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Ever wondered who dominates the tatami in the art of the gentle way?

From the founder’s philosophy to thunderous ippons, these 14 grappling maestros have etched their names in judo’s hall of fame.

Buckle up as we fold back the mat on legends who’ve gripped, flipped, and redefined judo history, throw by breathtaking throw.

Best Judokas:

  1. Jigoro Kano
  2. Teddy Riner
  3. Tadahiro Nomura
  4. Anton Geesink
  5. Ryoko Tani
  6. Ilias Iliadis
  7. Yasuhiro Yamashita
  8. Kosei Inoue
  9. Daria Bilodid
  10. Shohei Ono
  11. David Douillet
  12. Kayla Harrison
  13. Lucie Dรฉcosse
  14. Hitoshi Saito
  15. Alina Dumitru

#1 Jigoro Kano

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Japanese
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: October 28, 1860
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Founder of Judo
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Founder of Kodokan Judo, Created the Judo moral code, Introduced Judo to the Olympic Games

Recognized as the “Father of Judo,” Jigoro Kano was a martial artist who established the guiding philosophies and techniques of modern Judo. He emphasized “maximum efficiency with minimum effort” and “mutual welfare and benefit” as core aspects of the sport.

Kano’s impact transcends sports; he was an educator who applied Judo’s principles to life. He contributed to the development of sports internationally, serving as the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee. His influence shapes not just Judo but the global landscape of martial arts and the Olympic movement.

#2 Teddy Riner

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: French
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: April 7, 1989
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: 2ร— Olympic Gold Medalist, 10ร— World Champion, 5ร— European Champion

Teddy Riner, often referred to as “Teddy Bear” for his gentle demeanor off the mat, is a force in heavyweight Judo. His remarkable strength, height, and technical skill have led to an unprecedented streak of victories, making him one of the most accomplished Judokas in history.

Riner’s dominance has drawn attention to Judo, inspiring a generation of athletes. Despite facing injuries, he showed resilience and made comebacks that cemented his legendary status. His charitable work and engagement with youth sport programs display his dedication to giving back to the community.

#3 Tadahiro Nomura

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Japanese
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: December 10, 1974
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: 3ร— Olympic Gold Medalist, 3ร— Asian Games Champion, World Champion (1997)

“Tadahiro the Tornado” Nomura is the only Judoka to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals, dominating the extra-lightweight division with his explosive techniques. His quick and precise execution of throws set him apart in the competitive arena.

His unparalleled Olympic success raised the bar for Judokas worldwide, and he remains an icon in his homeland. Despite facing injuries that threatened his career, Nomura’s determination drove him to return and compete at the highest levels, inspiring perseverance in athletes across all sports.

#4 Anton Geesink

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Dutch
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: April 6, 1934
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (1964), 21ร— European Champion, World Champion (1961)

Anton Geesink broke barriers as the first non-Japanese Judoka to win the World Championships. His victory at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was a historic moment, demonstrating that Judo had become a truly international sport.

Geesink’s size and skilful Judo prowess challenged traditional Japanese dominance in the sport. His post-competition career as an instructor and International Judo Federation (IJF) official continued to impact the sport globally. Away from the mat, Geesink worked to promote Judo and its values, leaving a lasting legacy on and off the tatami.

#5 Ryoko Tani

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Japanese
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: September 6, 1975
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: 2ร— Olympic Gold Medalist, 7ร— World Champion, 12ร— All-Japan Women’s Judo Champion

Ryoko Tani, hailed as “Yawara-chan” after a Judo-themed manga character, is one of the most successful female Judokas, demonstrating her prowess in the extra-lightweight division through impeccable technique and relentless spirit.

Her sheer dominance in the sport over two decades has set a benchmark for female Judokas. Tani has also pursued a political career, becoming a member of the House of Councillors in Japan. Her journey from the tatami to the political sphere showcases her varied talents and the respect she commands as an athlete and public figure.

