Olympic Rules for Everyone?

I’m dumbfounded by those who insist that 6-year olds should have to play our sport by the same rules as Olympians.  I keep hearing stupid things from some truly smart people, like this statement: “There is no point arguing rules that are already in place and being run at all levels in all countries.”  Not only is it un-American to suggest that it’s pointless to argue against any form of world government like the IJF, more importantly, from a development viewpoint, it makes no sense to treat kids like adults.  Yet the author of the above quote, a member of one of our national coaching committees, ignores “age appropriateness” and supports IJF rules lock, stock and barrel for everyone.  It’s safe to call this person an IJF elitist.

In my last post, I talked about Polish fencing.  Today, I’d like to bring up tee-ball, a watered-down form of Little League baseball for 5-6 year old kids, as an example of how unlike Judo some sports tailor their rules, facilities and equipment for age-appropriateness.

Since most young kids can’t actually play the real game of baseball- they lack the batting, catching, throwing and hitting skills at that age- the game is modified to begin the long process of developing sound baseball skills.  For starters, there are no pitchers throwing the ball at the batters.  The ball is placed on a stationary tee making it easier for kids to hit the ball.  Nine players get to hit the ball in each inning regardless of the outcome of the hit.  In the real game, sometimes only three players may get a chance to bat.  There are also no outs, strikes, balls or errors in tee-ball.  And scores are not officially kept.

The field is modified as well.  Bases are only 50 ft apart.  They are 90 feet apart at the pro level.  Bats are also age-appropriately sized.

Coaches are actively involved on the field often shouting encouragement, telling a player to run to the next base, or even physically moving a player into the correct position on the field.

The next step in rule modification occurs at the 7-8 year old level.  A pitching machine replaces the tee, and the game is no longer considered tee-ball.  Now the kids are expected to be able to hit a ball that is moving towards them.  Obviously, hitting a moving object is a more difficult task, as is the ability of 7-8 year olds to pitch a ball accurately.  Thus the use of a machine.

Eventually the machine disappears. Kids are now required to replace the machine and become pitchers.  Rules that affect the number of pitches (throws) and the type of throws a pitcher may make come into play to safeguard young arms.

Over several years, the number of innings in each game increases, distances between bases increase, as does the distance between the throwing mound and home plate, and home run fences get moved back.  The size of bats is regulated allowing for a bigger bat barrel at a younger age to allow for more hits, and a smaller bat barrel as kids get older and more skillful.

In summary, Little League baseball rules are instituted to make the acquisition of baseball skills easier.  Can the same be said of Judo rules?  Of course not.  It’s a one-size-fits-all mentality.  One of the main reasons voiced by our clueless national leaders is that eventually every player will have to abide by IJF rules so we should just get used to them from the get-go.  So much for pedagogy-based thinking.

What could we do with Judo rules to facilitate skill acquisition?  What’s the Judo counterpart to nine batters per inning, larger bat barrels and not calling errors in a game?  If you’ve been following my posts, you already know what I think we need to do.  But what do YOU think we should do?


19 thoughts on “Olympic Rules for Everyone?

  1. You hit a Home Run with this article!

    We have Chicken Fights and Sumo Wrestling in our kids judo classes to get them used to using off-balancing techniques. It is amazing how quickly they start to use Judo in the Sumo matches.

    One size does not fit all. Isn’t that part of the reason Kosen Judo was created?

  2. Before we pass go and get down into the details, I ask if there is a critical flaw in your idea. In your writing, the term “Olympic” is compared to Major League Baseball. Both indicate an athlete at the peak of their careers. Six year olds, well before their prime, are developing their potential. My question, what about sixty-six year olds? This group is becoming weaker and only remembers their full potential. Since neither group is at their Olympic potential, will the same criteria that applies to six years olds also apply to sixty-six years olds?

    However… the details. In your example, you describe a modified game of baseball in which elements of the Major League game are subtracted to create a game suitable for youth. Again, a flaw in this idea… nothing can be subtracted from judo. Judo exists now in the most simple and fundamental form. Said another way, all elements critical to judo are all a part of the judo. Nothing more, nothing less. Judo cannot be dumbed down, it can only be judo.

