A Sport That Resists Change Dies

I had the great pleasure of attending two of Sid Kelly’s Southern California clinics back in March. Although Sid and I are on the same page when it comes to pedagogy for Judo, I came away with lots of good drills, ideas, and key phrases that make my own approach to teaching Judo all the more rich and effective.

Thanks to the efforts of Hal Sharp from Gardena Judo, Coach Kelly was brought over from Connecticut and sponsored by Nanka with the intention of presenting to club leaders a different approach to teaching our sport, one that would help us attract more people to Judo and retain a greater portion of those who do join.

Coach Kelly’s clinics are truly unique in content, and given the size of the Judo population in Southern California and the fact that many of our clubs are dying a slow but sure death, they should have been attended by hordes of information-crazy clubs leaders. But lo and behold, reality reared its ugly head: almost nobody showed up! Apparently, our club leaders don’t need continuing education and new ideas.

At the Goltz Judo Club session on Saturday, there were four clubs represented besides the host club. From those four clubs, there were two players on the mat and three or four sitting on the sideline. Had it not been for the presence of roughly twenty-eight students from the host club, we would have had a mere three participants on the mat.

Sunday’s session at Tenri Dojo was similarly poorly attended: a total of seven participants representing three clubs! Yes, some clubs were at a national event, but clearly not all their coaches were absent from the area. While you digest these numbers, keep in mind that there are over fifty clubs in Southern California. We should have had at least one representative from each club.

So the question begs: does anyone care about the survival of Judo? Does anyone realize that we must change our approach to teaching Judo if we are to successfully contest in the twenty-first century? Does anyone realize that teaching Judo need not follow the “mat bashing-static uchi komi-randori” model that is prevalent in most clubs? Based on the turnout to Sid Kelly’s clinics, the answer is a resounding “NO!”

I constantly hear from club leaders that membership is not what it used to be. Kids are doing x, y and z, but not Judo. In most instances, these club leaders have not revamped their instructional program in decades, and have not stayed current with the times. Yet they wonder why nobody wants to do Judo or stay in Judo. Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. That’s American Judo. We keep using the same old, tired model of instruction, and we keep losing far too many people after they have stumbled into our clubs.

So, kudos to Nanka for sponsoring and bringing Sid Kelly out to the West Coast. On the other hand, shame on its clubs for not supporting the clinics. USJA clubs should also be chastised for not giving a hoot. The turnout for Sid Kelly’s clinics was pathetic, shameful and insulting to the clinician. This is just another small nail in our coffin.

One final comment about attending clinics: be considerate of the clinician by arriving on time, putting your gi on, getting on the mat, participating to the best of your physical condition, and by not leaving until the clinic is over! That’s common courtesy that the clinician deserves.

6 thoughts on “A Sport That Resists Change Dies

  1. Mr. Lafon,

    While I’ll agree with you that all clinic should be supported by the clubs in the area, I would like to talk about your more broader topic of clinics…I met Mr. Kelly about 20 years ago and while I was impressed with his mastery of Judo, I still don’t understand the necessity of conducting Competitor Clinics.

    The problem, in my humble opinion, Clinics should be for the Coaches (not the players). There has been an abundance of clinics over the years that featured Olympic Medalist from around the world. They get on the mat and demonstrate their waza to the amazement of our younger Judoka. The Judokas take these things back to the Dojo and before you know it, these techniques are lost because they can not duplicate them.

    Young Judokas see that this or that worked for the Champion, so it must work for me. Neil Adams does this so it must be correct and work for me if I want to be the champion. Not true. I’ve been on the mat a few times with Mr. Adams. How he works out, how he teaches and what he puts out at the clinic are different. He dedicated his life to doing what he does well and it can not be conveyed in a matter of hours. Just because this worked for Yamashita Sensei does not mean it will work for you. Yamashita was developed by his Sensei’s to do these techniques over years. How can he teach your Judokas in 2-4 hours the benefits of all of his years?

    Kano Sensei did not design Judo to be one size fits all. The problem is that every Judo Organization in this country has a variety of standards. We don’t have one teaching method and they vary from state to state, club to club.

    In order for a clinic to be successful, there must be results. This can only happen if you have those lessons being re-enforced by the Sensei and Coaches. How can they do that if only 4 show up for the clinic?

