Hansoku Make, IJF!

If you thought refereeing was too complicated, or that we have too many incompetent referees on the mat, or that there are too many controversies in Judo competition, wait until you see what we have been served up by the IJF. May God have mercy on our sport!

It appears that the IJF has issued the “definitive” version of the rule changes. We are now stuck with them until December 31, 2012. Go to to see examples of illegal Judo. Focus on clips 19-60, the ones in red that merit a hansoku make for the offending player. Of the forty-two clips in red, some of them appear to contradict the written information we have received so far. With others, you must view them several times before coming to some conclusion. Each one of those clips elicited from me comments that would have to be paraphrased as “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Check out # 20, 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 42, 43, 44, 47, 49, 50, 51, 53, 57, and 60.

The main problem I have with the latest wholesale remodeling of Judo is that that there is no free shido for the first offense of grabbing a leg as had been thrown around previously. If you grab a leg the wrong way or at the wrong time, you are disqualified from the match. This is a rather drastic measure, don’t you think, for what is considered ugly Judo rather than dangerous Judo? In Greco-Roman wrestling, a sport that forbids all attacks below the waist, the cost of the infraction is a point taken away, not disqualification. You have to stall four times before losing a match, but grab a leg once and it’s lights out. What sense does that make?

Direct leg grab attacks like Morote gari or Kata ashi dori are easy enough to understand and obvious enough that bad refereeing decisions should not occur. The more nebulous situations are those associated with counters and combinations, and with throws that appear to be attacks but are not.

Timing of a leg grab is critical: too soon or too late and it’s hansoku make. In one of the clips, player A turns for a forward throw and is blocked. On his way out to face player B again, B grabs his leg and counters. This is what we call a late technique or late movement counter. It’s definitely the Go No Sen Judo (counter) principle at work. Unfortunately, the IJF calls this hansoku make. Why? Because the players must have “body contact” to legally grab a leg. Imagine the additional layer of decision making the IJF has foisted upon our referees by inventing “body contact” as a criterion. If you’re like me, you’re probably just dying to get to that first 2010 Judo tournament.

According to the IJF, simultaneous or quasi-simultaneous attacks with grips of legs are prohibited. Can someone explain what the heck quasi-simultaneous is? Will this require a stopwatch or so many frames per second on a video to get it right?

Timing of ducking also seems to be critical. You can’t duck under your opponent’s high grip on your own volition in order to attack his leg with Te guruma for example, but you can attack his leg if he puts you in the same position by cross gripping you over the back. That’s clear. However, I’ve watched clip #29 at least ten times, and still don’t get it. Why is this hansoku make? Did the player have to wait longer before launching his leg grab counter? If it’s still not readily obvious after watching the clip numerous times, how are referees supposed to make the correct decision without the benefit of reviewing the action? I’m not getting warm, fuzzy feelings about this. Are you?

Now what about the law of unintended consequences? Will these new rules engender new tactics to continue to make Judo ugly? Will players develop pseudo-attacks in order to get uke to react and perform illegal leg grabs? I think it’s right around the corner once players give it some thought. Will grassroots Judo suffer? Will fewer players consider attending tournaments? How many referees will throw their hands up and say, “That’s it for me. I’m not refereeing anymore.”?

I welcome the IJF’s desire to minimize flop and drop Judo, and to accentuate stand-up Judo. On the other hand, I dislike the emasculation of Judo resulting from the banning of non-dangerous techniques. The heavy-handedness of penalties needs to stop. If you look at the clips that show illegal actions, many represent good, dynamic, flowing, crowd-pleasing actions that certainly don’t detract from Judo’s beauty. They also add to Judo’s value as a martial art. So why the hansoku make?

The IJF has gone bonkers. We need to penalize less, and reward good Judo with higher scores and ugly Judo with lower scores. We should not ban techniques. Instead, we should eliminate or minimize their scoring value. Why not simply award a higher value to high amplitude throws done from a standing position while the low amplitude throws that require flopping onto knees or back receive a lesser score (i,e, yuko) or no score even if uke is thrown onto his back?

I hope I am wrong but my gut reaction is that we will see no good come from the latest reinvention of Judo, especially at the grassroots level. For those of us who are fighting for Judo’s survival amidst a sea of Brazilian jiujitsu and mixed martial arts clubs, this latest round of rule changes isn’t going to help our cause. It was bad enough with all the ridiculous gripping rules, now we’ve added an equivalent set of rules for the lower body.