  3. Peter, who’ve finally hit a homerun with a good question that merits a sound answer. “What about sixty-six year-olds?” Should rules be different for the older group of Master athletes? My answer is an unequivocal, yes. The 3-minute match time is already shorter than the 5-minute matches for seniors. Maybe we should shorten it even more and allow for multiple ippons. What other rule changes could we implement for Master fighters? Stalling penalties for one could be redefined. I remember watching Ralph Lisle compete in his late 70s often with players that were a few years younger because there weren’t any other fighters in the 75-79 bracket. At that age, it’s a marvel that you’re even capable of putting on a gi and walking onto a mat to fight. We should celebrate that. But we don’t. When a guy in his late 70s, stiff from injuries and plain old age, and not having the stamina he once had maybe even just ten years ago, IJF rules mandate that we penalize this competitor for not attacking every 20 seconds. His once powerful, full range of motion attacks now look like muscle spasms, and thus they are no longer recognized as “real” attacks by the referee. Welcome to our culture of shido, old man. I’m sure you can come up with some other “subtractions”, I mean modifications, to the rules for old-timers.

    Now, onto what you consider flaws in my thinking. You say subtraction, I say modification. The game of tee-ball still has all the elements of MLB: hitting, throwing, catching, running, innings, etc… On the other hand the current game of Judo according to IJF rules had the following subtracted; Morote gari, Kata ashi dori, Kibisu gaeshi, Kuchiki taoshi, Kata guruma, Te guruma, and Sukui nage, counters to Hiza guruma and Sasae tsuri komi ashi, and hand-assisted O uchi gari, Ko uchi gari, Sode tsuri komi goshi and Ippon seoi nage.

    So, in summary, Judo was taken out of Judo and dumbed down, but only if you care about the IJF rules.

  4. I think you are absolutely bang on.
    In terms of the “critical flaw” I think that Peter is missing the point a little. Children who take up judo at the vulnerable young age of 6 yes may have been inspired by watching their judo hero or by catching some of the olympics on tv but there is no way that at such an age that that is or should be their focus. Commonly children join sports for fun, learning and for a sense of acheivement – the latter being the main thing that then builds a commitment between a child and a sport. There are two obvious ways that this sense of achievement can take place firstly the learning of a new skill (through training sessions) and secondly through competitive success. This being the case then surely it makes sense to combine the two and instead of “dumbing down” judo have skill specific events for the more novice competitors. Maybe in judo it would be more appropriate to have these arranged through grade and weight rather than age and weight as it may be easier on the organisation side of things?
    Similarly with the older judoka, I think they are well aware that they are passed olympic potential but in no way is this a downfall! The decrease in sport participation is just one of the many things contributing to the many increasing health ‘problems’ in both the UK and America something that needs to be considered when addressing this topic. Events that may not go along with olympic rules but instead are more suitable to the older generations may help to prevent drop out past a certain age. The judoka do not simply give up when things eventually get a little bit too difficult but instead move on, giving them the same sense of achievement already mentioned. These older players whether new or experienced bring something new to the mat when they step on, just because they may be a bit weaker or slower doesn’t mean they aren’t still smart with a few tricks and ideas up their sleeve!

    Judo and any other sport can’t always be about winning olympic medals as this takes something special… something that cannot be seen the first time somebody gets on a mat to compete. It as to be about building skill, experience and the right attitude, things that take time to develop. Skill/ability specific events will surely decrease drop out and increase numbers on both ends of the age spectrum. Providing more time for people to learn and improve and increasing the chances of that special person fulfilling their potential.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. Too bad there isn’t enough support for a nation wide scholastic judo program. I think the freestyle judo rules would be good rules for a youth judo program. Most kids in the states start off with folk style wrestling and we have had Olympic success in both Greco Roman and freestyle wrestling.

  6. Gerald,


    I think this question is just a measure of misinformation.

