A few weeks ago, Steve Scott emailed me wanting to get my opinion on whether the AAU should have a third set of competition rules to attract more grapplers who may not dig our stand-up game and the fact that in Judo it’s one good throw and you lose the match. After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that Freestyle Judo rules were all that we needed for mainstream competition. The only thing left to do is tell more people about Freestyle Judo.
While I’m happier with FSJ rules than IJF rules, I still believe that we should eliminate terminal ippon to make Judo competition even more appealing. You can do that by requiring two ippons. This was the system Judo used at its beginning. You could also let the players fight the entire length of the match accumulating as many ippons as possible.
Another option would be to lessen the impact of terminal ippon by requiring ippon to be so hard to score that it would be achieved infrequently. As I’ve noted before, ippon should be scored with a high amplitude throw that would incapacitate uke if it were done on concrete. I know that AAU Judo has made progress here, but is it enough? Until I see that the culture of ippon has changed across the board in AAU, I reserve the right to be skeptical.
Towards the end of my discussion with Steve, I reminded him that tournaments need to be more than mere vehicles to pick winners and losers, and to raise funds for our clubs. Most tournaments need to be treated as additional training sessions, which gauge strengths and weaknesses, and help develop positive fundamental skills. I use the word “positive” because these tournaments shouldn’t reward the negative tactical skills all of us have come to hate in Judo.
I’m afraid that IJF rules simply aren’t the best way to develop positive technical skills. They aren’t even the second best or third best way to do that. Therefore, Steve and I agreed that we need to encourage coaches to experiment with alternative rules within the confines of their dojos.
If your student population is large enough, go at it alone. Or invite one or two more like-minded clubs. There’s no need to make this a large event that requires the renting of a hall. There’s more spectator appeal and excitement in a cramped dojo than there is in a large, mostly empty auditorium or gym.
While most American coaches and national organization leaders can’t see beyond IJF rules if their life depended on it, slowly but surely a few more coaches are looking beyond the winner-loser tournament mentality. Still, we have a long way to go before we understand and embrace the true purpose of most tournaments: skill development. Keep in mind that we are trying to reward players for taking risks, experimenting, and developing technical skills.
Jim Hrbek developed the “rapid fire” concept, featuring one minute matches of only stand-up Judo to encourage throws. My own in-house tournaments have no terminal ippon. This too encourages more attacks since the risk of losing the match by being countered has been eliminated. Several coaches are doing ne waza only tournaments at Judo speed, not BJJ speed. Borrowing from wrestling, I’ve proposed a 3-period match, consisting of one round each of nage waza, ne waza and total Judo.
How else can we tweak Judo rules to increase skill development? Will playing on smaller mats or by wearing larger gis do the trick? What about one player wearing a gi while his opponent wears none, and then switching at half-time? How about wearing socks? How would that affect skill development?
For ne waza development, what happens if we don’t have the players face each other on their knees to start the match? What if the starting position is one player behind the other who is on his fours, like in wrestling? Or side by side facing the same direction or opposite directions?
Will shorter matches allow for more frenzied attacks, or will it devolve into what we already have- boring Judo for a shorter period of time? What happens when players start the match with two hands on the gi just like blind players do? Can we take a simple drill like one-for-one (sutegeiko) and make a development contest out of it?
Back in November, 2009, I wrote a piece called Where is Judo’s Futsal? You can view it here. As more and more of you take the necessary steps to experiment in-house with alternative rules, we may be getting closer to solving Judo’s futsal question. What rules work best for developing positive skills? What rules allow for more Judo within any given amount of time on the mat? These are the questions we must ask and solve.
Local coaches and their dojos are our national research labs. Experiment and report back!