#6 Ilias Iliadis

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Greek
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: November 10, 1986
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2004), 3ร— World Champion, 2ร— European Champion

Known for his powerhouse grips and explosive hip throws, Ilias Iliadis captured the world’s attention by winning Olympic gold at just 17 years old. His relentless attacking style made him a crowd favorite and a formidable opponent on the mat.

Despite battling injuries, Iliadis made incredible comebacks, proving his resilience and dedication to the sport. His contributions extended to coaching, where he shared his experience and knowledge with the next generation of Judokas. Iliadis remains a symbol of Greek sportsmanship and Judo excellence.

#7 Yasuhiro Yamashita

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Japanese
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: June 1, 1957
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (1984), 4ร— World Champion, 9ร— All-Japan Judo Champion

Yasuhiro Yamashita is lauded as one of the greatest Judokas ever, with an unmatched winning streak that includes consecutive victories in domestic and international competitions. Known for his formidable osoto-gari (large outer reap), his technique and fighting spirit set the standard for heavyweight Judokas.

His perfect record of victories remains a source of inspiration. Yamashita later transitioned into coaching and sports administration, contributing to the growth of Judo both in Japan and worldwide. His efforts in education and development programs continue to shape Judoโ€™s future generations.

#8 Kosei Inoue

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Japanese
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: May 15, 1978
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2000), 3ร— World Champion, 5ร— All-Japan Judo Champion

Kosei Inoue, renowned for his uchi-mata (inner thigh throw), dominated the under 100 kg division with explosive power and technical grace. His performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where he won gold, showcased his skill and competitive spirit.

Inoue’s achievements have made him a revered figure in the sport; he took on the role of the head coach for the Japanese national Judo team, helping to steer Japan to success on the international stage. Beyond his technical prowess, his philosophy and teachings on the spirit of Judo have influenced practitioners worldwide.

#9 Daria Bilodid

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Ukrainian
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: October 10, 2000
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: 2ร— World Champion (2018, 2019), European Champion (2017), Youngest ever World Champion in judo history

Daria Bilodid, known for her incredible agility and tactful ne-waza (ground techniques), swiftly climbed the ranks to secure her place amongst judo’s elite. Her rapid success and intuitive understanding of the sport have set new records, including being the youngest world champion in judo.

Despite the pressures of high expectations due to her early success, Bilodid has navigated her career with poise. Notably, she has also become a prominent figure in sports in Ukraine, inspiring the next generation of athletes. Her personal life, while kept private, reflects the discipline and dedication that has propelled her to the top of the judo world.

#10 Shohei Ono

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Japanese
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: February 3, 1992
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2016, 2020), 3ร— World Champion (2013, 2015, 2019)

Shohei Ono stands out for his explosive power and masterful uchi-mata (inner thigh throw). His dominance in the lightweight division has been marked by a potent combination of speed, technique, and strategic acumen that often sees him succeed against the best in the world.

Ono has faced challenges, including injuries that have tested his resilience. Nevertheless, his unwavering spirit and skill have kept him at judo’s forefront. Off the mat, Ono’s influence is seen in the dedication he shows to his training and the example he sets for aspiring judokas. His discipline extends into his personal life, mirroring the focus required to achieve at the highest levels of sport.

#11 David Douillet

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: French
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: February 17, 1969
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Former Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: 2ร— Olympic Gold Medalist (1996, 2000), 4ร— World Champion, European Champion

As a colossus in the heavyweight category, David Douillet, known for his formidable osoto gari (large outer reap), amassed a remarkable tally of titles and accolades throughout his career. His commanding presence on the tatami made him a feared competitor and a legend in the sport.

Douilletโ€™s transition from judo to politics is a testament to his multifaceted nature. Post-retirement, he engaged in public service and held various roles, showcasing his leadership in realms beyond judo. As he stepped off the mat, his community involvement and dedication to sport in France continued to reflect his passion and commitment.