    In Japan, it is well-known there are several different set of rules that have been and can be applied to official Judo tournaments, including rules for high-school Judo tournaments that allow direct transition to newasa (which rules were used as a start for BJJ). In Brazil, people always had kids of different ages compete in Judo tournaments under different rules as well; no shime-waza or kansetu-waza, for example.

    Best regards,
    Ed Gerck

  7. I know little about what the Brazilians do, but much more about what the Japanese do. Kids under 15 can’t get a high collar grip or do dropping seoi. Why? Because these two elements of Judo retard the development of bigger Judo throws. Other than that, it’s pretty much IJF rules. Kosen Judo rules are only used in a small segment of the Judo community. IJF rules rule. The only exception that I know of was that the KDK never recognized koka at its events. And, of course, the blue gi is verboten for Japanese players.

    In spite of all this, I care mostly what we do here in the States. If a foreign country has a great idea that makes sense for the American Judo community, then we should use it. I don’t think we should blindly follow what others do.

    P.S. Why don’t you give us more specific information regarding the rule changes used in Brazil.

  8. Gerald,

    I also would care mostly what we do here in the States.

    In Brazil, rule changes for kids include for example no shime-waza or kansetu-waza. The minimum age for competition and other rules for kids depend mostly on the state federation, not federal, which adds more ideas.

    I think that Brazilian Judo has been far too tied (for its own good) to the 19th century Japanese lead both in rules and technique (possibly due to the widespread acceptance and integration of Japanese values into the Brazilian society, and its large immigration component), so don’t expect much innovation there. However, as Judo is a much more popular sport in Brazil than in the States, it may be of interest to look there to see what may make sense here.

    Russian Judo has been much more willing to innovate (for example, in high-grip, back-grip and grasp throws) and one could look there as well, at least as an example of usable “insubordination”.

  9. Ed, I was hoping for modifications more enlightening and transformative than “can’t do this or that until you are x years old.” I don’t favor restricting or limiting techniques although I understand why such restrictions and limits are imposed for “development” or “safety” reasons.

  10. I am happy to provide some specifics.

    Yes, I know that more rules are implemented in Judo by the IJF every few years and many feel that they are watering down the sport by restricting or limiting techniques too much. But some complaints are just misinformation. You can still have local, national, and international Judo competitions using different rules than the Olympic rules and, even with current Olympic rules, you can surely assist any throwing techniques with the hand but it has to be a continuation and you need body contact first.

    As another example, shime-waza is not restricted to the neck area even in Judo as an Olympic sport.You also cause submission in kesa-gatame by correctly pressing the diaphragm to block breathing, as the original technique was designed to do — not the incorrect BJJ and Judo versions that we often see around here (even with top players).

    And Judo is also a martial art, not just an Olympic sport. The Olympic rules were never intended to and do not have the power to redefine Judo in the dojo!

    The scope of judo that a dojo can teach has actually increased enormously over the years since 1882, not decreased. Some older techniques have been revived as well, such as Kenshiro Abbe’s hane-goshi style (where the bent leg actually makes sense).

    But even as a martial art, and starting in 1882, many techniques have been restricted in Judo. Yes, we can (and do, especially in kata) continue to train atemi-waza, for example, although we should really not even train kawazu-gake (although we must teach it, at least for the student to recognize what should not be done, and why not).

    Back to judo as a sport and in Brazil it is the prerogative of the sensei to decide which students can compete. Therefore, the competition rules are not really a practical problem. For example, the sensei can decide that to compete in a certain tournament students must at least hold a yellow belt (if the competition does not allow shime-waza and kansetu-waza), or at least hold a green belt otherwise. And the sensei can also individually restrict or appoint who can represent the dojo, for example according to the competition rules that will be followed. This was also the case in Jigoro Kano’s time.

    Personally, without fear of oversimplification, I think that a dojo can have just three main rules, and in this order:
    1. Safety,
    2. Discipline, and
    3. Enjoy!

