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Use of black magic or witchcraft, charms and other good-luck paraphernalia, and even performing various rituals prior to and after athletic competitions is evident in many countries performing excellently in this field of sports. These superstitious activities aim at averting the results and promoting the performance of an activity that an athlete feels may not be in his/her favor. Though the athletes do not view some activities as rituals, they constitute superstitious rituals in the manner in which the athletes repeat them. Many of these activities are unique and well recognized or official to the performer. The athletes consider them to be influential in determining outcomes, and good or bad fortunes in their activities.

Judo, a modern martial art sport, is one of the successful sports in South Korea. Cases involving the use of magic, rituals and charms are rampant in the application of all the techniques (waza) of the sport.  According to revelations I obtained after interviewing Lee Choe, a Judo player and a cousin, superstitious activities in Judo sport range from taboos, rituals, and black magic.  "The main reason for engaging in these activities was mainly in order to be powerful in subjecting  throws,  grappling maneuver, joint locking, and strangle chokes to the opponent or the Uke ", Lee asserted. "Most Judo performers and judo practitioners (j%u016Bd%u014Dka) use these superstitious activities for an indirect benefit such as weakening the opponents (Uke) and confusing them", he revealed.

The Rituals, Taboos and Black Magic

Lee is an early riser, whether winning or losing, contrary to Dennis Grossini, as illustrated by Gmelch, "Dennis Grossini, a pitcher on a Detroit Tiger farm team, arose from bed at exactly 10:00 A.M.". Lee says that he wakes up at 4.00 am to begin his sparring practice (randori  or "free practice") before a competition. "My coach or I determine the time", he said. He then recites a short phrase, which is a form of a prayer for his body. "Muscles, do not fail me. Hands, grab them tight. Joints do not 'crack' me. For this man must go down today", he recited. "This prayer is my morning ritual that I cannot skip on a 'special day' of the match".

Lee now takes breakfast, which includes Tofu or bean curd (dubu) and rice. "This is my winning breakfast. I must take dubu if I have to win that Judo match", he added. Lee believes that homemade food is the best and brings him good luck and strength. "If I take a meal before the match, or during a match and it cause some stomach discomforts, I take it as a bad omen. Therefore, I prefer to take a few snacks if I get very hungry". I noted from Lee that if these discomforts face him after taking a meal during a match, Lee blames it on being partially bewitched by the opponent (Uke) in order to lose in competitions. "If I can hold it until the end, I prefer not to eat anything".

Lee prefers to wear his most adored sweatshirt during the judo sports. "Even if the performers use an official garment for the event, the j%u016Bd%u014Dgi or the judo uniform, my preferred sweatshirt is always underneath. I have printed name of my grandfather on the sweatshirt. He brings me good-luck since he won numerous Judo medals", he said. Lee informed me that other judo performers print various chosen numbers or signs on their under garments. " One day, after a Judo match, I saw my opponent in the dressing room wearing an underwear with pictures of  a skull and two intersecting swords printed everywhere on it. I thought it was cultic", Lee explained.

Lee's love for his sweatshirt with his grandfather's name printed on it correlates with Gmelch's illustration on, "The way in which number preferences emerge varies. Occasionally a pitcher requests the number of a former professional star, hoping that-in a form of imitative magic-it will bring him the same measure of success".  Just like the pitchers, according to Gmelch, Lee always hope that his grandfather's name will act as an imitative magic and lead to an equivalent magnitude of success.

 "Before any match, I must run around the area on the mat (tatami), selected for the Judo match, three times", Lee explained. This is in order to charm the mat and subject it and everything on it under his control. When performing nage-waza (throwing technique) and katame-waza (wrestling technique), Lee explains that he recites his ritual prayer once more, though in a low tone.  "I close my eyes when reciting", he added. This he said brings him strength to oppose 'taping out'. However, according to Lee, many consider chewing in Judo sport as a taboo, since it causes lack of concentration. "Every time, I spit on my palms and rub the saliva on the hands to improve a grip on the opponents body", he said. This is just like the baseball players, according to Gmelch's illustration, "Rubbing pine tar on the hands to improve a grip on the bat, or rubbing a new ball to make it more comfortable and responsive to the pitcher's grip".

A taboo commonly observed by most Judo players, according to Lee, is that of indulging in sexual activities before the main events. He added, "I believe that these activities deprive one of his physical strength". Lee believes that energy wasted   to be equivalent to tackling one man on the Judo mat".

As I noted from Lee, most of these rituals and taboos are more observed during national events than in local events, which are not challenging. This is similar to Trobriand Islanders, according to Bronislaw Malinowski's finding that, "...Magic was not used in lagoon fishing, where men could rely solely on their knowledge and skill.  But when fishing on the open sea, Trobrianders used a great deal of magical ritual to ensure safety and increase their catch".

Lee revealed that a few Judo performers have occasionally sought for 'magical powers' from witchdoctors before competitions. "Some obtain ornaments in the form of necklaces or waist bands to wear. Others concoctions to drink", he said. In case of success, Lee noted that the performers retain these materials or go for more. "There are other portions meant to weaken the opponent. The user is normally advised on how to apply them in many ways", he added.

"I have encountered performers who use family inherited charms in the form of necklaces and bands. My charm is my sweatshirt. One day I forgot to wear it and lost dearly. I cannot perform again without it. It is my amulet", Lee narrated.


Most of my findings correlate with the findings of Bronislaw Malinowski and B. F. Skinner. Athletes like Lee observe, and execute these rituals and taboos in a usual, impassive manner. They recur in case of success (reward), with a belief that they play a significant role in producing, and maintaining success or luck, also controlling uncertainty. The athletes or performers learn the rituals, and then adopted them in case they bring triumph, or consider them taboos in case they cause defeat and poor performances. They are usually habitual and cognitive tactics and strategies. Performers can either observe these taboos and rituals individually or as a team, after consultation and agreement.

The driving force of use of charms, rituals and magic in Judo sport is mainly financial gains associated with success in these activities.

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