Variables Affecting Judo Performance

by Gerald Lafon

In preparing a Judoplayer for competition, many coaches believe that hours of hard, continuous randori alone will maximize abilities while others may agree that some type of supplementary training such as running or weight training might also be appropriate.  Although these simplistic methods may at times produce good results, especially with natural athletes, it is imperative that coaches realize that higher levels of performance can be achieved if they are based on current research and information in sports medicine, exercise physiology and modern athletic training methods.  Coaching Judo competitors, especially those of high national or international level, will entail much more than just grinding it out on the mat.  Coaches must begin to see the larger picture of athletic training.   While this article is not meant to discuss in any great depth any of the variables affecting performance, it is hoped that this presentation will give coaches a different perspective and may help them in developing more efficient and extensive training regimens.

What follows is a list of 13 major variables or components which affect Judo performance and which in turn can be modified, controlled and improved by the coach and the athlete.  They are general enough to make them functional for most levels of competition.  They are;

• Basic psychomotor skills
• Agility
• Kinesthetic awareness
• Judo techniques
• Flexibility
• Endurance
• Strength
• Speed
• Power
• Health
• Mental skills
• Tactics
• Environment

Although certain variables will be developed more than others, it is important that none be neglected.  Certain components directly affect others.  There is strong interaction, support and cooperation between the variables much like the combined effort of the eleven players on a soccer team.  Several components can be improved upon right in the dojo and within the context of a well designed workout involving creative drills.  Some of the variables are best developed outside the Judo class.  What follows is a brief synopsis of each variable.

Basic Psychomotor Skills

Without the ability to perform basic psychomotor (locomotor, non locomotor and manipulative) skills such as hopping, crawling, jumping, pulling and carrying, the athlete will be hard pressed to develop complex skills such as are required in the performance of Judo.  The creative coach will devise drills to develop these skills in a typical warm up period.  Additional time can be spent off the mat.  National level players should not be immune from developing or improving upon these skills.


This is the ability to change direction rapidly and smoothly.  Players will need good agility to perform complex sequences of techniques such as counters, combinations and any other linking skills whether offensive or defensive.  Again, the creative coach can devise agility drills that can be incorporated into the warm up period.

Kinesthetic awareness

One of the most underrated and underdeveloped components of Judo performance,  kinesthetic awareness is simply the ability of the body to relate to its surroundings while in flight.  This awareness is best exemplified by the gymnast and diver.  It’s the ability the Judoplayer displays when, although he is  completely upended and turned around, he still manages to land on his feet or knees thus avoiding a terminal score.  Basic gymnastics and tumbling drills will improve this awareness in the Judoplayer.

Judo Techniques

Enough time should be spent on all the various components of Judo technique such as throws, grips, standing defense, counters, combinations, takedowns and turnovers, mat work (pins, armbars and chokes), and escapes and defenses for mat work.  Traditionally, many of these components get little or no training time at all.


General and sport specific flexibility using the PNF method or slow static stretch must be developed on and off the mat.  Lack of flexibility will affect the athlete’s ability to do certain Judo techniques and of course may affect the injury potential of the player.


Studies indicate that Judo is a sport requiring high anaerobic capacity yet most our players are trained aerobically.  Of the 3 energy delivery systems- ATP-PC, anaerobic (lactic acid) and aerobic (O2)- the anaerobic and aerobic systems are used the most during Judo performance.  The anaerobic system allows the player to perform high intensive work for short durations while the aerobic system facilitates the recovery between numerous high intensive periods of work.  A solid aerobic base is required before any anaerobic work is begun.


Notwithstanding the “Maximum efficiency, minimum effort” motto of the Kodokan, a great deal of raw strength is required to play Judo at high levels.  Best developed off the mat through a well structured weight training system using the cycling or periodization concept.  Development of absolute strength will positively affect  muscular endurance and should positively affect power as well.  It has a negative effect on aerobic endurance.  A well developed musculature will additionally be required to minimize injury.


Speed of movement as used in Judo skills will be developed through the elimination of superfluous and inefficient movement, and through the development of efficient neuromuscular pathways.  Speed can also be improved through reaction and plyometric drills.