    The last rule is not very nipponic in 1882’s style, but great in 2013. With an experienced sensei, it should be clear what each rule entails and their rank, and I think everything else can follow from that. Discipline is good but comes after safety, for example. I submit that the Olympic judo rules also seem to follow from the same “three rules” in the Olympic context, with some “trial and error” inherent in experimentation. The dojo is a different and much wider context.

    Ed Gerck

  11. I think kids should be allowed unlimited cross gips and onesided grips as they bring more variety to the game. It’s good that they now get to do shimewaza and kanetsuwaza by the time they’re 15 years, at least in Europe.

    What is Baseball?

  12. I think everyone should be allowed to grip however they want, provided they are being offensive minded.

  13. Gerald,

    I still have one comment pending moderation, and I don’t want to comment too often, but your reply above motivates me to say a few words in favor of what kind of rules we need in Judo competition (and training for that).

    It’s no secret that BJJ, MMA, and UFC are taking away US Judo students. Perhaps because they promise less rules and “more effective street fighting”? Is the solution then to also offer less rules in Judo for the offensive minded, and more of a “raw Judo” experience?

    I suggest that is a big mistake, and let me explain why in commercial terms. Safety and technical terms, will just aid the conclusion.

    Let’s pause to think on the influence that BJJ, MMA, and UFC markets (not technique) have already made in Judo national and international official Judo competitions. They are now much more violent, bone-breaking, weight-lifting, and less sportsman-like. Why?

    Because Judo players need those competitions to create their “bad ass” image in order to later on have a better chance to cash in the BJJ, MMA and UFC markets when they stop being Judo players… even if nationally-ranked in Judo. For example, by throwing the opponent head down on purpose, or dislocating the opponent’s elbow in kansetu-waza rather than proceeding with caution and wait for the opponent to tap or the referee to give the point. Example case: PanAm Games 2004, Rhadi Ferguson vs. Steve Edmonds. As AnnMaria DeMars recently wrote:

    What do I think of Ronda not breaking Sarah D’Alelio’s arm?

    My answer may surprise some people. I’m okay with roughness.

    When necessary, I’m okay with violence. I think you don’t need unnecessary roughness and gratuitous violence.

    Yes, I armbarred a lot of people when I was competing. There is even a picture of some major tournament where I am standing on the podium in first place and both the women on the second and third place steps have their arms in a sling. There are a lot of pictures of me standing on a podium where at least one of the other medalists has an arm in a sling. Jerry Hays, the USJF historian, could probably make a collage of them.

    … So, if you’re from the German team and we’re fighting for a medal, if I need to do a backbend on your arm to get it, I will and I won’t feel the least remorse about it. I’m sure you’d do the same to me.

    I am dead certain if she is in a position where she has to take that arm off, she will. (As Jim Pedro, Sr. told her when she called him this morning, “You’re Gaw-dam right you will!”)

    Where’s the honor? In other times, Rhadi Ferguson, Jim Pedro, AnnMaria DeMars and many “top” others would be stripped of their medals for conduct unbecoming of a Judo athlete — for selling against the “mutual benefit and welfare” in order to turn a higher profit, on purpose maiming fellow athletes, and setting the wrong example on the podium or competing for it. Just like L. Armstrong, we shouldn’t take this anymore.

    So, rather than make Judo more like BJJ, MMA and UFC, in order to win students, we should stress the differences — and that’s marketing 101 for success in a competitive market!

    The way it is today, Judo is already degraded from its ideal of focusing on “self-victory” as the objective to “victory for the self”. Let’s keep concussions, elbow and knee breaking out of Judo as much as possible, as Jigoro Kano and others have worked to lead us to realize. Let’s take that high road, when a fallen Judoka can be even helped by the opponent — not maimed for financial gain.

    Best regards,
    Ed Gerck

  14. Yes, it’s true that the IJF doesn’t mandate that IJF rules be used at all levels. The reality is that national governing bodies follow what the international governing body decides regardless of the consequences. Furthermore, if a coach is chasing medals and aspiring to have his student become an international player, there’s an unfounded fear that competing under non-IJF rules will harm his player’s development and ruin his chances. U.S. wrestlers don’t seem to have that problem. So the bottom line is that most clubs don’t deviate from the international standards.

