senior male judo players are required to demonstrate proficiency as well. Three of the ten teams were male, including one from the U.S., and the eventual third place Spanish team.

Regardless of the kata, proficiency at this level of competition does not come easily. The Japanese Nage no Kata winners of the 2007 Kodokan All-Japan Kata Competition practiced together two hours a day for months in their police gym before the competition. Also, competent kata instruction can often be difficult to find; Mr. Heiko Rommelmann and Mr. Jeff Giunta, senior Pam-Am Judo Union competitors, and the sole U.S. pair in the Ju no Kata competition, described their difficulty in finding kata instruction: for years they drove hours one way to practice with their instructor, Mr. Tony Owed (now deceased) of Toledo, Ohio. As in previous Japanese national competitions, the Japanese police had a very strong showing; the police, particularly the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, have very strong judo training and kata programs.

In the end, the Japanese teams swept both first and second in all four events, and the Spanish teams took third in all four events; the Italian teams all placed very highly, too. Italian teams won the secretary general's prize.

There seemed to be little controversy despite the Japanese teams sweeping all top eight positions; the level of competition in Japan is clearly very high and very competitive, and Italy and Spain have dominated European kata competitions. The results did of course engender discussion of the relative levels of kata instruction in Japan, Europe, and the rest of the world, but plenty of foreign players vowed to study hard and return to do better. Some competitors praised the administration afterward, saying it was the best-organized tournament they had ever attended. Several of the foreign players had studied at the Kodokan or at overseas Kodokan seminars in preparation; the two Laotian teams studied there for days immediately prior to the event, and had made remarkable progress, according to one of their training partners.

In a post-competition interview, the Nage no Kata team of Toshimitsu Takahashi and Fumikazu Yoda described how they had focused on competition early in their judo careers, but came to believe that understanding the katas was key to their further development as well-rounded judoka and competitors. Policemen from Nagano City on the western side of Honshu, they started kata practice in the fall of 2006 and spent hours a day studying Nage no Kata. Their practice ended in a top three finish at the All-Japan competition, and second place in this first global competition.

Kodokan Museum Curator Naoki Murata, the general secretary of the event, and a judo 7th-dan, said in his closing address that while the katas' primary purpose is physical education and combat skills, certain katas were practiced primarily as cultural studies of judo's ancient jujutsu roots. In a later interview, he said that the main purpose of the competition was to highlight the katas' role in judo. Randori is now overly emphasized in judo training, he said, and this tournament is part of an effort by the Kodokan to return kata training to its proper place of importance. Unfortunately, because of the preparation required for the judo events in the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympics and the need to have the All-Japan Judo Kata Competition in 2008, the Kodokan does not plan an international event in 2008, but perhaps in 2009.

Asked to comment on rumors that Japan may try to get acceptance of judo katas as an Olympic event, perhaps in time for Tokyo's bid to host the 2016 Summer Games, Mr. Murata noted that the trend in the Olympics has been to reduce judo events, not increase them, since the inclusion of women's events doubled the number of judo events. He also cited the success of the Pan-American and European Judo Unions' kata competitions, and said that the Kodokan leadership hopes that the other regional judo unions, the Asian, Oceania, and African Judo Unions, will take the lead in fostering interest in the katas through more instruction and competition. The Kodokan supports such efforts, he said, and hopes to help foster technical kata instruction worldwide.

To that end, there was an extensive kata seminar for international judges and participants after the competition, led by the Kodokan's chief instructor, Toshiro Daigo, one of the world's most famous judoka and one of only seventeen 10th-dans, the highest rank in judo. He provided detailed insights into the katas' historic origins and the principles behind each move in an effort to increase the general level of competence.

By preserving and demonstrating the ancient jujutsu techniques and practical applications of judo, the practice of katas and events like the First Kodokan Judo Kata International Tournament provide great insights into the heritage of this modern, global martial art.


KANO, J. (1986). Kodokan Judo. Tokyo: Kodansha.

KODOKAN. Kodokan judo kata series. Tokyo: Kodokan, various years. The Kodokan recently published a series of small, introductory books for each kata, but only in Japanese. See

KOTANI, S. & OTAKI, T. (1971). Judo no kata: Zen. (Judo kata: Complete.) Tokyo: Fumaido.

MIFUNE, K. (2004). The canon of judo: Classic teachings on principles and techniques. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

OTAKI, T., & DRAEGER, D. (1983). Judo Formal Techniques: A complete guide to Kodokan randori no kata. Tokyo: Tuttle.

SHINAGAWA JUDO ASSOCIATION (1984). Miru, manabu, oshieru: Irasu judo no lata (See, learn, teach: Illustrated judo kata). Tokyo: Shinagawa Judo Association.

Source Citation:Gatling, Lance. "The first Kodokan Judo Kata International competition & its katas.(Report)." Journal of Asian Martial Arts 17.1 (Spring 2008): 68(10). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 7 Aug. 2009

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