Olympics or Survival?

I had the pleasure of attending the referee meeting during the USJA-USJF Junior National Championships in Irvine, California. Although I couldn’t stay for its entirety- I needed to head over to the USJA Board meeting, which unfortunately was held at the same time as the referee meeting- I gathered a wealth of information, which reinforced my opinion that Judo is committing suicide by rules. Needless to say, I didn’t leave the meeting with warm fuzzy feelings.

My first impression was one of negativity: penalize and punish the players. Referees were told to “manage the match” by using penalties as tools. They were also informed that they should make sure matches didn’t go to Golden Score, or, heaven forbid, to a hantei decision. Use those penalties!  Are we simply looking for shorter days for the officials, or should we be allowing players to decide the outcome of the match regardless of how long it takes?

Joon Chi, the chairman of the USJF Referee Commission, was as always pretty patronizing and insulting. We few coaches who attended the meeting were made to feel like we didn’t know the rules. How could we possibly stay abreast of all the rule changes and tweaking that occur after almost every World Cup or Grand Slam event?  We’re in the same boat as all the local referees who are out of the informational loop, or if they do get the information hear it as an interpretation of an interpretation. Why can’t the IJF transmit the information to the whole international Judo community? Why does it still rely of the old, and not very effective, “referee to referee to referee to coaches/players” model of information transmittal when we have the Internet? And whatever happened to the notion that rules only change once a quadrennial?

We’ve all been told that the rules are changing because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) doesn’t want Judo to look like wrestling. We were reminded of that at the referee meeting. I don’t know whether this is true or an outright lie. It’s easy for one organization (IJF) to blame another (IOC) for the changes it is making. My gut feeling is that a few people in the IJF want Judo to be radically transformed. To push through the changes more easily the onus for the changes is placed on the IOC.

If it is true that the IOC wants Judo to change, then the IJF is not doing a good job at representing the facts and defending Judo as it is today. Judo has 198 national federation members. Wrestling has only 168. Judo at the Olympics is very popular: Judo events sell out, and do so quickly, second only to the opening and closing ceremonies, and the basketball finals. If Judo looks like wrestling, what can be said of beach volleyball and indoor volleyball? Or water polo and team handball, both of which have teams of six field players who attempt to throw balls into goals? Or how about the three disciplines of foil, epee, and saber within fencing?  Why not eliminate foil because it looks like epee? So a little honesty is required here. Is the IOC picking on Judo when it ignores the obvious similarities among other sports, or is the IJF lying to us to make it seem like we are powerless to stop the emasculation of Judo and the penaltyfest that is supposedly mandated by the IOC?

The new rules are still being talked about, tweaked, and new interpretations are making their way downward to us peons at the local level. Confusion still reigns supreme however. Combinations that end with a leg pick up still have too many ifs and whens, and words like “simultaneously” remain ill-defined to have a firm grasp of what’s legal and what isn’t. To complicate things, “intent” is now coming into the picture. Referees are being asked to guess the intent of the player when it comes to combinations that end in a leg grab. Was the player’s intent from the get-go to grab the leg after let’s say an O uchi or Ko uchi, or did he grab it as an afterthought because the first throw didn’t work? In the first case, it’s hansoku make. In the second case, you may score with it. Crazy, isn’t it? So much for combinations where the first throw is the set-up for the second throw. Another aspect of Judo fighting hits the dust.

On the positive side- I think- the rule against a hand blocking a hip as a defense is being relaxed, as is “incidental” contact with a leg. Get ready for the tweaking and interpretation of the definition of “incidental.”  Muddy as ever, isn’t it?

