I was lucky enough to be in Rio during the 2016 Olympics and got to see a huge amount of events live. But the sport I saw most of during those 2 weeks was judo – simply because at all times it was on at least 4 Brazilian TV channels 24/7 during the Games. After plenty of hours watching without any knowledge of Portuguese, I felt only a little the wiser as to what went on but strangely fascinated nonetheless.
So I approached The Pyjama Game with a keen interest in figuring out a little more about the sport that seemed second only to soccer in the Brazilians’ hearts. Mark Law is a journalist who took up judo as he approached 50 and became obsessed with the sport. This book is a fascinating in-depth look at the world of judo both as a competitive sport and as a martial art practiced for love rather than competition.
Law moves deftly between telling judo’s origin story and more modern history together with his own musings on what judo is, what made it spread around the world and what it means to him. The history of judo is fascinating and told really well. The game developed largely as one remarkable Japanese man’s efforts to make jujitsu safer and more effective. It was spread by its disciples largely through their ability to beat all-comers from other disciplines.
Women’s judo is also given pretty decent coverage and it was fascinating to see that the women’s game developed more in the West before the Japanese got their act together and became dominant. Japan and Japanese culture are also central to the story and the book offers interesting insights into that remarkable and fascinating country.
Law remains steadfastly immune to the philosophical accompaniments that come with judo – given its Buddhist origins – but this doesn’t stop him waxing lyrical about how much judo has given him and how much joy he derives from practicing it. At times this can be a bit repetitive and at times he felt the need to make negative comparisons of football (a pet hate of mine) but these are very minor irritations. Overall it is a really enjoyable and entertaining read that makes you want to seek out a judo club and try it out for yourself.
It should also be said that the Aurum Sports Classic edition of the book is quite beautiful and looks great on the bookshelf. It looks like that imprint has gone out of business which is a real shame.