Vladimir Putin – interpreting Putin's personality based on his judo.

I read one led by Katrine Kielos, whose leaders I tend to like even if they are slightly left-wing. She wrote a detached sentence about Vladimir Putin: "In today's Russian politics, however, it is determined throws of the type that judo master Putin has behind the red and white belt that count. Not chess master elegance.” 

It is obvious that Kielos has no idea what kind of sport judo is and to place judo in contrast to chess is incorrect. Both sports, which are big sports in Russia, are very similar in elegance – some have called judo the chess of sports where you have to be cunning to win over the opposition. He is not the only person in power who, in addition to judo, shares an interest with, for example, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada and  Teddy Roosevelt who practiced both judo and jui jutsu. The former Mongolian president Khaltmaagiin Battulga is also a world champion in sambo wrestling and was responsible for his country's judo federation.

Tactical thinking

Judo is very much a psychological sport, which is based on game theory where you have to choose a strategy based on and how you choose to wrestle based on the opposition. Judo involves using the opponent's strength and movements to one's own advantage. It requires strategic thinking, planning and quick decisions during the match. Putin has proven to be a skilled judo practitioner and this may indicate that he has an ability to analyze situations and act quickly.

You have to know your opponent, find their weakness and figure out how to use their weakness to your advantage. If you face a worse opponent, you aim for attacks where he is not prepared to gain an advantage or a win with a beautiful throw or hold. If you meet a significantly weaker opponent, you adapt your strength to the opposition and show humility instead of humiliating the opponent, even if it means winning.


Judo is a demanding martial art that requires discipline, patience and hard work to achieve success. Putin has shown strong discipline and determination in his judo involvement, which may indicate these qualities in other areas of his life and work as well.

The sport requires years of training to become a master and discipline to take on hard throws. Being thrown doesn't hurt when you're young, but with increasing age and stiffness you have to count on injuries and that it hurts if you meet younger opponents who are physically stronger.

Everyone who practices judo has a unique behavior pattern that reveals how to act instinctively in a certain situation and how to get out of difficult situations. Putin has trained and enjoyed throwing for several years in St. Petersburg, which of course has shaped his personality and in his innermost circle are the "Ozera oligarchs" where there are many judo partners from his youth as the oligarch and judo buddy Arkady Rotenerg.


Intelligence services are studying Vladimir Putin's psyche and a Pentagon report who received much publicity speculated that he might have Asperger's. If intelligence services study Putin's judo technique in detail, I'm sure it's possible to read his behaviors and try to read how he acts instinctively but nothing that gives a shaky impression.

Fool the opponent

In recent years, military strategists have about the new Russian military doctrine which was written by Machmut Garejev had great impact in understanding Putin's actions with hybrid warfare. One can also understand hybrid warfare through judo because the sport is holistic and is based on using attacks, feints, feints, moving the opponent's strength against the opponent and attacking where the opponent is weakest to dominate and win the match or training.

I asked a sports psychologist at the judo federation if she knew anything about Putin's judo skills and was told that he had gone from 1st dan to 8th dan in a very short time. (According to wikipedia he has 6th dan in judo and 6th dan in karate). Taking dan degrees at that speed is not realistic for normal people - but as a politician he has advantages in reaching the various master degrees (dan degrees).

Judo has shaped his thinking

Putin has definitely practiced a lot of judo in his life and the sport has had a great importance in his life. He himself has said that he sees judo as a philosophy that emphasizes that it is nothing for the faint of heart. According to a article in Huffington post he started when he was 11 years old after trying partner wrestling.

According to Wikipedia, he is the chairman of the Yawara Dojo in Saint Petersburg and co-authored the book Judo: History, Theory, Practice (2004). His first judo coach was named Anatoly Rakhlin and was one of the few invited when Putin was first installed as president the first time. Putin has also tried the nearby sport of sambo wrestling, which is big in Russia, and Karate.