The IJF is not finished screwing with us. The further denuding of Judo techniques continues unabated. Now, bear hugs from the front are illegal if the arms wrap completely around the opponent’s torso, even if hands don’t interlock. We still don’t know if it matters whether you hug under or over the arms. And what if the hug is from the side? Either way, this is a new rule change, which should not be allowed in the middle of a quadrennial, let alone two months before the World Championships in Tokyo. But when did the IJF ever give a hoot about how its last-minute rule changes affect the competitors? And surprise! The illegal bear hug is not penalized. I know it’s hard to believe, but the referee merely calls matte, then restarts the match. Why couldn’t the IJF do that for leg grabs?

I’ve been a proponent of Olympic Judo for decades, and I believe in Olympism. After all, one of my daughters is a two-time Olympian, and another is vying for the 2012 Olympics. In spite of this, I am seriously questioning the wisdom of keeping Judo in the Olympics, especially if it means that the IJF will continue to mess with the repertory of acceptable techniques. I don’t know how Judo fares against other grappling arts and MMA in the rest of the world, but I know these arts are beating the snot out of Judo in the U.S., primarily because our rules have infantilized Judo and made it an unrealistic fighting form.

We have a dilemma in the U.S. Is it more important that we remain an Olympic sport or that we survive in the martial arts community? How do you feel about Judo remaining an Olympic sport?


18 thoughts on “Olympics or Survival?

  1. Great Post Mr Lafon, I always find your posts thought provoking and informative – thank you, I have also linked a couple of your posts in my own blog. Regards Dave

  2. If the choice comes between doing judo under under IJF rules and not doing Olympic Judo, I’d rather not do Olympic rules judo. We’ve raped the sport under the idea of “making it pretty.”

  3. In Britain, the national governing body for judo and elite and prospective elite juokas depend, for the large majority of their funding, upon achieving targets at Olympic and World Championships. I guess this is true for other countries. Unless funding criteria change, there will remain a (self-interested?) focus on The Olympics.

  4. What is the IJF thinking! I have been a competitor for over ten years and it is just a tragedy that things are going in this direction. Last month I competed in a tournament in Tijuana, Mexico where one of my opponents attempted an O Soto Gari and I countered with a Te Guruma. The referee wanted to disqualify me, but was stopped by the tournament director who ordered the referee to continue. After the match, the referee told me that what I had done was a violation of the new rules. He said that my “intent” to pick up my opponent’s leg got me in trouble. Isn’t this ridiculous!

    I think that it is awful that the IJF is trying to make Judo not look like Wrestling by making things confusing, contradictory, and obviously frustrating. As a competitor, this has minimized my interest to spend hundreds of dollars to attend a national or state competition and be disqualified for grabbing the wrong leg or having the wrong “intent.”

  5. This is true in the States as well, but it doesn’t stop high school wrestling from having different rules than collegiate wrestling which in turn has different rules than Olympic wrestling.

    I’d like to find out how Judo is faring in Great Britain. Are you guys losing ground to the bjj and mma crowd?

  6. With the intense interest in awarding penalties, maybe we should rethink just what we are trying to accomplish … better judo.
    Consider simply not awarding points for an questionable technique of move, rather than creating a match winner who has the least number of penalties or a disqualification for their opponent. Could something like this lead to more and better Judo? Do penalties make Judo better?
    Perhaps we can rethink what we are trying to do and look for other ways to accomplish that goal.

  7. Gerald:

    I do not know how judo fares relative to bjj and mma in Great Britain. Two of my sons watch the two latter and I despair to such an extent that I do not interrogate them about such matters!!! I and the other son watch only judo.

    Judo in G.B. is ‘cushioned’ by the 2012 Olympics. Results there/then will impact, massively, upon its ‘fiscal’ future.

    Neil Adams – whom you can contact via his website – can, probably, enlighten you about judo, bjj and mma in G.B.

  8. I stayed for the whole meeting; I fully agree with Mr. Lafon’s post. I would rather have judo be a real sport, with simple rules of trying to put the other person flat on their back and not have it in the Olympics if it means these ridiculous rule changes that leave so much to interpretation. What happened to the days when refs were supposed to “make sure the right person wins”? Now they think they should control the match and use penalties to make matches end without golden score. I deal with it in my state all the time. I keep trying to tell the refs to let the players decide the match. Feels like I’m barking up the wrong tree.

