GTR Archives 2000-2022


Jiu-Jitsu Books 


Roberto Pedreira















The Politics of Color in Judo and Jiu-Jitsu

Translated with Comments by Roberto Pedreira

Posted July 18, 2022 (JST)

Note. IJF = International Judo Federation; EJU = European Judo Union; AJJF = Zen Nihon Judo Renmei, 全日本柔道連盟, All Japan Judo Federation. The EJU and AJJF are members of the IJF, which is the recognized representative for "judo" in the view of the IOC. 

-Begin translation-

The idea of using color judo training uniforms (柔道衣) was proposed (or was being pitched) by 1964 open weight gold medalist Anton Geesink of Holland. One competitor would wear blue, the other would wear white. The reasoning was that the referee and spectators could more easily distinguish the competitors, and it would be easier for people to watch on television. 

In Europe what they called "Blue judogi" began to be used in 1988. Japan objected that the financial burden on competitors would be excessive, and also that it would conflict with judo culture and traditions. Below is an outline of how the current situation came to pass.

May 1988. The EJU adopted white and blue uniforms.

September 1988. At a IJF meeting, the EJU proposed adoption of colored uniforms. After deliberation, it was rejected by a vote of 33 (for) to 51 (against)

October 1989. IJF proposed that colored uniforms be used in World Championships and Olympics. It was rejected by 50 (for) to 87 (against).

July 1991.  Luis Baguena  of Spain became the IJF president

September 1993. It was rejected by a vote of 92 against versus 52 in favor.

October 1993: The EJU considered colored uniforms for the international judo tournament to be held in Europe. Japan announced that Japan would boycott the event if colored uniforms were adopted.

January 1994. The EJU decided not to adopt colored uniforms in 1994.

April 1994. The EJU decided to take no stance about colored uniforms in Europe International Tournament prior to the Atlanta Olympics [in 1996]. 

May 1994. The IJF decided not to adopt colored uniforms for all official tournaments prior to the Atlanta Olympics, with the exception of the European International tournament (欧州選手権). 

December 1994. At a meeting of the IJF,  the EJU proposed that after two years colored uniforms would be introduced in European tournaments.

September 1994. Yong Sung Park (朴容,박용성) from Korea became the new IJF president and  came up with a plan to assure the survival of judo by having fewer but bigger competitions and adopting colorization of uniforms. IOC president Samaranch  let it be known that more emphasis should be put on accommodating the television companies. The EJU responded by recommending colorization.

December 1994. The AJJF warned that if colorization in Europe was made policy, Japan would boycott tournaments there.

April 1996. The EJU decided that colorization would be adopted for the International Tournament in Basil (Switzerland) in December.

June 1996. The Asian Judo Federation decided not to adopt colorization. 

November 1996. The AJJF proposed some alternatives to colorization of the uniform. The Federation suggested using colored mats. or as an experiment, putting red, or blue, lines on the pants. Or instead of black belts, using red or blue belts. 

December 1996.  EJU president Franz Hoogendijk of Holland, on December 6 at a press conference in Fukuoka, announced that color uniforms would be experimentally adopted for the European tournament  He said, "If Japan refuses, participation will be denied" (日本がカラー柔道衣を拒めば、出場は不可能だ.)

The AJJF responded that "If the IJF excludes Japan, Japan's competitive power will be jeopardized, and in consideration of that possibility, we can't boycott" [the tournament]. Consequently on December 10 the AJJF decided to send a Japanese team to the European tournament wearing colored uniforms. However the managing director (専務理事) of the AJJF, (Mr. 小粥義郎) wanted to make it clear going forward to foreigners who had supported Japan so far that participation didn't mean that Japan had dropped its opposition to colorization ("今後は、これまで日本を応援してくれた外国勢に、カラー化反対の立場は不変と説明する").

October 1997. At the IJF meeting in Paris on December 6 it was decided that colorization would be adopted. That meant that henceforth colorization would be in effect in the Olympics, World Championships, Junior World Championships, and the World Cup. In addition,  it could be expected that colorization would be in effect in all major international competitions」.

-End translation-

Comment. By 1972, 98% of the IOC's operating income came from the sale of television rights. That income depended on how much broadcasters were willing to pay, which depended on how much advertisers would pay, which depended on how many people watched a given event. Viewers did not watch judo relative to the more mainstream events (such as track and field, gymnastics, swimming). Even in Japan, viewers watch judo mainly, if at all, when Japanese players are up. National Olympic Committees get most of their income from the IOC. Consequently the health, even survival, of the sport depends on making advertisers, and ordinary viewers happy. Colored uniforms were thought to be one way to potentially engage viewers. Most (more probably, all) leaders of Japanese judo were from the old school (Kodokan) and objected to commercialization of the art. They probably also didn't believe it could be commercialized. Professional judo had been tried before, and failed miserably (see Choque 2 chp. 2). There may have been political factors as well. Understandably, Japanese groups wanted to maintain leadership of what they viewed as a Japanese sport, while also wanting it to become global. However, they needed cooperation from national and regional federations to accomplish that. The national and regional federations also wanted to spread judo, but at the same time they had competing interests (with regard to Japan). 

After a period of noble resistance, Japan finally bowed to the "trends of the times" and foreign pressure (外圧). In the end, it doesn't seem that much harm has been done by colorization. Japanese people who train judo recreationally in Japan still wear white uniforms. Japanese tournaments can require white uniforms. Or if Japanese judoka totally want to make fashion statements they can train BJJ.   

Brazilian jiu-jitsu lutadores also wear uniforms (called quimonos, aka kimonos). Being an offshoot of Kodokan judo, white quimonos were required for competition in events sponsored by the Federação de Jiu-Jitsu do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, as of 1975: "O quimono deverá ser branco..." ("The uniform should be white"). Sometime prior to 2014 white was no longer exclusively required or privileged. Alternative colors were not marginalized. Competitors could wear any color they liked, as long as it was either white (branco) or royal blue (azul royal). If they both wore the same color, one would additionally wear a green and yellow belt. That rule is still officially in effect, but in practice competitors, in important matches at least (based on available film of matches), wear one or the other.

BJJ is famous for "politics" but unlike in judo there has been no "politics" about colorization. The reason is that BJJ is not an Olympic sport, doesn't have to please the IOC, doesn't depend on advertisers or the viewing preferences of the general public. Another reason may be that no one (no one who matters anyway) in BJJ has a strong self-serving preference for any particular color.


柔道大辞典. (1999). Kodokan, pp. 111-112.

Wenn, Stephen R. (1995).  Growing Pains: The Olympic Movement and Television, 1966-1972. Olympika, 4, pp. 1-22.

**Thanks to Mestre Guedes, Marcial Serrano, and Robert Drysdale for sharing several useful historical documents.

(c), 2022, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.


GTR Archives 2000-2022