Judo is a global combat sport for athletes with a visual impairment and one of two martial arts on the Paralympic programme.
Judo means the ‘gentle way‘, it is a full-on combat sport in which a false move or the slightest loss of concentration can result in defeat. Judo originated in Japan in the late 19th century, as an activity embracing physical, mental, educational and moral aspects.
Judo has been a Paralympic sport since Seoul 1988, with the women's events being introduced at Athens 2004. Although competitors are given classifications based on the severity of their visual impairment, they are divided by weight rather than the degree of impairment. All the sight classes compete together and eye masks are not used.
There are seven men's weight categories, from under 60kg to over 100kg; and six women's categories, from under 48kg to over 70kg.
The objective of judo is to throw or takedown an opponent to the ground; subdue them with a pinning hold; or force them to submit with a joint lock or a choke. Athletes (known as judoka) face each other on a 10m x 10m mat and deploy a wide range of throwing and grappling techniques. The highest score a judoka can earn is ippon, it is the ultimate way to claim victory in the match and is the highest score in judo. After ippon is scored, the match is over. A judgment of ippon for a throwing technique puts the opponent on their back with strength, speed and control. If a throw or other technique is successfully executed but all the requirements for ippon are not met, waza-ari (a half-point) is awarded. Two waza-ari's in one match is the equivalent of ippon.
Grappling techniques are decided from the moment the judge declares osaekomi (a pin) has been established. If the pin lasts over 10 seconds, waza-ari is awarded, 20 seconds results in an ippon.
Shimewaza (chokehold) and Kansetsuwaza (joint lock) techniques can cause injury, so the athlete on the receiving end can signal maitta (‘I give up'). If this happens, the other judoka is awarded ippon.
The rules are almost identical to Olympic Judo, but one significant difference is that judoka must grip their opponent's sleeve and lapel and hold still before a match can start. As there is no need to establish a grip on the other competitor, contests begin as soon as the referee announces 'Hajime!' (‘Begin!’). A contestant who moves before the hajime will receive a penalty.
At the end of 2016, the International Judo Federation revised its rules to shorten men's matches by one minute so that those for both sexes are four minutes long. Also, judging criteria were limited to scoring only from ippon or waza-ari. These changes were implemented to encourage more aggressive and attacking judo to make matches exciting.
- Up to 60kg (Men)
- Up to 66kg (Men)
- Up to 73kg (Men)
- Up to 81kg (Men)
- Up to 90kg (Men)
- Up to 100kg (Men)
- Over 100kg (Men)
- Up to 48kg (Women)
- Up to 52kg (Women)
- Up to 57kg (Women)
- Up to 63kg (Women)
- Up to 70kg (Women)
- Over 70kg (Women)
Essence of the Sport
Fighting with spirit and all the senses
When totally blind athletes leave the mat by accident, they may need help to move back towards the centre. Red circles 7cm in diameter are sewn on the outside of the sleeves of their judogi (uniform) to make it easy for the referee to see that they are totally blind. No penalties are given for leaving unless the move is intentional. When competitors approach the edge, the referee calls from the middle of the mat to let them hear where they should be.
Look out for the skillful manoeuvring for grip that happens as competitors try to transition from their initial grip to one that works better for them. Although they are unable to physically see what their opponent is doing, judoka sense their rival's intentions from their movement, grip and breathing. They will try to get their opponent off balance while resisting their attacks and look for a chance to apply their own waza (techniques).
Paralympic Judo also differs from the Olympic equivalent in that coaches may also give advice to their athletes during contests. There is a particular importance to communicate the length of time remaining in the bout to competitors.
As the sport develops, more competitors are beginning to add waza from other disciplines such as Brazilian jiu jitsu, which uses many newaza (grappling techniques), and Russian sambo, which is similar to judo with an array of throws and joint locks.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
Winning medals through strength and explosive energy
At the Rio 2016 Games, 129 competitors from 36 countries participated in the Paralympic Judo competition and 18 countries won medals, reflecting the sport's global growth.
Uzbekistan won 10 medals including three gold: more than any other country. This was an impressive feat compared to the one silver medal they won at London 2012. The establishment of dedicated training facilities and enthusiastic support for Paralympic sports helped in this tremendous achievement.
No Paralympic Judo competitor has won more medals than Antônio Tenório da Silva (Brazil). His victory at the Beijing 2008 Games made him the first person to win four consecutive golds in the sport. He then went on to take a bronze at London 2012 and a silver at Rio 2016, at the age of 45.
China's Yuan Yanping won three consecutive gold medals in the women's 70kg category, starting from the Beijing 2008 Games. At Rio 2016, at the age of 40 and with injury concerns, she showed unmatchable skill and strength to win all her matches with an ippon.
One wore a white obi (belt) and the other a red one. In Japan, competitors still wear white judogi with white or red obi.