    In America and around the world, we have varying levels of instruction. I know some Shodans who have their own Judo clubs and they do an outstanding job of preparing Judokas for a journey in Judo. These young men and women are often dismissed from the bigger discussions about Judo because they lack an organizational Rank of Godan or higher. This is dispite the fact that they often have larger clubs than the High Ranking Judokas. Look at all of the Yudanshikai around the country and it is evident that the ‘Old Guard’ is very much in control. These younger leaders must be nutured.

    What were the results of these clinic’s, in terms of Medals won at the Worlds and Olympics (don’t insult the Judo Populace with matches won, I want medals won)? Yes, someone has to lose but why does that have to be US? It is my MONEY being paid to the USA Judo/USJA/USJF. Every individual member of these organizations have made an investment without researching the stock! If a little Island of Cuba, a poor country like Brazil, and the former Soviet Bloc countries whose combined Gross Domestic Product is less than America’s, can put up several Olympic Medalist (at each Olympics), and we can not then ‘Houston, we have a problem’.

  2. Yes, you are right that clinics, at least most of them, should be for coaches. American coaches are the weakest link in American Judo, but we know that it’s hard to get coaches to accept that fact. On the other hand, clinics by Olympians for competitors are in my opinion about motivating and encouraging athletes rather than developing skills, so they are not without merit.

    Besides the weakness of our coaching corps, our lack of success in the U.S. has more to do with poor leadership, uninspiring (dare I say inexistent) development programs, lack of depth in our competitor ranks, lack of nearby competition opportunities, and lack of direct funding to the athletes inspite of living in the most prosperous country in the world.

    The problems are numerous, and the solutions are difficult to implement in our current culture.

  3. Sir,

    That is correct, our problems in America are too lengthy to state. We have a problem with the administration of Judo in this country. We have an athlete development fund that is supposed to be administered, however there are no professionals adminstrators at USA Judo.

    The real problem is a lack of discipline. The USJA and USJF function with only a handful of people administering their programs. Ms. Davis and Mr. Fukuda run these two organizations from computers and they are very responsive. USJA and USJF have a combined 6 paid employees (the COO and Executive Directors are none salaried positions).

    USA Judo has 6 (published) paid positions and pay an Executive Director who has never worn a Judo Gi. This is not to talk about the expensive (expense) accounts that all of the Board of Directors use to travel to the overseas tournaments. There is really no accounting of how much money goes out to the various ‘National Training Sites’, nor how much money each committee pads their expense accounts. I am about results, so what are the results that USA Judo achieved? We had only 3 women quailfy to attend the Olympics in 2008, so what have they been doing with my Money?

    Today we have Grand Prix all over the globe yet many Americans aren’t participating due to cost. If you want to become a better fighter, you must fight different people often. There are Olympic Medalist on the mat fighting every month, somewhere in the world, we’ve got to get there and challenge them! I’m sure Valerie received some funding but was it adequate to cover the cost to travel the world to compete?

    The majority of Judo players did not continue this sport to get rich (or even make a living). That is another one of our problems.

    Let’s take the English model: The Dojo hires the Sensei. Imagine that, the Dojo is in charge and they publish a job announcement on the British Judo Website seeking qualified Sensei’s to teach their program! They have to be licensed through the BJA, provide a Resume and then go on a Job interview. In France I worked at a Dojo who hired a Retired World University Champion from Japan as the Head Sensei for their club. They pay him a salary which is subsidized by French Judo Organization.

    Will that work in America? No. I didn’t get into Judo nor did I continue in Judo to make money. I stayed because I love to fight and now I am giving back to the Sport that molded me into a Citizen of the World. Do I fault the countless others that have moved to the business aspect of Judo? No. It is what Europe has been doing and it is one of the reasons that we are so far behind.

    The problem is what they (the Sensei, USA Judo, USJA/USJF) charge for Judo. Judo is priced out of the market for a family of 5. Look at the websites, I found a club on-line that charges $ 129 per month, plus an initial fee of $100. That is just to join the club. Now you have to pay one of the big 3 (USJF charges $ 50 per kid, USJA has a family discount $ 115, US Judo $ 125). I just spent $ 800 in start up fees to get 3 kids in Judo and I am not sure my kids will even like Judo?

    That is the problem!!!

  4. Lafon-san,

    San Diego is only one of the many cities in our nation where Judo is dying. As a retired competitior( I retired about 5 years ago from national and international competition), I find it quite enjoyable to go to local judo-club and partake in judo practice for recreation and excersize. I also enjoy teaching judo to kids as JUDO has taught me soo many lessons.
    However, the current judo trends in the USA are not very good. I see that many judo clubs are losing market share to BJJ. The current judo club I attend has recently decided to combine BJJ and Judo class to justify overhead and fixed costs.