    Safety, discipline and enjoy are great rules. Who gets to define what those three words mean? As far as safety is concerned, you might be a nanny-statist, while I might take a Marine Corps approach that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

  15. The problem with the rules really revolves around what techniques remain in the inventory. I hear more and more, “I can do more Judo in wrestling and bjj than I can in Judo.” This is the crux of our battle against the IJF. Perceived beauty vs functionality/effectiveness.

    Regarding the bad-ass attitude, I agree. When Ronda blabbered her comments to the masses before the 2008 Olympics about how she likes to break arms, I cringed. My daughter also had many wins in international competition with juji gatame, but never seemed to have to break arms. I will add, however, that uke has a vote in getting an arm broken or tapping out, but with Ronda it was a badge of honor to break arms. So, yes, we need to have a different attitude than MMA, BJJ and UFC…and for the most part, we do.

    Stressing the differences between Judo and the other arts is a no-brainer. However, not emasculating Judo is also a no-brainer.

  16. Gerald,

    I agree that Judo competition rules should not prevent functionality or effectiveness. I agree that current IJF rules reduce the inventory of Judo techniques that can be applied in IJF competitions.

    I also understand your point that although IJF rules do not have to be applied in local competitions, some coaches may have a fear that cross-competing or even cross-training under non-IJF rules will harm an athlete’s chances of winning under IJF rules.

    You talked about not “emasculating” Judo. I also agree.

    But I see that our problem with Judo rules is not with the IJF, it is right here, in the US.

    We must not be oblivious to the American context and market. You are not the only one who cringes.

    For years now (15?), US players have used non-paid Judo athletes and competitions to create their bad-ass image and PR in order to later on have a better chance to cash in a paid fight they choose such as in wrestling, BJJ, MMA, UFC, or whatever they may be called. We also see US Judo officials complacently looking on for years (15?) and doing nothing under a growing wave of head-down throws, broken elbows and knees, and lack of sportsmanship.

    So, suppose you are the uke in an effective armlock that the referee cannot see (as it’s under the tori’s body, and tori has taken that position on purpose), you actually have no vote before tori dislocates or even breaks your elbow faster than you can scream or tap.

    We should reject this. Because that’s what some tori (already named before, in their own words) have a history of doing (15 years?) and will keep on doing even under current IJF rules and lack of US Judo officials action.

    I see that making Judo a “free style” fight in the US or keep the current bad-ass attitude with broken elbows and head-down throws will further reduce the number of fair-minded people wishing to join it.

    With the current path, Judo coaches should correctly fear to lead children and athletes into the Judo dojo, because we know that their rights to practice a sport are being abused and they, instead, will be shamelessly abused for the profit of others. Notwithstanding their ensuing physical disability. Our Judo athletes are much like the horses in the recent scandal of the Tennesse walking horse “breed”! They never have a real chance, nor Judo.

    What choice do we have? We in the US should be talking about American rules for Judo. In addition, we should not “emasculate Judo” and work to dispel the notion by some US coaches that using non-IJF rules is bad for the athlete’s chances under a more limited set of “international” Judo rules.

    Yes and for more competitiveness, we should not be making a distinction between the martial art and the Olympic sport. They should be the same Way (the “do”), just under different rules. Japanese Judo players train and use Sumo throws in Judo (and some are allowed under IFJ rules), Kosen Judo techniques, and others. Judo kata training and Judo Atemi-waza can also greatly help compete under IFJ (or any) Judo rule. There other countries that use their own national contributions to Judo, so why not the US?

    If the past helps us, cross-training has been an effective method in martial arts and Americans (with wrestling), Russians (Sambo), and Brazilians (BJJ) have clearly demonstrated that.

    Furthermore, Judo itself as well as wrestling, Sambo and BJJ are all a merger of techniques of other martial arts. So, it’s logical to cross-train more and merge more.

