Back in May 2011, I wrote The Case Against Terminal Ippon. Although the idea didn’t gain much traction back then, it’s a good time to revisit this concept with all the talk going on currently about developmental rules and long-term athlete development (LTAD).
With fewer and fewer kids competing in Judo, especially girls, it’s imperative that we make Judo tournaments more appealing and more conducive to long-term athletic development. Nothing is more discouraging than unopposed divisions, small divisions of 1-3 players, 10-second matches because of terminal ippon, and matches quickly lost or won via penalties for infractions that are ill-defined and interpreted differently depending on who the referee is.
To develop sound Judo skills you need to spend more quality time on the mat (TOM) in class, and more time in a match (TIM) in competitions. Terminal ippon is detrimental to TIM, both for the winner and loser. I run tournaments using what I call Judo America rules, which include full time matches, no penalties, and proactive refereeing. The Judo is remarkable as the elimination of terminal Judo allows for more risk taking.
Judo Canada uses full time matches for U10 and U12 competitors. There’s also an option to terminate a bout after three ippons if a losing competitor so desires. Mixed gender matches are also allowed for those divisions.
While Judo Canada’s modifications are commendable, there’s one drawback: full time matches don’t apply to U14 and U16. In other words, if you start Judo at 10, you benefit from the full time matches. However, if you start Judo at 14, you don’t have that benefit for some reason.
If we ever adopt developmental rules in the U.S., I would hope that, in addition to age, skill level is also considered. Thus, all white belt through orange belt players regardless of age should have full time matches. Or perhaps, white and yellow belts should have full time matches, while orange and green belts would need to score two ippons to end a match.
Now, I can already hear the screaming from tournament staffs and referees. Full time matches will increase the length of tournaments. This may happen or it may not happen. It may not happen if we resort to proactive refereeing, as is done in Freestyle Judo, to minimize down time due to issuing penalties or stepping out of bounds.
Can we tighten up the dead time in a typical match? Do we need so many matte calls? Do kids really need to wait during referee changes before they can come onto the mat? Can we be more efficient on getting kids on and off the mat for their matches?
After the 2017 Winter Nationals, I calculated that every mat would have saved 33 minutes had they cut out just ten seconds of wasted time from each match. I believe that by changing our tournament culture and becoming more efficient we can cut out more than just ten seconds.
With the latest iteration of an agreement between USA Judo, USJA and USJF, there’s a plan to develop an American Development Model (ADM) for Judo. This is great news, but only if outliers are chosen for the various committees that will develop the ADM. We need people on these committees who can think outside the box, and advance revolutionary ideas to make American Judo great.
Ultimately, the question we need to address seriously is whether full time matches, or matches requiring two ippons, will increase attendance at tournaments, and improve the skill level of our players. I believe it will.