Dr. Robert Widell Jr.
martial arts, judo, women, empowerment, character
This study explores the experiences of women within the world of judo, a combat sport derived from ancient samurai hand-to-hand combat techniques. Although judo was founded as a sport in the 1880s, there was no women’s section until 1923 and, even then, women were barred from competition out of concern for its impact on their ability to have children. It would not be until 1992 that women’s judo became a part of the Olympic program. These limitations on women’s participation have simultaneously resulted from and contributed to the association of judo with notions of masculinity. Despite almost thirty years of women’s participation at the highest level of the sport, this marginalization of women in the sport persists. At the same time, though, a vibrant community of female judoka (judo athletes) has developed and women continue to thrive in the sport. Through a series of interviews and questionnaires, this study collected stories from a broad swath of female judoka and explored how they view their experiences in judo and how their participation has affected their moral development. Across generations and geography, these women shared stories about the reasons they started judo and their experiences while practicing it. As a lifelong practitioner of judo myself, I designed the project to give a voice to the everyday female who is getting on the mat for reasons other than a chance to win an Olympic medal. In so doing, I also aimed to demonstrate the ways in which women have contested and reshaped traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. The end product is a documentary film that pulls together highlights from all of the interviews and shows viewers, both in and outside of the sport, the value of martial arts on women’s lives.