The IJF has spoken. The national organizations will undoubtedly follow suit without blinking an eye and adopt the new IJF rules lock, stock, and barrel, irrespective of the damage it will do. What remains to be seen is how local clubs react. Will curricula and promotion requirements have to change, further diminishing the breadth of Judo’s technical inventory? Will clubs think twice about attending tournaments further decreasing participation, which is already low? I know that I can ill-afford to take kids to tournaments and risk having them disqualified for something as innocuous as a leg grab. Will clubs band together and finally do what is right for American Judo, and not blindly follow the diktats of the IJF? Will we see more tournaments with alternative rules, like the AAU freestyle Judo events?

What’s absolutely clear to me is that the IJF needs to have its head examined and it should be issued a hansoku make. If you agree, make your voice heard and contact our national and international organizations. Tell them you’re mad as hell and you aren’t going to take it anymore.

23 thoughts on “Hansoku Make, IJF!

  1. My hat off to you on hanging in there with Judo. I have to agree with you. The Ref’s have ruined this sport, as most of them couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag.
    They know no Newaza or understand it. Now this.

    Boy, when I left Judo, I felt sorry for the players, now I know they have no chance at this dying sport.

    Jim Camarillo

  2. Gerald,
    As a referee, I agree that these new rules suck. However, except at the IJF level, the referees just enforce the rules, not make them. The US Referee Commission could not “decide” to not implement these rule changes w/o USA Judo BOD approval. At my level, I am often the ‘head referee’ at local and small regional tournaments, but I can’t decide not to use the rules – it is the Tournament Director’s role. [Note: I will, however, be lobbying like hell to use the pre-2009 rules]

    In addition to all of the points you have made, what also irks me is that the combination of two rule changes/modifications the last set of changes (No pants leg grabbing as initial throw & stricter and broader enforcement of false attacks) was detering the majority of the bad ‘pants grab’ Judo without removing really good attacks.

    IMO, this is symptomatic of a problem that I know US Judo has, and I’m learning the IJF has – no willingness to incorperate new ideas into Judo. The “normal kumi kata” rules were a reaction to Sambo-type grips favored by many Europeans.. Instead of taking ownership of them and developing defenses and counters, we banned them. Remember how it was supposed to bring back “Big Judo”, and it had the opposite effect – ‘Koka Judo.’ When the first UFC’s started coming up, Judo could have made major, major inroads into that sport, but instead we started handcuffing ne waza time and kept ourselves apart. I actually liked most of the last set of rule changes (no more Koka, strict enforcement of false attack, 1st Shido is a warning), but this new set is going to be ridiculous.

    Personally, our club is going to host some “Old Rules” tournaments. We have already done some Judo tourneys with modifies rules: Cummulative Ippons so match does not stop except by submission; Grappling Only divisions; No Gi divisions. Actually, one of the most popular ones among the MMA and BJJ guys is the “throws only” division. They tend to love that one.
    My first local tournament to referee is 1/23/10, so if they use the new rules I’ll let you know how it goes.


  3. Gerald,

    I agree with you that the IJF has made an incredibly stupid decision WRT the new rules.

    I do want to comment on an earlier blog topic, as well. You mentioned that we often spend time in our training with things that are not directly related to effective Judo techniques. In my club warm-up period, I do include a lot of physical activities that are not directly related to any given waza. So, I thought about your critique on this issue. My conclusion is that one reason why we do these techniques is a reason I give my students. “If you cannot control your own body, you will not be able to control the body of your opponent.” So lots of physical exercises for learning coordination of one’s own body still seem to make sense. On the other hand, I agree with you that much of the uchi-komi stuff is useless since it is usually giving tori the wrong moves for actually completing a technique. Even so, I still see people such as Toshiro Daigo doing uchi-komi when I visit the Kodokan every year. When uchi-komi is done correctly, it can be beneficial.

    Richard Riehle, PhD
    Head Instructor
    NPS Judo Club
    P.O Box 8783
    Naval Postgraduate School
    Monterey, CA 93943

  4. Superb essay, and really I’d say that’s pretty much all there is to be said on this topic. Hard to even conceive of a measured, sensible rebuttal. We can only hope for massive resistance at all levels over the next two years, culminating in a return of judo to…why, to judo! Here’s hoping. Very nicely put, Lafon-sensei.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree. However, I would prefer more newaza over the avoidance of the “flop and drop” but the IJF doesn’t want that either. If they want to please the crows so much, add atemiwaza, that’ll get people on their feet :-/

  6. hey #29 it wasnt a counter. it was straight te guruma.

    lol but i dont get #23 and #25. they were clear counters

  7. Regarding #29, the rule says that if your opponent cross grips you, you are then allowed to attack the leg. Thus I have difficulty understanding why it was ruled hansoku make. Could also have something to do with “body contact.”

