Last month, many of us received this announcement from USA Judo. “As you may have already heard, the International Judo Federation, due to the respect United States has earned in developing and promoting Judo has been awarded the hosting of one of the IJF World Cup which is an Olympic Qualifier for the 2012 London Olympic Games.” I nearly choked on my raspberry-filled doughnut when I read that. The only thing the IJF respects is how much money it can make off national Judo federations, and how many of their votes can be bought off though minor gifts like hosting one of a plethora of World Cup events.
Then, a few days ago, we received the following double whammy from USA Judo. “To help us grow Judo in the U.S., gi and no-gi jujitsu divisions will be included in all national events, and USA Judo will now be know as USA Judo/Ju-Jitsu.” Say what?
If you are like me, you should take these announcements with a sense of despair about Judo in the U.S. for they officially suggest that the ship is sinking while the captain claims all is well in la-la-land.
It’s hard to visualize the IJF respecting the United States because we are doing such a great job at developing and promoting Judo. Frank Fullerton, former USA Judo president, promoted Judo, and paid for it out of his own pocket. What has the current USA Judo done to suggest that it is developing and promoting Judo? Sure, USA Judo started a few small projects here and there, like the Boys Scouts of America program that didn’t quite reach puberty, let alone maturity. But other than those embryonic efforts, what else is there to show besides its continued attempts to thwart and bury the U.S. Judo Association? How’s that for developing and promoting Judo in the U.S.? Whatever USA Judo is doing to promote and grow Judo, it simply isn’t filtering down to the grassroots level.
The number of competitors participating in our national/international events has diminished over time. The U.S. Open, which is almost entirely a domestic event now, should be euthanized. Its Canadian counterpart, the Montreal Rendez-Vous, has been discontinued. If we have developed Judo so much, why are we adding ju-jitsu to the fray?
USA Judo CEO Jose Rodriguez says that, “Judo and ju-jitsu are sister sports and many of the techniques are very similar.” True: similar like team handball and basketball, both of which are played with a ball that needs to go into a net to score a point, but different sports nonetheless. For obvious reasons, USA Team Handball doesn’t seek to run basketball divisions at its national events.
So what are these announcements all about? Well, I think they are merely about fundraising, not developing or promoting Judo. The latest fundraising effort will add members to USA Judo’s rolls, increase income derived from rank promotions, and probably make more money off national events. What it won’t do is create more or better judoplayers, because in spite of Judo and jujitsu being sister sports, they are not the same sport. The crossover will be negligible, especially at the elite level.
Decades ago, the USJA under Phil Porter initiated the same fundraising scheme now being launched by USA Judo. USJA brought in new members, created jujitsukas out of judokas, sold rank to them like crazy, and tried to treat them as equals. Ultimately, many of the jujitsu people realized that although there were some common grounds between the two sports, the two were in fact different. Disenchantment set in, political battles raged, and members departed.
USA Judo is diversifying because it doesn’t know how to make its main product- Judo- more palatable to the American public. By adding jujitsu to the fold, it may solve the financial crisis it’s facing, caused in part by the USOC’s cutting back on funding of NBGs that don’t produce international medals. What it won’t achieve is get more people to do Judo. Our competitive ranks will remain just as shallow as they are today, and our international medal count won’t change much.
What I find the most irritating about the latest USA Judo announcements is that it is openly admitting- at least for those who wish to read between the lines- that to survive as a sport we must embrace other sports in our midst. Contrary to that, I believe USA Judo must find ways to provide its clubs and players services that are needed and valued. It must recognize that to survive we must make our own product better by developing better coaches, better facilities, and most importantly by refusing to allow IJF rules to marginalize our sport within the grappling world. What we need is a Judo version of the Manhattan project that would include the USJA and USJF.
I am not totally against incorporating jujitsu into our programs, but it should be done for development purposes, not financial gain. If we are going to incorporate jujitsu why not make it of the Kosen Judo type? We are missing the boat by not having Kosen Judo classes and tournaments. By adopting Kosen, rather than some jujitsu mishmash, we stay truer to our Judo culture and technical base, while still being able to attract more people to our sport.
And for heaven’s sake, if we do but one thing to better Judo, let’s change the damn rules of Judo! Quickly.