The best example of power is the Olympic weight lifter doing the snatch.  The snatch is considered the most explosive and powerful athletic movement.  Power involves moving an object (force) over a certain distance in a certain time.    In the case of a Judoplayer, since his body weight (force) will remain reasonably constant, increase in power will only happen if distance or time are altered.  Strength and speed will affect power output.  The two Olympic lifts- the snatch and the clean- and their variations- from the hang, from blocks, push press- should be used to develop overall power.


Rest, nutrition, fluid intake and body weight can be controlled to optimize performance.

Mental Skills

Often the main difference between high caliber athletes is the ability to control stress (fear).  Stressors can control physical abilities unless brought under control.  Mental skill development therefore will incorporate visualization, relaxation, controlled breathing and autogenic training.


Situational drills should be incorporated to develop tactical ability.  A firm understanding of the rules of competition is necessary.  Coping with the various fighting styles (left, right, unorthodox, crouched, defensive, offensive etc.), fighting while behind or ahead on the scoreboard, competing injured or sick, and any other imaginable situation should be covered in training.


We know that jet lag, altitude, and significant changes of temperature and humidity will affect performance.  Chances are great that a different cultural or social environment may also affect performance.  These effects can be minimized by creating and training under similar circumstances and conditions.

Although the above information is not in itself detailed enough to formulate a concrete training plan, it does suggest to coaches that we must consider other components of athletic performance besides sport specific techniques if we are truly going to offer our athletes a well structured training system aimed at helping them maximize their potential.  This will require the coach to learn more about the other factors of athletic performance or to enlist the support of assistants who have training in sports psychology, sports medicine and/or exercise physiology.  While we have not covered any of the specific training details (sets, reps, percentages, peaks, periodization, tapering phase, work time, rest time, intensity etc.) we have hopefully presented enough material to have coaches reach for new horizons.

5 thoughts on “Variables Affecting Judo Performance

  1. Gerald,
    All good points. I wish more judo coaches were actively engaged in the discussion of judo and coaching development. All too often these important issues fall to administrators and sports politicians.

    But following on from what you wrote, judo is one of those sports that benefits more from good judo training than from sports science. While working in training development and kinesiology, much of what we did was based on S.A.I.D. – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. In other words, look at the demands set by the sport or activity, and then develop training programs that specifically adapt the athlete to those demands. If you want to be a swimmer, you need to swim. If you want to be a skier, you need to ski.

    While science has helped us develop baseline requirements for strength and fitness in elite athletes, it is hard to find any better conditioning for judo competition than intelligently structured judo training and randori. The key here is that every aspect of play development, to include conditioning, technical, tactical, psychological, be driven by the realities of competition. Unfortunately, all too many athletes focus on the strength conditioning and tactical, while neglecting the technical. As a result, high performance judo is rather scrappy and ugly, focused more on grip fighting and shidos than big attacks and wins by ippon.

    This has set a poor example for our junior competitors who emulate the elite athletes; but at the club level we can correct this. One remedy is to require our juniors to attempt their favorite techniques in randori, and commit to the attack without fear of being countered. Repeatedly attempting their full range of techniques, without concern for simply winning, will develop in them the confidence and timing necessary to apply these in shiai.

    But in developing techniques for competition, it is useful for a coach to look at the statistics as to which techniques are the most used and most effective. One will see that kouchi-gari and variations of seoi-nage are high on the list, as are ouchi-gari and uchi-mata, and harari-goshi and osoto-gari. So a junior competitor, who has competence with these basic techniques, and has practiced them in moving uchi-komi from several directions, will be well on the way to becoming a successful player.


  2. Is it possible to get your black belt in judo with lumbar spinal stenosis or even worth joining?

  3. Dear Gerald!
    Thanks for your good article
    my question is that “what are talent identification indexes(physical, skill, psychological) for judo?”

  4. I believe that talent identification, and certainly early talent identification, is a tough one for Judo precisely because there are so many variables to Judo performance. Ian Weithers, the national Judo coach for Barbados, has developed a talent identification program for his country. You may want to contact him for further information. Now, having said that, being talented, and being successful are two different animals. Innate athletic ability won’t take you far if a strong work ethic and mental toughness, or grit, are absent. There are lots of good books examining the link between talent, genetic makeup, grit, and success.

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