San Diego County used to have a vibrant Judo community in the 1970s when I first started my coaching career. We had over twenty-five active Judo clubs. Our members participated in monthly clinics, and tournaments, which would attract 250-300+ players. Little by little, our coaches, many of them active military personnel, were transferred out of the area or they retired or they died. Few had successors to keep the clubs going. Politics, pitting USJA and USJF supporters, and personal issues between the few remaining coaches further weakened our area.
Today, San Diego County has fewer than ten clubs- I’m being generous as to what constitutes a club. In an average year, we have four tournaments, two of which are usually boycotted by the local Judo clubs because I run them as non-sanctioned events in my own facility. Clinics are few and far between, with more emphasis on kata clinics than the more pertinent clinics on coaching, refereeing and competition training. And the personal feuds between coaches continue unabated.
What is happening in San Diego is happening all around the country. Judo is dying because we are letting it die. So, in an effort to shake things up in San Diego County, I petitioned the Pacific Southwest Judo Association (PSJA) to speak at its board meeting on October 23. PSJA is a USJF yudanshakai that I belonged to in 1972-75. PSJA members and I have been at odds for years for a variety of reasons, mostly childish differences. It took the PSJA four days and countless emails between its members before I was “authorized” to speak for fifteen minutes.
To fix our problems we need to recognize whom our enemies are, where our competition comes from, and what is wrong with Judo. We need to recognize the shackles that we impose upon ourselves, shackles that in many instances prevent us from doing what is right for Judo in San Diego.
One of my favorite quotes from General George Patton is, “May God deliver us from our friends; we can handle the enemy.” Patton’s enemies were not the Germans, but the British and American generals and politicians who prevented him, often out of jealousy, from doing what he did best. We face a similar situation in the San Diego Judo community. We coaches are our worst enemies. Our lack of cooperation, mutual benefit and welfare, business sense, coaching skills, and willingness to think outside the box is compounded by being stuck with a traditional paradigm in a sport that most people can’t find because we have so few clubs, many of which have no Internet or yellow page presence.
Years ago, our competition was kung fu, then it was taekwondo, and now it’s mostly Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) with a sprinkling of mixed martial arts (MMA). In every case, we have stood by and done nothing to fight back. This brings us to what’s wrong with Judo?
First of all, Judo is a hard sport: hard to learn and hard on the body, while our society is soft and requires immediate gratification. It doesn’t help that most clubs have terrible mats. Anyone can kick and punch the air, and anyone can roll around on the ground. Taking hard falls on crappy mats is not for everyone, and that’s something we have to acknowledge and fix. So, BJJ fills a need for grappling without having to take hard falls. But why can’t we take advantage of the ne waza craze sweeping the country? Why not increase our time spent in ne waza and improve our ne waza curriculum? Why not revive Kosen Judo with its own program, classes, promotions, and competition?
BJJ is a young, vibrant, dynamic, macho sport. Most BJJ instructors are young, fit, and “Pan-American” or “World” champions. It’s true that in the BJJ world there are many versions of the Pan-American and World Championships unlike in Judo, but the general public doesn’t know this. Conversely, many Judo clubs are run by older, overweight coaches, with a minimal competition background. This is 1882 revisited except that roles between Judo and jujitsu have been reversed. Judo is the old, tired, irrelevant and marginalized sport, while BJJ is youthful, progressive, relevant, and ascendant.
We have a stagnant, “go kyo no waza” driven curriculum which operates in an emasculated environment thanks to the IJF rules. Can’t grab there, can’t do this, and can’t do that unless you do x, y and z first. Good grief! Much of our training revolves around methods that have little to do with actual performance. This includes kata, a mere historical relic whose initial purpose has passed. Meanwhile BJJ has none of these technical and training hang-ups.
Now what about those shackles? How about controlling national governing bodies, IJF rules, referees who enforce IJF rules and think they own Judo, liability insurance, rank, and event sanctions. All of these place unwarranted restrictions on what we can do to better Judo, and they increase our cost of doing business. In the worst-case scenario, they create paranoia and paralysis, which lead us to make decisions that are not in our best interest. For example, why do we follow to the letter IJF rules that are designed for World Championships and Olympic Games, and not five- and six- year old beginners? Wrestling in the U.S. has four or five different sets of rules. Why doesn’t Judo? Why are sanctions needed if you run a clinic in your own facility? Why require national membership for all of your students when you can purchase liability insurance on the open market for a better price? Why are dojo ranks considered so evil and worthless? There are many options out there that we should look at and implement if they make sense for us. If Judo is to survive locally and nationally, we must emphasize the strengthening of each and every local club, even if this means that it weakens the national organizations. Judo lives only because local coaches run local programs. It will also die when we no longer have coaches willing to run programs.
To revive Judo in San Diego, and in many other areas of the United States, we should stop bickering among ourselves like six-year olds. We must start holding some simple, cost-effective events like area open workouts, no frills tournaments out of our own dojos, team competition, and coach education programs. We need to rethink our relationship with national and international organizations. We must be willing to change our model of instruction to make Judo more fun and more relevant. And for God’s sake, we must have an Internet presence! It goes without saying that we also need to develop more clubs. This can be done by encouraging some of our assistant instructors to start their own satellite programs in areas not currently served in the county.
From what I was told, my comments at the PSJA board meeting were well received. However, will those shackles prevent my colleagues from doing what’s best for their clubs? Will they be able to think outside the box? That remains to be seen.