    Obviosuly due to the mass media of MMA and UFC the popularity of BJJ is atleast 25 times of Judo. I dont understand why JUDO cannot be incorporated and tied with MMA. For example: 2 curreent national icons in Japan are Yoshida Hidehiko and Ogawa Naoya. Both of them are good MMA fighters who both own their own judo clubs.. They have very high enrollment of students. Currently BJJ/Gracie jiu-jitsu actually have a huge supporting role in seding their fighters to represent their art in MMA. Isnt this possible for JUDO? If BJJ can do it, why canot Judo?

    We have tried numerous improvment projects in order to get a larger number of people interested in Judo. Some of them included haveing judo demonstrations at the local Japanese Cultural fesitvals. I do not believe BJJ is more “fun”, “exciting” or ” efficiant” in any way.

    Judo has taught me soo much about life, dicipline, honesty, business and companionship. I wish for more people to learn about these concepts as I did through JUDO. We all understand what is happeneing to Judo in this nation and we as people in the JUDO community must stop the bleeding as soon as possible and reverse the flow of a dying sport into a growing one.

  5. Mr. Lafon,

    “The USJA’s Complete A to Z Guide On Opening And Operating A Successful Judo School” by ???? When we see this DVD/book series offered free for the asking, even for sale is the day we will see Judo growing in the USA.
    The BJJ and MMA Boogie men? I haven’t noticed the TKD schools closing down.
    It’s in the marketing. And I do mean in the marketing, from the Ad media AND right through every bit of Judo, kinda like the TKD schools do.
    More Yudansha opening more Dojo teaching Judo that is mutually benifical to the public will equal more Judoka.
    I have never read a survey of what the public wants or expects from Martial Arts instruction. So I decided back in the late 1990’s to include a survey on my registration form. The answers were quite interesting. A little over one percent said they wanted to earn a Black Belt. Another one percent said they’d like to compete in tournaments. Another thirty two percent said they wanted to have fun. An equal number said they wanted to get in shape. And lastly thirty plus precent said they wanted to learn self defense.
    My concluson was at that time and still is, Judo’s focus on sport was not mutually beneficial to the vast majority of people walking in to my Dojo, and to the public at large.
    The good news, over thirty percent wanted to get in shape and the sports sciences have proven we are riding the dragon on this one, at no time in Judos history can you get in shape faster and safer than now. And this will continue to advance.
    Thirty percent plus are looking to have fun, well for us old birds, Judo is fun but what I have found on the mat is Judoka are looking forward to playing games, having a rewarding learning session and recognized achivements.
    Next is self defense, in this area Judo is very very lacking and at one time in Judos history this was not the case.
    For Judo to grow a huge revamping and redirection must happen, and it’s far bigger than most really think.
    How the USJA got its start is the example of how we meet this challenge, remember?
    The US Air Force sent a steady flow of young airmen to the Kodokan for a few months of daily intensive training. They came as back as Shodans some even Nidans to teach Combat Judo to the Flight Crews, Military Police and Air Commandos. In the evenings they taught Judo to the Service Men and their families at the base gym. I know, I’m one of those Air Force brats. The USAF Strategic Air Command Bald Eagle is on our USJA logo.
    It’s easy, we’re riding the dragon, right? We can get young Judoka in shape faster than ever, we have new teaching methods that the former head of Japanese Education Ministry, Prof. Kano would be excited and proud to see us use. Judo and self defense, no problem.
    Our time in grade needs to be shorten, it should be shortened because we can teach better than ever and students will advance faster than ever. Not to is a punishment. Every young Shodan opening a Dojo needs timely promotions so he can promote others to Shodan. And on and on.
    Now all needs be done is bring all we know and have into a single method a single system called “The USJA’s Complete A to Z Guide To Opening And Operating A Successful Judo School”, and put that gift into the hands of that young Shodan.

  6. In the Uk our main problem is keeping youngsters interested once they reach their teens. Socialising with the opposite sex and other distractions become more important than judo, unless they are keen competitors. Even so, many competitors will be burnt out at an early age through entering too many tournaments; particularly as the desire to please parents diminishes. I do not teach children under fourteen but admire those that do. I now focus on self defence applications and developing new skills (Shinjido) The most audible sound in our dojo is laughter as opposed to mat slapping. In that respect I endorse the result of Magcharles survey. Sessions need to be fun and the self defence aspect should not be ignored. Get these right and grade advancement and competition sucess will like cream, rise to the surface.

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