I just got back from San Jose, California where the 2009 U.S. Open was held. I had the opportunity to talk to friends, coaches, and athletes, many of whom I had not seen in years. Here are some of the thoughts I came away with.
I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I heard that “Judo is dying.” While we have always complained a lot about Judo, mostly about the politics of Judo, never before was there such gloom and doom in the air. So what gives? Well, the economy is in the tank for now so membership in our clubs is dropping. Most of us are fed up with the heavy-handedness of USA Judo. The USJA, which is currently holding elections, has basically split into two feuding factions, alienating a segment of the Judo community. The IJF has tinkered so much with the rules of competition that yet another group has left Judo for some other form of grappling, mostly jujitsu. Costs are rising, service is diminishing, participation is decreasing, so it is easy to admit that Judo is dying. I think Judo is very sick, but it is not terminal yet, unless we continue to keep our heads buried in the sand.
In my opinion, one thing is perfectly clear. The survival of Judo doesn’t depend on the existence of strong national or international organizations. It rests squarely on the health of local Judo clubs, and their interaction and cooperation, the lack of which is really the cause of Judo’s malaise.
Far too many coaches told me that local clubs won’t cooperate. This coach is mad at that coach, that coach can’t stand a third coach, and on and on. Somehow, we have to get over our dislike for each other, and find a way to cooperate, support each other’s events, and grow not only our clubs but Judo too. We talk “mutual benefit and welfare” big time. When are we going to walk that talk?
I have a good friend who runs a club on the East Coast. He recently held a Grand Opening, which featured a clinic with two U.S. Olympians, one a bronze medalist. He told me that six of the nearest clubs in his state did not deign to show up. What could be the reason for not wanting to learn from two Olympians?
Two weeks ago, I ran an in-house tournament in San Diego. We charge $10, give nice medals, run round-robin pools, and we complete the tournament in less than three hours. Since we only have about four tournaments a year in the greater San Diego area, you would think that every club would take advantage of such a good deal. Wrong! We had only seven competitors from the seven clubs in San Diego, but twenty-one competitors from three clubs in Mexico, and not one competitor from the largest USJA club, which is only two hours away from our club. Go figure.
Coaches also told me that their membership is dropping. After asking a few questions about their program, I quickly got the picture. Their instructional program is stuck on the ukemi-static uchi komi-randori instructional model: the same boring warm-ups, the same boring ukemi, the same boring repetitions, little or no fun and games, crappy mats, etc.
When are we going to understand that Judo is a product that the consumer may or may not buy? The consumer has many more choices in martial arts training today than it had twenty years ago. Ask yourselves why so many people are willing to spend sometimes 4-5 times more for jujitsu than they will for Judo. Our product is stale, and our facilities are not adequate enough to overcome the great negative factor associated with practicing Judo- taking falls. We must constantly be willing to tweak our product to keep the consumer interested in it. Change the methodology of instruction, step out of that box you’ve been in for all those years, be creative, vary your practices, invest in a spring-loaded mat if you can, and your membership will thrive in spite of the economy.
Speaking of what people are willing to pay for martial arts training, a coach from a prominent club in Los Angeles mentioned to me that his club’s membership took a hit when it raised its dues. I hope you are sitting down for this one. The dues went from $17.50 per month to a whopping $20!!!!! I’m not sure what this says about Judo, but I’m pretty sure it’s not good.