Why Are Judo Rules So Difficult To Comprehend?


With the 2016 Rio Olympics at hand, we will again see judo as one of the two martial arts (the other being Taekwondo and in 2020 Karate) participating. 

To better appreciate it, we must understand judo.

Olympic style judo is very complicated to understand for Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners.  BJJ is an offspring of judo, which after over eighty years has developed its own rule set and, as a result, its own methods and techniques to win.

In BJJ, there are a few ways to win.  The first is of course a submission.  The second is via points (from performing techniques).  The third is via disqualification.  The fourth and typically last is via a referee’s decision. 

In BJJ, many techniques are legal, but there are quite a few illegal techniques.  These include heel hooks in some divisions, knee reaps, and slamming an opponent from the guard or from standing up.

Before there was Olympic style judo there was Kodokan judo.   Kodokan judo allowed for a large variety of techniques within tournament settings and randori.  There were additionally techniques that were quite dangerous and forbidden within tournament and randori settings.

In 1964, judo became an Olympic sport. It was at this point that the sport grew exponentially, while the martial art became smaller. 

Today, most judo schools teach according to the rules of IJF or Olympic style judo.  Once a technique becomes illegal, it is rarely taught at most judo schools. 

The rules of judo are quite thorough and difficult to understand for most practitioners.   The rationale for some of the rules can be better understood once you know the rules.

In judo, there are a number of ways to win.  The first one is via throw or takedown.  The second is via submission.  The third is via pin.  The forth is via disqualification.  The fifth is via accumulated points.  The sixth is via judge’s decision.


In judo, any throw won’t necessarily give you a win. It comes down to the quality of the throw. 

A strong throw with force, quality, speed, and onto the back will typically get an individual a full point win. If a throw is missing one of those factors a person may get a ½ point (wazari).  If a person is missing two of those factors he or she may get a ¼ point (yuko).    

An ippon at any point in the contest will end the match.   A wazari will continue the match, although two wazaris can be added together to end a match.   Yukos cannot be added to score an ippon or a wazari. 

An important thing to note is that a person can have 10,000 yukos and the opponent can have one wazari.  In this case, the person with the wazari would win the match.  This is because it based on the quality of the throw. 

Think about this: how would you fare if you were to get slammed on concrete with your opponent landing on you?  Slams are illegal in BJJ on soft mats and often result in disqualification.  The effectiveness of a throw should not be underestimated.


A submission in Judo must either be a choke or a joint lock at the elbow.  Currently, nothing else is allowed in IJF style Judo.   No knee bars, no neck cranks, no heel hooks, no wrist locks, etc. 

The submission can be applied standing up or on the ground.  If the submission is applied during stand up (or throw), it must done slow enough so that the individual has time to tap out.   If it is done on the ground it can be done quickly. 

A submission must be applied within 10-15 seconds or else both competitors will have to stand up.  A key thing to note is that a ground submission can and will end the match.  Once an opponent taps, an ippon is scored and the match is over. 

Judo’s Ground Work (newaza)

Ground work (newaza) is completely different from that of Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a variety of reasons. 

The major factor is the time allowed on the ground. Prior to 2011, a competitor had about 7 seconds to either get a position for a pin or a submission.  This made newaza very strong, quick, and to-the-point. If an individual wanted to win via a pin or submission, she had to do it quickly or be forced to stop and reset. This reset would result in both individuals having to stand up and engage in stand-up fights.   A pin was initially 30 seconds for an ippon, but was changed to 25 and now 20 seconds for an ippon scores (if a ½ point had not previously been scored). A pin for 15 seconds results in a wazari and 10 seconds results in a yuko.


The current rules in judo allow for a person to lose a match via disqualification.  

There are two levels of penalties.  The first being a hansokumake and the other being a shido.   A single hansokumake results in an immediate loss, while the accumulation of four shidos results in a loss.

Time Limit

When the time limit has been reached, a decision must be made.   The judoka with the highest score will win.   In the case of a tied score, the judges will make the decision.



The typical pins in judo are full mount, side control, north south, and scarf hold.  These pins though can be nullified via a half guard.  So if you are in a scarf hold and manage to get half guard, the pin is nullified.  If the aggressor cannot remove the half guard, the match is stopped and both competitors will be forced to stand up.

No Dragging an Opponent to the Ground

Judo rules require that an individual attempt a throw prior to going to the ground.   If a judoka attempts to drag an opponent to the ground this can result in a shido.

Leg Grabs are Illegal

As of 2010, Olympic style judo does not allow an opponent to touch their opponent’s legs with their hands.  Techniques such as double leg takedowns, single leg takedowns, and ankle picks became illegal. 

Any deliberate touch in order to score will result in an immediate disqualification. The rule change did a number of things including: (1) eliminate many wrestlers who crossed trained into judo; (2) change how judoka stood from being bent over to a more upright posture; and (3) allow for more bigger, higher, explosive and fan friendly throws. 

Allegedly, this was done as a result of pressure from the International Olympic Committee to make certain sports including wrestling, modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey more spectator friendly or risk being removed from the Olympics. Judo took heed to the warning and implemented rule changes.   Wrestling did not take heed, and was thus eliminated from the 2016 Olympics and later reinstated for the 2020 Olympics.

Constant Attacking

An individual must attack every 30 seconds or receive a penalty of a shido.


Avoiding an opponent, stalling, or refusing to engage an opponent will result in the penalty of a shido.  Five shidos results in a disqualification

Unorthodox Grips and Grip Breaking

An unorthodox grip on an opponent must be followed by an immediate throw (2 seconds) or a shido will be issued.   Unorthodox grips include same side grips of a gi top.  Grip breaking can be done but breaking a grip with two hands on one hand will result in a shido.

Judo as a martial sport is complicated to understand.  Once you get a basic understanding though, it can be quite exciting.  There are boring aspects in judo, just like in BJJ.  Things were made illegal to make judo more exciting.  We have the same problem areas in BJJ such as jumping guard and butt scooting.  This, though, does not take away from the effectiveness of the art.    



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