    I think that athletes that train as Jigoro Kano did (“not emasculated” Judo plus any other desired martial arts) will perform much better under IFJ (or any rules)

    So, let’s consider American rules for Judo.

    With the provision that American rules for Judo should further prevent and punish players when they stop being Judo players, who should value sportsmanship — even if it costs a medal. If the opponent hurts his knee during the match, although with no fault of your own, should your coach tell you to target that opponent’s hurt leg in order to win?

    I live in SD, so I am happy you are not the only one who cringes.

    Best regards,
    Ed Gerck

  17. (Please disregard the longer post I submitted earlier.)


    I agree with you that:

    – Judo competition rules should not prevent functionality or effectiveness.

    – current IJF rules reduce the inventory of Judo techniques that can be applied in IJF competitions.

    – although IJF rules do not have to be applied in local competitions, some coaches may have a fear that cross-competing or even cross-training under non-IJF rules will harm an athlete’s chances of winning under IJF rules.

    – we should not “emasculate” Judo.

    However, I see that our problem with Judo rules is not so much with the IJF as it starts right here, in the US.

    How so? For years now (15?), people can see in YouTube and blog posts that US players have used non-paid Judo athletes and competitions (under IJF rules) to create their bad-ass image and PR in order to later on have a better chance to cash in a brutalized paid fight they choose such as in wrestling, BJJ, MMA, UFC, or whatever they may be called. We also see US Judo officials seemingly with their hands tied for years (15?) under a growing wave of head-down throws, broken elbows and knees, and lack of sportsmanship.

    So, suppose you are the uke in an effective armlock that the referee cannot see (as it’s under the tori’s body, and tori has taken that position on purpose), the referee can’t do a thing under current IJF rules and you actually have no vote before tori dislocates or even breaks your elbow faster than you can scream or tap.

    We should reject this, or we will further brutalize Judo and reduce the number of fair-minded people and athletes wishing to train Judo.

    So, let’s consider American rules for Judo but with the provision that American rules for Judo should more cleverly prevent and stop players when they stop being Judo players, who should value sportsmanship and fairness — no head throws, no referee-hidden kansetsu-waza, for example. Sport brutalization is not just a US “phenomenon”, so we could also consider protecting our athletes internationally as well and help improve the IJF rules in this regard.

    Regarding the suggestion of not locally using IJF rules, what examples do we have?

    Japanese Judo players train and use Sumo throws in Judo (and some are allowed under IFJ rules), Kosen Judo techniques, and others. Jigoro Kano himself stressed that all of the Judo curriculum — including Judo kata training and Judo Atemi-waza — was there to be used and can greatly help improve Judo performance in competitions (even the abstract katas). That argument should stand under IJF or any Judo rule. There other countries (e.g., Korea, Chinha, Russia, Brazil) that use their own national contributions to Judo, so why not the US?

    Furthermore, Judo itself as well as modern wrestling, Sambo and BJJ are all a merger of techniques of other martial arts. So, it’s logical to cross-train more and merge more, and Judo can only benefit … but let’s not have competition Judo be “brutalized” in the process, here or in the Olympics.

    Best regards,
    Ed Gerck

  18. Gerald: Your developmental approach to judo training and competition is pretty compelling. However, I believe that you are looking at this through the wrong lens. The leadership of the IJF looks at judo through a set of filters designed to keep judo in the Olympics. This requires that it look exciting to casual television viewers who know nothing about grappling sports and may only tune in every four years. All the IJF wants is for viewers to cheer when someone gets vaulted through the air every 20 seconds.
    Under your plan, you might end up in a situation where an IJF world champion judoka gets taken down by someone with a relatively simple skill set. Oops, IJF world champion does not even know how to stand to prevent a basic leg tackle. This would be very embarrassing so there needs to be an iron wall to prevent the public from finding out that IJF style judo has serious flaws.

  19. It used to be that Olympic rules were fine for everyone. Until the IJF messed up the sport.

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