Sanshiro Sugata; The Judo Saga!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Movies
5 Aug 2009


I was flipping channels the other day and came across an old grainy black and white film on IFC where a martial artist was backed against a wharf and taking on his antagonists! The movie is called Sanshiro Sugata (the Judo Saga) and was filmed in 1943. What caught my eye was how he was dispatching his opponents – by throwing them over the side.


This was reminiscent of when I found the Seven Samurai movie on IFC. As the story unfolded it was apparently about the early days of Judo and its players being challenged by Jiu Jitsu combatants! In this post I will review the movie and speak about Judo’s beginnings as well as my views of Judo as an effective martial art. Here is a clip from the movie as the head of a Jiu Jitsu school faces one of the main Judo players (subtitled in French I think).


The movie was interesting to me as Judo was not accepted at first as the Samurai had always used Jiu Jitsu in Japan’s history. Dr. Kano then developed Judo as a sport. Here is an excerpt from my thesis on Judo:

Judo also evolved from Jiu Jitsu. Judo was created as the need for fighting diminished (Corcoran 26). Although many of the techniques are the same, Judo is more of a sport, with rules making it ideal for competition. Professor Jigoro Kano developed Judo in 1882 with mostly holds and throws using an opponents weight against him (Lewis 62). According to Corcoran, “The two principles upon which Kano based his new art were seryoko zenyo (maximum efficiency with minimum effort) and juta kyoei (mutual welfare and benefit)” (26).

The first principal can be demonstrated when a person is attacked by a stronger opponent. The Judo practitioner pulls his assailant in the direction of his attack, thereby pulling him off balance and making him vulnerable to a counter throw. The second overlying principal is permeated throughout judo, that is, to perfect one’s mental and physical nature to the mutual benefit of both contestants (Corcoran 26). To achieve rank in Judo, one has to defeat another in competition.


The movie is about a young Judo player that wants to perfect his art. He breaks many rules but is a good fighter. He eventually learns humility and proves Judo is a valid marital art (sound familiar) through a series of matches with the Jiu Jitsu schools. In the video clip above – Judo is pitted against Jiu-Jitsu so the police can decide what martial art or instructors to use for their training.


The movie of course has a love story and competition among suitors of sorts. After viewing this movie I was struck by how even Judo had to struggle as an accepted martial art in its early days.


Another martial art that like Judo, was developed as a sport is modern MMA. While one can argue that MMA is not a style (yet), there are schools that teach MMA exclusively. These schools take on the look and feel of their instructor’s likes. For instance many of these schools like combinations of BJJ, Muay Thai or kick boxing (an evolution itself), wrestling & boxing.


I think MMA qualifies as a martial art of sorts because many of these fighters that fight in the UFC look similar and look nothing like their component martial arts. When our kids are old – MMA will probably be old-school and a newer fighting method involving mind control will be the rage. :)


Judo borrowed heavily from Jiu Jitsu but focused more on the transitions to the ground with some ground work.  Judo’s point system awards points for successful throws and control whereas Jiu Jitsu seems to focus more on controlling the ground game. BJJ is especially good at ground fighting.


My feeling is the martial art I would most like to learn now (for fun) is Judo because I can already strike well. By learning how to throw my opponent I would also learn how to avoid being thrown in a wrestling tussle. I was a wrestler in grade school and am only confident in my sprawl if someone shoots in at my legs. I’m not all that sure I’d avoid a throw or arm-bar. I can see that learning some form of JJ would also be beneficial.


I hope you have enjoyed my review of Sanshiro Sugata. If you do get a chance, this is a movie any martial artist would enjoy!


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3 Responses to “Sanshiro Sugata; The Judo Saga!”

  1. Urban Samurai Says:

    Hey John. Good post and interesting video clip. I feel compelled to watch the rest now!

    I’ve always considered Judo to be an effective martial art and it is also very good for self defense, thanks in part to the ability of its practitioners to effectively control the balance of an opponent. As a Jujitsuka I obviously practice many of the techniques (mainly throws) that make up Judo. The only real difference is the added strikes before doing the the technique. Judoka also tend to start from a grappling position, taking the techniques from there. Obviously in a self defense situation it would be fairly easy to close the distance to gain control. Once the gap is closed there are not many who would defeat a good Judoka. You’d be flying through the air before you knew what was happening.

    Jujitsu also tends to take many of the techniques from different attacks such as grabs, bear hugs, kicks and punches etc., something Judo tends not to do.

    Over all though I’d say Judoka are better at executing the throwing techniques since that’s all they do really. Jujitsu has a lot more to it.

    If you’re thinking of learning this kind of thing I’d say you’d benefit from learning both and combining the two to make them more effective.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Neil. Thanks for the insight. While I think I would like to take Judo first – I can get basic BJJ training from my organization free so I am guessing that is the way I will go at first.

    It was a cool movie so I hope you get a chance to view it.

  3. Cheri Arbuckle Says:

    You are correct — the film’s subtitles are definitely French (I was an exchange student there when I was in high school, so I learned French pretty well.