‘In their effort to turn their athletes into virtual fighting machines it was inevitable that the East Germans would make them fight real ones’













About The Pyjama Game

It is a sport of balletic beauty and extraordinary violence – where else are you allowed to strangle an opponent unconscious?  But while its aim is to inflict symbolic death, judo is a form of combat which also rigorously insists on the most formal courtesies.

When Mark Law joined his local judo club he was able to observe at close quarters the sport practised at its highest level. He even found himself having to face some of the finest fighters in the business – World Champions and Olympic medallists from Japan and Europe, men like Brian Jacks, one of the all-time greats of British judo, (whose superhuman fitness and strength also saw him to the BBC’s ‘Sporting Superstars’ title in the 70s).

He went to Osaka, Japan to see the World Championships and to Athens for the Olympics. And he explored the history of  this martial art rooted in the tradit

‘We see behind the scenes of the tournament circuit’

ions of the 17th century Samurai warriors through such legendary figures as Jigoro Kano, who created the basis for the modern sport of judo,  Anton Geesink, the Dutchman who was the first to shatter the hegemony of the Japanese, and Yamashita, the greatest of the modern champions.

The result is a fascinating journey into this most enigmatic of sports which, in its own ferocious but highly codified regime, feeds man’s immutable warrior instinct for combat. It tells the story of how judo conquered the world, and how the world has tried to conquer Japan. We are taken behind the scenes of the international tournament circuit populated by some of the most fearsomely single-minded and self-denying competitors of all time —

‘sublime, grotesque, comic and tragic’

men and women who have arrived at the apex of a sport from thousands of ordinary judo clubs all over the world. Through a series of colourful encounters — sublime, grotesque, comic and tragic — we experience the irresistible drama of  tournament judo as figures grapple, whirl and fly through the air or struggle for armlocks and chokes, each contest reaching its conclusion in that symbolic death.

Funny, alarming and mesmerising, The Pyjama Game is one of the best sports books of recent years.


‘Fighting is what happens when people carry on playing after you have taken away the ball.