Judo has a strong etiquette and values respect for opponents and coaches. It also emphasizes self-control and discipline. Putin has shown respect for the values of judo and has achieved, among other things, black belts in this martial art. It may indicate that he values these principles and tries to apply them to other aspects of his life and leadership as well. However, at the same time you can criticize him, what happened in Ukraine goes completely against the basic principles of judo.

What can be learned from judo?

If you examine how an active judoka acts in a judo situation, you can learn a lot about a person's personality because you often act through muscle memory. Almost every person has their own set of judo throws and favorite throws in their arsenal.

If you watch a video of how a judoka acts, you can see Putin's judo style and based on the judo style build hypotheses how he will act in certain situations.

  • Is he offensive in his judo style and takes command?
  • Is he a defensive player? A defensive judo player waits out the opponent and concentrates on defense techniques and counter-throws and allows the opponent to gain a better starting position.
  • What does his grip technique look like and does he try to grab the opponent before a throw?
  • How is his carpet work (newaza) and does his rely on chokes and neck locks to get to the finish? Is it a quick finish or complicated and advanced series.
  • Is he trying to trick the opponent into being active or doing something? In judo it is very common to feint and make mock attacks to place the attack in an unexpected place.
  • Does he have a game plan and what does his approach look like?
  • Is he prepared to take some risks or is he more conservative in his movement pattern?
  • What does his combination techniques look like or is he a more conventional judoka?

What judo style does Vladimir Putin have?

Putin has no competitive credentials but has made a DVD instructional video with Japanese grandmaster Yamashita on how to practice judo which he released at the age of 56 which he himself described as a marketing gimmick.

In the video, he talks about the importance of judo for his leadership style and ambitions: "Judo is a sport that requires courage, sincerity and pride. Confidence is highly valued as is respect for elders, peers, team and opponents

For fun, I have studied some YouTube videos with Putin. Unfortunately, there are no real matches or real randori sessions with fighting (exercise while standing), but it is mostly Putin who gets to throw around with the national team guys who eagerly allow themselves to be thrown - they probably don't want to go all out against him. I haven't seen a single toss where Putin himself gets tossed - which of course he would be if they went all out with him. It is of course a rather boring and unrealistic way to practice judo and it would have been more fun to analyze the personality after real matches.

In some YouTube videos, you can see that Putin moves correctly and makes fairly simple and conservative throws where the opponents politely follow along according to standard. He runs basic throws like Tai-otoshi, Hara-goshi, Ippon seo-nagi (admittedly with bad balance) and sumi geshi but he also does combinations.

You can see that Putin holds up the opponent properly, which is respectful of the person being thrown. Putin does not have a competitive style (according to Russian media, he became champion in Saint Petersburg in 1976). Anyone he touches gets thrown very easily. But the way he throws is classic and shows consideration – he has a rather cautious style and holds up week (the one who is thrown) and when the throw is not 100% he redoes the entry and nuts.

He doesn't show any advanced grip technique but has a fairly straightforward style with throws like ippon-seo-nagi and hara-goshi that suit us veterans. Slightly easier throwing series where he combines with leg sweeps before he throws. He also does arm locks such as juji-gatame which is one of the most common and effective arm locks and is used by many judokas.

Putin shows good basic techniques and he has a versatility in his throws which shows that he has been doing judo for a long time. He varies freely between right and left throws - making it difficult for the opponent to know what is coming.

The day the election results showed that Donald Trump would become president

On the same day that Donald Trump became president, Putin had a reception with ambassadors from several countries and it was a well-directed study in rulership. The reception is in the gold room in Petersburg and if you have been doing judo for a while, the image is recognizable. On one side you have the coach and on the other side all the students are lined up. Note the distance and how Putin tells country by country what cooperation with Russia looks like. He names, among other things, Iceland and the Arctic zone as well as Finland's role in the Baltics. It feels like a ruler's method to line up the leaders in a gold room with a 20 meter distance between the various diplomats and Putin.

Related links

Some of the videos I refer to in the article have been removed from Youtube.

Judo SPIF – Stockholm
Profile Putin Vanity Fair - an article that describes some of the significance of judo for Putin.
Washington Post: Trump's new Russia expert wrote a psychological profile of Vladimir Putin

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