Welcome to the Gawker Guide to the Obscure Olympic Sports You Have Never Heard Of Or Given A Damn About. Next up: Judo, the most gentle martial art and the 17th Most Important Olympic sport.
What the hell is going on here? Judo is theoretically fascinating, but that doesn't make it particularly exciting to watch. Its Japanese name translates to "gentle way," and for a martial art it's much more about finesse and inner balance than aggression or force, and as a result it looks like some sort of Buddhist-inspired wrestle-tango. Practically, a competitor's aim is to control his or her opponent's movement by maintaining balance and gaining leverage.
There's none of the kicking or punching that you'll see in taekwondo, the other Olympic martial art; instead, judokas are awarded points for a set of moves, including:
- Throwing the opponent to the mat on his or her back;
- Immobilizing an opponent on his or her back;
- Applying arm locks to the elbow (the only joint that is fair game in judo);
- and Choking the opponent without injuring the neck or spine.
Judo's version of a TKO is an ippon, or a full-point throw that can end the match immediately. In principle, though, judo is a fairly peaceful sport.
Competition is divided by weight classes; both men and women compete in one of seven classes: extra lightweight (132 pounds and under), half lightweight (145 pounds), lightweight (161 pounds), half middleweight (178 pounds), middleweight (198 pounds), half heavyweight (220 pounds), and heavyweight (more than 220 pounds).
If you're going to tune in at all, I recommend finding the schedule for the heavyweights. I promise that you've never seen seven-footers move like this before.
Cool reference to bring up during broadcast to impress your friends if you have any: This is a joke because nothing you can say about judo will impress your friends. If you're in a pinch, say, "Did you know that there is a sport called judo."
Your prepackaged heartstrings/oh-no-she-didn't storyline:
- Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani. She's the first female Saudi judoka, and the sport's governing body has just ruled that she is not permitted to compete in a hijab due to "safety concerns." This is thorny because the London Olympics mark the first year that Saudi Arabia has allowed women to compete at all, and they did so on the condition that they'd be allowed to wear Muslim clothing, including the hijab. The governing bodies for soccer, taekwondo, and track and field have all permitted female Saudi athletes to wear headscarves in London.
Sport rating: 7. Requires specialized technical skill, involves hopping and throwing. It may not look like much if you don't know the sport, but it's an incredible workout. Some judokas—including Ronda Rousey, the first U.S. woman to medal in the Olympics—have gone on to excel in MMA, which is, obviously, a 10.
Sex rating: 2. Judokas wear judogis, two-piece suits made of heavy cotton. The sleeves have to reach the wrist, the pants have to reach the ankle. There's not much to work with here.
Nerd rating: 4, if only because it requires so much effort to understand what is "good" in this sport.
Perfect for: Modern dance enthusiasts, pacifists with a hard edge, that guy who couldn't cut it on the wrestling squad.
Where you can watch it: You'll find most of judo online, where you just have to login with your (or a friend's) cable information to watch. The women's final will be broadcast on MSNBC, but that's about all you'll see on television. Judo is still trying to get in the front door. Check out NBC's schedule (sortable by sport) for full coverage.