#12 Kayla Harrison

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: American
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: July 2, 1990
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Judoka / Mixed Martial Artist
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: 2ร— Olympic Gold Medalist (2012, 2016), World Judo Championships medalist

Kayla Harrison is celebrated for making history as the first American to win Olympic gold in judo. Her relentless pursuit of excellence and her powerhouse performance on the mats highlight her judo talents. Harrison’s transition to mixed martial arts has also proven her versatility and fighting spirit.

Harrison’s personal journey includes overcoming adversity, having survived sexual abuse by a former coach. Her courage in addressing these issues publicly demonstrates her resilience and advocacy for survivors. Her off-the-mat victories extend to her mentorship role and commitment to giving back through community initiatives and her Fearless Foundation.

#13 Lucie Dรฉcosse

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: French
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: August 6, 1981
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Former Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2012), 3ร— World Champion, 4ร— European Champion

Lucie Dรฉcosse, revered for her strategic mind and spectacular ippon-seoi-nage (one-arm shoulder throw), captured the imagination of judo enthusiasts with her consistent winning performances at the highest levels. Her adaptability and judo intelligence made her a force to be reckoned with on the international scene.

Throughout her career, Dรฉcosse dealt with the pressure of competition with fortitude and grace. After retiring from competition, she transitioned into coaching, eager to impart her knowledge to the next generation. Her personal life includes passions beyond judo, as she balances the demands of life in the spotlight with private pursuits.

#14 Hitoshi Saito

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Japanese
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: January 2, 1961
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Former Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: 2ร— Olympic Gold Medalist (1984, 1988), 2ร— World Champion, Asian Games Champion

Hitoshi Saito was a towering figure in heavyweight judo, known for his powerful newaza and exceptional throwing techniques. His athletic prowess led him to two Olympic gold medals, affirming him as one of the all-time greats in his division.

Saito’s illustrious career was marked by his sportsmanship and the respect he commanded among peers. After retiring from competition, Saito contributed to the development of judo through coaching and mentoring roles. His legacy in judo remains profound, as he inspired a generation of judokas with his skill and dedication to the martial art.

#15 Alina Dumitru

  • ๐ŸŒ Nationality: Romanian
  • ๐ŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: September 30, 1980
  • ๐Ÿฅ‹ Position/Role: Former Judoka
  • ๐Ÿ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2008), European Champion, Multiple World and European medalist

Alina Dumitru is renowned for her exceptional judo skills, particularly her speedy counter-attacks and strategic ne-waza. Her climb to the top of the Olympic podium etched her name in the history books and brought pride to Romanian judo.

Dumitru’s challenges, including working through limited resources and support in the early stages of her career, showcase her resolute determination. Off the mat, her quiet admiration for the sport translates into coaching, where she continues to share her expertise and passion with young athletes. Her devotion to judo and its teachings illustrates her lasting impact on Romania’s judo community.

To complement the stories of the greatest athletes, explore insights and interviews about their journeys and tips at best Judo podcasts.


Who is the best Judo player of all time?

Teddy Riner is the best Judo player of all time. Here’s a link to our article on why we think Teddy Riner is the best basketball player of all time. His unmatched record and dominance in the heavyweight category solidify his status.

Who are the top 10 greatest Judo players of all time?

Jigoro Kano, Teddy Riner, Tadahiro Nomura, Anton Geesink, Ryoko Tani, Ilias Iliadis, Yasuhiro Yamashita, Kosei Inoue, Daria Bilodid, and Shohei Ono are the top 10 greatest Judo players of all time. Each has left an indelible mark on the art and sport of Judo through exceptional achievements and contributions.

Who is the most famous female Judo player?

Ryoko Tani is the most famous female Judo player. Her extraordinary career includes seven world titles and two Olympic gold medals, making her an icon in the world of Judo.

Meet Rev, one of our dedicated team members who embodies the essence of sports passion. When heโ€™s not immersed in the world of sports content creation, Rev is busy honing his skills in esports and exploring the great outdoors through activities like hiking and basketball.

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