With the latest scourge coming from the IJF, discussions are heating up, and more and more disgruntled coaches and players are ready to go in different directions. Some are leaving Judo outright, because they are unable to comprehend that options short of quitting Judo are available. Some are saying that they are not leaving Judo, but that Judo has left them. Fair enough. Thankfully, many more are discovering Freestyle Judo and realizing that FSJ offers a return to the way Judo ought to be played, and that the Judo community doesn’t revolve around the IJF.
I’ve had many discussion with coaches who want to make the switch to FSJ and possibly leave the national organizations, but a common refrain is expressed: what about competition for my players, and what about promotions? Let’s tackle promotions first.
Historically, promotions have often been used to threaten and keep players in line for political reasons, to punish players for the gall of upsetting the high rank hierarchy, and to stifle ideas that could be beneficial to the growth of Judo. So it’s no surprise that many coaches are saying that they’d love to go the FSJ and AAU route, but their personal promotions to higher dan ranks are being threatened if they do so. What to do?
My immediate answer is to have the integrity to do what’s right for the growth of Judo and your players, and to forget about your personal promotions. That’s where I am today. I’ll probably never receive another promotion from a national organization, and that’s fine with me. My peers on paper- guys who are roughly my age having started Judo about 50 years ago- are on average 1-2 dan higher than I am, yet most don’t have the international experience and accomplishments that I have. So, what good are promotion systems when such discrepancies exist? What good is it to prostitute yourself for an 8th dan when seemingly every Tom, Dick and Harry can also achieve that rank? At that point, rank becomes meaningless, and the battle to go up the rank ladder is not worth sacrificing your integrity and ideals.
So, here are a few options for coaches if you’re still worried about that next promotion. If a USJF yudanshakai can have a promotion committee, why not a smaller group of clubs, or even a club? Your club alone can create its own promotion committee with its own high standards (this is a key to its validity). Add a few well-know, high-ranked outsiders who share your concerns, and you’ve now got an organization that will probably have more integrity than national promotion committees.
Another option was reported to me by Steve Scott, the creator of FSJ. Unbeknownst to him, a student of his gathered signatures from Steve’s peers- I’m talking about guys with real international experience. He was then presented with a promotion certificate signed by these stars of American Judo. Now, isn’t this better than having to submit your name to a promotion committee, some of whose members are 4th-5th dans masquerading as 8th-9th dans?
As far as your students are concerned, what’s wrong with dojo promotions? I know, the national organizations peddle the notion that your dojo promotions won’t be recognized anywhere if your students move. They say this because promotions are a big fundraiser for them so they have a vested interest in your buying into this lie. In reality, most coaches are not big on demoting players if they don’t have a national promotion certificate. In my own forty plus years of coaching, I’ve never cared about certificates. I’ve had certificates offered to me, but I’ve never demanded proof of rank. My eyes are proof of skill level. I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me what rank someone deserves. I look at the player, plug him into my system, and go from there. Because standards differ from coach to coach, state to state, and national organization to national organization, there will always be players who are overranked and underranked.
Let’s talk about competition now. Yes, FSJ isn’t in as many locations as we would like to see it in, but we’re making progress. To help you make the transition, just because you do FSJ doesn’t mean that you can’t also lower yourself to doing that God-forsaken IJF Judo stuff to supplement your tournament calendar.
To start you off on your conversion to FSJ, you can run small events in your own club for your own players. Try team competition if your numbers are not great. You can also run FSJ events in conjunction with just one other club. With FSJ, you stand a better chance of getting submission wrestlers to participate in your events, so be sure to advertise that your club does FSJ.
My club used to attend 12-20 tournaments a year. We no longer do that. At most, our players get 3-5 events per year. In spite of the drastic cut in tournament participation, we have not shriveled up and disappeared from the face of the earth. There is still life when you no longer do IJF rules tournaments.
Worried about insurance? Two options: join the AAU, which offers better coverage for much better fees; purchase your own insurance coverage from an independent carrier.
So, for the timid and the fence straddlers who would like to make the jump from IJF to FSJ, gather your courage, cut the umbilical cord to the repressive IJF, forget about the perceived promotion restraints, and start thinking about what’s right for Judo. Don’t wait for others to lead.