Some people take up judo because they want to become a competitor. Some do it as an means to get fit. And some do it because they want to be able to defend themselves.

Judo is useful for all these things though it must be said that the emphasis of judo is more towards sport. When we train in judo, we don't focus on how the techniques can be used in a self-defense situation. Rather, we train to score points so we can win a contest. Nevertheless if you train in judo, you will inevitably become better at defending yourself than someone who is not trained in judo.  

In this posting let's look at how judo can be useful for protecting oneself from bullies and predators. Let's start with children.

One of the great challenges parents face is how to train their children to deal with bullies at school. Judo is a great solution for that but in ways that you might not expect.

When I was a young man getting my first taste of competitive judo training in Los Angeles, I overheard a conversation my coach had with a father who was considering enrolling his son for judo lessons.

The father explained that his son was getting bullied and beaten up in school, and he wanted that to stop. My coach told him something profound that still resonates with me after all these years.

He said: "I can't guarantee that your son will never get beaten in a fight but I can assure you he will never take bullying from anyone again."

What he meant is that the son will never cower in fear but instead will stand up to bullies.

You see, although judo contests are fought according to weight classes, in the dojo, players train with everyone including those who are much bigger. Size does matter — someone bigger is naturally a lot stronger as well. But judo players are acclimatized to fighting bigger opponents. Size doesn't faze them.

Bullies prey on those who are timid and fearful. They can smell fear in someone and they will zoom in on those who are scared of them. Because of that, they will think twice before trying to bully a judoka because they will not detect any fear. And if they make the mistake of trying to bully a judoka, they will have a fight on their hands, and it will be an experience they will never forget.

Let's move on to women. On more than one occasion, I've heard women say things like, "I want to take up a martial art for self-defence but judo is so rough." My response to that is: "Do you think a mugger or a rapist will be soft?"

Judo is rough because it's a full-contact, combat sport. Points are scored by throwing, pinning, armlocking and strangling your opponent. Guess what an assailant usually does when he attacks a woman? He tries to take her down to the ground, pin her, twist her arm and strangle her.

It so happens this scenario is exactly what judokas train to defend against. We learn to defend against all that — not for self-defence purposes but for winning a match. But nevertheless it still trains us to deal with such scenarios very effectively.    

One common criticism I hear about judo's applicability for self-defence is that we don't have any punching and kicking in judo. As a result, we don't know how to punch or kick effectively. And we also don't know how to defend well against punches and kicks.

True but how often does an assailant punch or kick a woman when he attacks her? He will grab her and try to fling her to the ground and subdue her there, not punch or kick her into submission.

Judo is a grappling sport and players learn how to react and defend against all kinds of gripping situations. This is not something a typical woman knows how to do.

When a woman suddenly gets seized by an assailant, she would usually freeze in shock. A judoka, in contrast, deals with grappling situations all the time, so they will fight back instinctively when grabbed.

That alone will surprise the assailant, who is not used to a woman fighting back aggressively when grabbed. That momentary shock may be the window of opportunity for the woman to run away and escape.

There are many physical benefits to learning judo that will allow you to defend yourself well. But it also trains you in one very important psychological respect. You develop a strong fighting spirit.

That mentality of "never say die", coupled with physical capabilities in dealing with grappling situations will help you defend yourself well even if you never trained specifically for that purpose.