Korean Judo Excellence Begins in School

For the judo lovers out there, you know about South Korea.  Names like Jeon Ki-Young (전기영), Lee Won-Hee (이원희), Wang Ki-Chun (왕기춘), and Kim Jae-Bum (김재범) resound in the judo world as defining greatness.  Among many others.  South (and North) Korea have a knack for developing world-class judo players consistently.

South Korea is the third most successful judo program in the history of the sport.  If you include North Korea (which, technically it should be) “KOREA” would be second only to the sport’s originating country, Japan.  That’s impressive.  And there are no signs of them stopping.  In fact, in recent years they seem to be getting better.

So what gives?  How does Korea do it?  America was finally given the opportunity to celebrate our first Olympic gold medal when Kayla Harrison took the top of the podium in London.  What adds to the greatness of the story is that she is the prodigy of all-time great Jimmy Pedro who was our greatest hope of winning gold before Kayla came to town.

So why do we, the leading country in Olympic sports, lag behind in the sport of judo?  Well, Korea has the answer to this conundrum.

Judo is in the Korean schooling system.

Wang and Kim: the dynamic duo

Korea does not have organized sport in their public school system as we would know it back in the States.  In lieu of this, they have sports-themed schools.  These middle schools, high schools, and universities specialize in athletics by including them in their curriculum.

For example, if you go to college to become a physical education teacher, you will need to study judo.  That means that every college that has a degree in phys-ed will likely have a developed judo program.

But that’s not where it starts.  It begins in elementary school if you can believe that.  In Busan there are numerous scholastic judo programs from elementary school up through high school.  On the island where I live, Yeoung-do, is the Busan Sports High School.  At this facility are dormitories where students live, study, and train in their sport of choice.  Judo being one of those choices.

Yong-In School of Martial Arts

Let’s not forget the famed Yong-In University, Korea’s national judo college and training center for the national team.  Korea created this college for judo in 1953 and it still has martial arts as part of the core curriculum.

You can receive degrees in judo and judo instruction.  And that’s how it goes with many universities in Korea.

Just imagine that concept for a moment.  Being able to study judo in school from elementary up through college, ultimately receiving a bachelor’s degree in it.  A judo player’s dream!

Lee Won-Hee: Defined dominance in Athens
So back to the original question, “how does Korea do it?”  I think any time you start a young athlete in a structured process with top-notch instruction at each step there is only one result – a champion.  And this is how Korea does it, I believe.

Want to SEE an example?  I was invited to watch a collective workout of some of the school judo programs in Busan including elementary school, middle school, college, and some city-sponsored pro players.  It was great to see the young ones nailing their technique at such an early age.

I took some video clips to share with you.  I hope you enjoy it.

Korea fighting!!


  1. Yes he is a great teacher and give good techniques to their students.

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