Does Size and Strength Matter in Judo?

Does size and strength matter in judo?

If you’re not blessed with a naturally large build, you might be worried that you’ll have a disadvantage in judo. At the same time, you might hope that if you become a judo black belt, you can beat any person of any size. Unfortunately, that’s not true; after all, there are different weight classes in judo for a reason.

Size and strength matter very much in judo. Even though skills and technique matter perhaps more, in a match of two different-sized people that are evenly matched in skill, the bigger person will likely win. But don’t let that discourage you from perfecting your judo technique!

As with all other types of martial arts like BJJ, you don’t need to be the biggest or the strongest to reap the benefits of judo. No matter how big you are, you will be able to get good at judo and use it to your advantage.

Why Strength and Size Matter in Judo

Maybe you got into judo because you’re a little smaller than most people and want to be able to defend yourself. It might be frustrating to hear that your smaller stature isn’t going to make too much of a difference on a huge, experienced opponent.  Still, keep in mind that size will not make up for lack of skill. 

Even though there are some things you can do to increase your size and strength, your genetics might allow you to be the biggest and strongest guy or gal in town. This is simply one of the hard truths we have to accept in life. 

That said, size and strength do matter in judo and in all other combat sports. So you should do all you can to be as strong and athletic as your body will allow. Unfortunately, however, we are not all blessed with equal abilities. Still, if it is important to you then simply do all you can. 

But before you get too down on yourself let me explain one thing a bit further. Learning skills in judo and other martial arts can for sure help you protect yourself from opponents much larger than you. In fact, it can make up for quite a bit of difference in size in strength when skill and leverage are on your side. 

What we do have to let go of is the thought that size and strength do not matter in judo and other martial arts. If this were the case then we really wouldn’t need weight classes, would we? 

Here’s how size and strength will give you an advantage, as well as ways that people of smaller stature can make up for their size.  

Physical Advantages Size and Strength In Judo 

The fact of the matter is that being bigger and stronger will make defeating opponents much easier. Every punch thrown by a stronger person will have more force behind it than if a smaller person throws a punch. It’s the same in judo. A larger stronger judoka will be able to throw their opponent with more force and it will be much easier for them. 

Sure you want to use as much leverage and technique as possible, but being stronger and using proper technique will make each judo throw even more effective. In addition, your size and strength advantage will mean that a smaller opponent will need even more leverage and technique to execute a throw on you. 

In a choking or holding situation, a larger person will overpower their opponent much more effectively, while a smaller person will have great difficulty keeping a bigger person down, even if they throw all their weight into it.

Larger people will also be harder to move around and control from the standing position. One of the main goals in judo is to get your opponent off balance. This will be harder if you have less weight to throw around. Getting hit with a 10-lb (4.54-kg) weight might throw you off your balance for a moment, but getting hit with a 50-lb (22.68-kg) weight will probably put you in a daze.

Physical Advantages of Being Small In Judo 

If you aren’t a naturally larger person, don’t let this discourage you from pursuing judo entirely! Judo is great for keeping in shape and defending yourself, so learning the techniques and tricks of this fighting style will benefit you, no matter your size.

In proper judo competitions, fighters are divided by weight classes, so it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be made to fight someone much larger than you. Weight classes will be explored in this article in a moment.

If you find yourself matched against a much larger person, however, there are some physical advantages that you will have against a much larger person:

  • Agility: Smaller people are quicker, as a rule, so you can dodge their hits if you stay on your toes.
  • Endurance: Throwing all of that weight around takes a lot out of you. Smaller people can outlast larger people in a fight if they manage their energy.

Even without bulking up, small and wiry judo practitioners can gain the upper hand on a large opponent by leaning into these advantages. Just always know when you’re truly outmatched.

If Size And Strength Didn’t Matter In Judo Then There Wouldn’t Be Weight Classes 

If you’re a smaller person that competes in judo competitions, you can compete in lower-weight classes. Since being big and strong is such a major advantage, you’ll want to stick to your weight class. Depending on the level of competition, weight classes and weigh-ins might be taken more or less seriously.

