Strength Training For Judo Part 1 – Cardio & Grip

  For years, in the world of American martial arts, there has existed the “red headed step child” of judo. In the 60s and 70s, judo was outranked by karate and kung fu, as those two arts were championed by the charismatic and film-friendly faces of Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. In the 1980s, the ninja craze swept the nation, and in the 1990s, the UFC introduced MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) to the USA. And of course, there has always been the high kicking popularity of Taekwondo. But judo was always denigrated, either by strikers as being just grappling, or by grapplers who would complain of judo’s focus on throws.

With recent U.S. judo Olympic success, however, the sport has been making people take notice. In both 2008 and 2012, Americans medaled in judo, with Kayla Harrison winning the USA’s first gold medal in judo in London. Meanwhile the world of MMA has watched as Ronda Rousey has done her utmost to become the female MMA Ali. Winning all her fights by armbar in record time, talking a lot of trash, and getting naked in the ESPN magazine, Ronda is helping judo garner more attention than ever.

So maybe more of you want to train judo, but how do you get strong for judo? Articles and research in English books and magazines tend to be lacking in this department. Respected authors such as Bompa and others tend to overlook martial arts when discussing sports specific training templates, or give templates that focus on the striking arts. Some trainers have tried to counter this by using a wrestling template as a model (a good theory, since both are grappling arts), but judo in itself has its own challenges and needs.

In this five part article series, I will address the strength training needs of the judo player. In the first part, I will discuss the differences in the three main styles of judo player, and what elements are consistent for almost all judoka. In parts two through four, I will look at each of the three styles and provide workouts tailored for each one. Part five will include the most frequently asked questions in regards to the workouts.

Note: While there exists in the judo world many terms for the participants or techniques that are common such as tori, uke, kuzushi, etc. This series will address them in plain English for the trainer’s perspective, and for those who perhaps haven’t learned of the terms in their own training.

Evaluation of Style

In any planning for an athlete, it pays dividends to take a look at the athlete themselves. This evaluation needs to look at not only the athlete’s body, but also their style and needs of their sport. For a sport such as football, this can be pretty cut and dried. After all, all wide receivers, whether they play slot back, split end, or flanker, have pretty much the same needs.

In judo however, a detailed look at the athlete’s style is necessary. Even within a weight class, or within a team, different athletes can have vastly different styles. While the various styles can be broken down into hundreds of sub-styles, for ease of understanding let’s describe three of the most common: the Turner, the Charger, and the Grappler.

  • The Turner Style – Also known as “classic” or “ippon” judo in judo circles. The throws favored by this style will usually be done from a more classic standard lapel and sleeve grip, with most throws being those that turn the throwers body into the opponent, throwing them over a shoulder, hip or leg. The most popular throws will be the variations of seio nage (shoulder throw), harai goshi (sweeping hip throw) and uchi mata (inner thigh reaping throw).
  • The Charger Style – Very straight ahead in their attacks. While this style is not considered as classical as the first Turning style, some of the most famous judo players of all time, such as Yasuhiro Yamashita, were Charger style players. While many of the Chargers will also use variations of the classic lapel and sleeve grip, a growing number of players will favor unorthodox grips. The most favored throws of the Charger will be o-soto gari, o-uchi gari, and the various foot sweeps.
  • The Grappler Style – More common in the Americas than Europe, the Grappler is perhaps the most eclectic, with the greatest variation of throws. The Grappler truly fights by the motto “whatever works, works.” As such, while there are few consistent throws among Grapplers, there are some consistent body positions and attitudes that will allow some general classification of training for this style.

Consistencies Among All Styles of Judo

While the differences amongst the styles of judo players makes planning workouts challenging, there are certain things consistent amongst all players.

Cardiovascular fitness is an often-overlooked aspect of the judo-training curriculum. A quick perusal of the few news stories and articles discussing the physical aspects of judo reveals a focus more on strength and technique training. However, cardio is a very important element. An international rules match has a main period clock of five minutes, which is often stopped, as the referee will stand players up or as players drift out of bounds. If players are tied at the end of regulation, a three-minute sudden death “Golden Score” period is then immediately contested. With the stoppage for standups and out of bounds and others, an international level judo player must be ready to go for upwards of ten minutes per round. While lower level club players will often not have Golden Score to contend with, and shorter main periods, there is still a need for them to be able to engage in high energy demanding activity for five minutes at a time.

While the five to ten minute time frame seems short, when compared to other sports activities, the aerobic demands of judo are quite intense. The time involved is often greater than the time of an Olympic 1500 meter race, while the intensity of the activity is on par with any other grappling event. High tension and power moves are to be expected and performed at almost any moment.

In the realm of strength training, body parts that remain consistent in all styles of judo are the forearms and hands. Judo demands players pull and tug on each other’s jackets incessantly. With some throws depending on turning an opponent’s body using nothing more than a twist of the wrists, the demands on the grip are very high.

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