  8. Amen Coach… I can’t for the life of me figure out this latest debacle, and the video presented makes it hard to coach my guys as I can’t make heads from tails with the contradictive written rules vs. video junk??? I’m still competing locally (maybe not anymore) and at 42 not doing to bad in the senior divisions, getting a little slower. However, I just can’t figure out why we at local events will be stuck with the IJF rules – as I know we will – all ready heard from refs to be ready, bah. I don’t utilize too many leg attacks but do have some in my repertoire for taller players then me. I can see the bigger tourneys in our area i.e. MidWest Championships and what have you. Anyway, I would agree with you whole heartedly as you so eloquently written.

  9. Specificity of training is really about the technical aspect of the sport. I agree with you that the warm-up period has a different function than the technical part of a class. It must address a much larger set of skills to develop the athletic abilities of our players so that they can play more effective Judo.

  10. Hi everyone,

    Please, please send your feelings and comments to the IJF director Juan Carlos Barcos, Vladimir Barta, Jean-Luc Rouge and the IJF president. Mr. Barcos started all these changes back in June 2009. His idea then was to get rid of the Eastern European/Russian style judo. Now it’s come to this debacle. The new rules are not locked in yet. Only from the 1st of May will everything be locked in. If we all voice our dislike for these crazy rule changes, we can make a difference. We must. They will drive players away. I want to start a petition and present it to Barcos and the IJF before April 1st. Please email me at patrickmahon4@gmail.com to have your name included in the protest. It would be a good idea to have big name with us like Jimmy Pedro, Michael Swain, Pat Burris. In the USA, these guys have credibility. I am asking my old friends like Neil Adams, Rob Van de Walle, Kate Howie and Udo Quellmalz to join the list. We must change these ridiculous rules that will kill our sport which is already under stress.

    Patrick Mahon
    in Australia

  11. Agree with you Mr Lafon, wonder how the guys from Kodokan see this new mess and laugh at us at the same time… (Or get angry seeing what are we doing to Judo and Kano Shihan Legacy)

  12. During the last IJF refereeing meeting in Japan (Dec 09) on the new rules that Mr Barcos has created, the Japanese referee Mr Uemura gave a demo of the technique Ko Ouchi maki-komi and was told by Mr Barcos it will receive a hansoku make. Mr Uemura asked why? and was told because the player only has a sleeve grip and it is below the belt line. The video demos on the IJF web site have so many contradictions in them and are so confusing. I am happy to say there are tournaments here in our region that are not going to use these new rules. I am happy to say we are not all sheep even though we have more sheep in my neck of the woods. Thank you to everyone so far who has sent me support for my petition against the rules. I will be in touch with everyone direct and send the excell sheets round so you can add more names and send it back to me.

  13. I’m just a voiceless judo student but I still want to echo the sentiment: Hansoku make, IJF!

  14. I too am scratching my head, trying to figure out where they are going with these new rules. It is getting more and more confusing as to what is allowed and what isn’t. This is bad for our sport and will most likely frustrate and drive other Judoka to other sports. I am worried for my sport and what will become of this new declaration of rules. I advise that we send out our opinion towards the IJF about our outrage.
    Abby, -48 U15

  15. Excellent. Most excellent.

    “To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men”

  16. I just participated in two tournaments over the last two weekends, first of which is the Belgian Open, another one in Italy. While I see a significant change in how players fight and many nice techiques, I could but help to notice some questionable calls by referees who gave hansokumake in situations that by my understanding of the rule don’t deserve such calls. Some people who had good potential to advance exited early in the tournment because of this, and some who clearly have no good chance made into the semi-final due to good luck. In the tournament yesterday, at least two guys were eliminated early on in my division because of this, one of them has won a silver last year at the same tournament!

    The referees are learning about the new rules as much as the players and coaches and I think we are going to see a lot of disappointment and pleasant surprises, depending on who is at the receiving end from unjust calls.

  17. Correct me if I’m wrong. Wrestling, brazilian jiu jitsu, and Sambo allow more judo throws in competition than judo! What a disgrace.

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