Generally speaking, there are now seven weight classes in judo, including in the 2021 World Judo Championships.

For men, the weight classes are:

  • 60kg or less (132.28lbs or less)
  • 60kg – 66kg (132.28lbs – 145.51lbs)
  • 66kg – 73kg (145.51lbs – 160.94lbs)
  • 73kg – 81kg (160.94lbs – 178.57lbs)
  • 81kg – 90kg (178.57lbs – 198.42lbs)
  • 90kg – 100kg (198.42lbs – 220.46lbs)
  • 100kg or more (220.46lbs or more)

Women, on the other hand, compete in the following weight classes:

  • 48kg or less (105.82lbs or less)
  • 48kg – 52kg (105.82lbs – 114.64lbs)
  • 52kg – 57kg (114.64lbs – 125.66lbs)
  • 57kg – 63kg (125.66lbs – 138.89lbs)
  • 63kg – 70kg (138.89lbs – 154.32lbs)
  • 70kg – 78kg (154.32lbs – 171.96lbs)
  • 78kg or more (171.96lbs or more)

Determine which of these weight classes you fall into before registering for any judo tournament.

How To Get Good at Judo No Matter Your Size

Judo is one of the best tools for staying in shape and defending yourself. If you ever need to defend yourself against a person who is untrained in judo, you’ll probably find yourself with the upper hand 9 out of 10 times. Of course, if I’m being totally honest there are exceptions.

If you are a 120 lb judo black belt and happen to get into an altercation with a 380-pound strongman competitor, I would probably have to put my money on the strongman. Luckily the likelihood of this happening is pretty low. So at the end of the day, all you can do is be as prepared as you possibly can to protect yourself. 

Skills and techniques can take you far but there are limits to what they can do for you.  That said, here are some general tips that will help you make up for your naturally smaller build:

Practicing Judo Techniques

Practicing your technique is the single most important thing you can do if you want to beat someone bigger than you. All things being even, including skill level and techniques, a larger person will beat a smaller person. 

But all things are very rarely even. If you happen upon a bigger person who can’t perform judo technique the way you can, you will have a great advantage over them with your skills. 

Judo techniques include throws, holds, chokes, locks, and many more. Some basic moves include Ouchi Mari, Ogoshi, and Osoto Gari. Focus on perfecting a select set of moves before branching out to more complex ones.

Building Muscle

Even if you’re naturally small and lean, you can build muscle and bulk up to your genetic limit. Eat more protein and calories and add weight training to your workouts to help increase your size. However, if you are unable to quickly build muscle, you will need to be patient and keep competing in your proper weight class.

Cardio & Endurance Training

Work on your endurance levels by going for runs, swims, and other cardio-heavy activities. Cardio keeps your lungs healthy, your endurance up and can help you outlast your opponent.  Just don’t overdo it if you’re also trying to bulk up, as too much cardio can reduce how much muscle you can build. 

Developing Flexibility

Working on how far you can stretch different parts of your body will open up advanced judo moves to you and will also speed your recovery after a match. Make mobility training a regular part of your workouts, and consider trying out a yoga class or two.

Sample Training Schedule

By building muscle, endurance, and flexibility, you’ll be able to get great at judo no matter your size. Here’s a suggested schedule to help you reach all these targets:

  • Practice judo every day.
  • Cardio (such as running) 2-5 times per week.
  • Weight training at least three times per week.
  • Mobility work or stretching before and after each training session.
  • Practice healthy living habits such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and managing stress.

Final Thoughts

Even though judo is beneficial to people of all sizes, being big and strong will give you a distinct physical advantage. That said, if you stick to your weight class and develop your technique, you’ll have no trouble taking down someone your size or significantly bigger. You just have to be realistic about it and realize that much of what you see in the movies is simply fiction. 

If you meet a bigger person with inferior skills to you, you’ll be able to take them down, too.

Don’t stop yourself from learning judo if you’re a smaller person. Judo goes a long way in making people capable and strong, which means that anyone can become a skilled judo fighter no matter their size.

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