Judo Classification Types

Classic Judo classification (unlike classification of some other Arts, most notably Aikido and traditional jujutsu) has no pure nominative elements. However, Japanese terminology is a meaningless sound for non-Japanese speakers without accurate translation, but such translation is more exception then a rule outside of Japan.

When practicing Judo started in Russia in 1914 by Vasili Oschepkov, he not just translated Japanese technique names, but adapted them to Russian linguistic pattern. Indeed he created whole new terminology and, consequentially, classification of Judo technique in Russian.

This classification became basis for SAMBO. As Judo was re-introduced in the Soviet Union as Olympic sport two years before its debut in 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Oschepkov’s Russian classification became standard classification in Russian Olympic Judo as well.

For best of my knowledge it’s the only full scope native language Judo classification outside of Japan.

In English language Judo publications, as well as in Judo clubs, Japanese terminology just transliterated and, at best, complemented by more or less descriptive translation.

By historic irony as SAMBO became international sport discipline in 1972, Oschepkov’s Russian classification suffered the same fate as original Dr. Kano’s Japanese version – it wasn’t translated, but just transliterated.

So, currently the same Judo classification can be nominative or descriptive depends on the language environment!

While leaving aside for a moment the role of classification in teaching Judo and effect of linguistic disparity on it, let’s look on the types of descriptive classification itself.

In a very coarse breakdown any Judo classification contains two core parts: (1) names of the technical elements and (2) grouping of technical elements.

Names of Judo techniques (throws) tend to be of two distinct types: instructional and allegorical. Instructional names contain abbreviated description of the technique when allegorical present its emotional or visual appearance.

Some techniques may have both, instructional and allegorical, names at the same time that may be used interchangeably. Good example of this is “Kata Guruma” a.k.a. “Shoulder Wheel” a.k.a. “Windmill” a.k.a. “Throw Over Shoulders” (the last two names are both direct translation from standard Russian classification used in both, Judo and SAMBO, as well as in wrestling). While, as non-Japanese speaker, I can’t attest for visual and emotional impression that “Kata Guruma” makes for native speaker, I can say that “Windmill” is an allegorical name based on the visual resemblances of tori’s body to windmill rolling sails during execution of the throw. On the other hand “Throw Over Shoulders” is a coarse description of the throw itself. Name “Shoulder Wheel” (witch probably is exact translation of “Kata Guruma”) fails somewhere in the middle between “Windmill” and “Throw Over Shoulders”.

The good example of allegorical name is “Yama Arashi” that translates as “Mountain Storm”. This name based on the dynamics of the throw, but saying nothing about leg-work, directions, or other specifics of this technique. This doesn’t mean that such naming become just “fancy” nominative. I trained “Yama Arashi” for many years and when I can’t count it as my crown technique, I can attest that in order to be effective it must be a quick powerful… well, “Mountain Storm”.

Example of the name, based closely on throw description, is “Ippon Seoinage” – “One Arm Shoulder Throw”.

Using both, instructional and allegorical, names has its own positives and negatives.

Instructional names help to introduce technique to new students, who not encounter it yet and need very basic instructions. In such cases name itself provides those basic instructions.

On the other hand, allegorical names more helpful in working with more advanced students as they put stress on dynamics of some key elements of the techniques (“Mountain Storm” – for dynamics; “Windmill” – for rotational motion). This can be very beneficial in process of individual coaching.

Grouping allows rationalization of technique introduction order as you can select individual techniques from rotating groups and have more or less balanced technical set presented to your students in any given moment of there advancement.

Instructional names help to organize such group more easily; however as such groups already established it’s became less critical.

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