The World Judo Championships are the highest level of international judo competition, along with the Olympic judo competition. The championships are held once every year (except the years when the Olympics take place) by the International Judo Federation, and qualified judoka compete in their respective categories as representatives of their home countries. Team competitions have also been held since 1994. The men's championships began in 1956, though the format and periodicity of the championships have changed over time. The last edition of the championships took place in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2015.
The first edition of the world championships took place in Tokyo, Japan in 1956. There were no weight classes at the time and Japanese judoka Shokichi Natsui became the first world champion in history, defeating fellow countryman Yoshihiko Yoshimatsu in the final. The second world championship was also held in Tokyo two years later, with the Japanese winning the top two spots in the competition for the second time. In 1961, the championship was held outside Japan for the first time, and Dutch judoka Anton Geesink defeated the prior world champion, Koji Sone, in Paris, France, to become the first non-Japanese world champion.
Despite this progressive enlargement, it took until 1980 for women to participate in the world championships. The first women's world championships were held in New York City in 1980, and were held in alternating years as the men's championships until the 1987 World Judo Championships in Essen, where the two competitions were merged into one world championship. The mixed championships have been held biannually since 1987. In 2005, the world championships made its debut on the African continent in Cairo, Egypt. In the International Judo Federation meeting held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2007 (during the 2007 World Judo Championships), it was decided that France would host the world championships for the fifth time in 2011.
The World Judo Championships team competition began in 1994. women's competition began in 1997, and after 1998 it was held once every four years until 2006. The competition will be held every year from 2007. Judoka who participate in the individual world championships often do not participate in the team competition.