  9. My other art, TaeKwonDo, has become an utter joke because of adaption to being an Olympic sport. It ruined a fine martial art. Now I’m watching the same thing happen to Judo. I think the best thing that could happen to both arts is to be taken out of the Olympics forever.

  10. Excellent, excellent, excellent post and points. Total agreement. Finally a point of view that intelligently encapsulates many of my personal gripes about the direction our sport/martial art has turned.

    US Judo, if they were truly representing the views of coaches, athletes, and referees alike, should post this on the front page of their website.

  11. Good one Gerald. I was frustrated bu the competition rules even before the latest abominations.

    For me its gotten to where I have simply given up teaching to the current rules set. The several adults I am training now are all BJJers, and one of them teaches our kids class now. I teach throwing and mat work. It used to be judo. Under 1974 rules its still would be…


  12. Gerald, it scares me that I agree with you so completely. I’m not accustomed to that.

  13. I started my judo competitions in 1976 since then i have been in and out of competition. In my observation of the last three decades i notice, feel, and believe that the continuous changes in the competition rules have caused more harm to judo than good. Sadly i have seen the slow degeneration of ne-waza untill it has almost completely been removed from competition, this occurrance has given overwhelming power to those who “create” their own style of fighting ne-waza and labeling it as a new form of fight. Now they are eliminating many of the counter and direct attacks and techniques that have always existed and been used in the real competition judo. If this trend continues the future of judo is unclear as a martial art.

    My concern is: if we as players, coaches, and sensies, in the American continents and other parts of the world are made uneasy by the rythm of change in the sport. What part is the Kodokan playing in this ? why do they allow judo to be mutilated by rules and regulations made by people who have only their own gain to look out for ?

  14. When did bear hugs become illegal? I guess I have the same questions about when they can or cannot be used. If it is to prevent Judo from looking like Greco Roman wrestling I am assuming they are trying to eliminate the belly to belly suplex? Are you allowed to bear hug on an O’Uchi attempt? What about off the Tani Otoshi and the Uki Goshi or Tsuri Goshi? I read somewhere that Uki Goshi was Kano’s favorite techniques, obviously I don’t know if that is true but Uki Goshi is certainly one of the classics. To me less restrictions is better for the sport. If you don’t know how to counter or react to a pickup you are vulnerable. The other grappling arts are laughing at us.

  15. the forms of traditional Judo is being dilate with too many rule changes and regulations, as the old saying goes why fix something which isnt broken. are we playing or fighting??????

  16. the problem with judo is they don’t spend enough time on the ground. the problem with bjj is they don’t spend enough time on the feet.

    never forget kimura defeated gracie. but after that bjj was basically just preserving what judo losing. in order to return to kimura’s judo, it’s a shame one has to study 2 martial arts now… modern judo, and bjj.

    should think long and hard about rule modifications, especially before bjj itself becomes an olympic sport, haha!

  17. Freestyle Judo has in fact thought about rule modifications and has done something about it. Check out its Facebook group: International Freestyle Judo Alliance.

  18. There should be a boycott, because this will soon be another art and not judo. If they don’t want judokas to stay hunched over for too long, they should time how long a judoka can stay hunched over for. If they don’t want judokas to grab each others pants they can do that, but grabbing legs as a technique of Judo should not be punished as long as nobody is holding and tugging on someones pants while doing it. I also agree with Gustavo where is Ne-waza? Bjj is dancing on judos’ ground techniques when they(bjj) are using judos’ ground techniques and calling it Graccie’s jj and they are not humble. they are rude about it. They are verbally trashing O sensei Jigoro Kano!, Mifune, Kimura…. Judokas say something and say it loud! Im not a judoka but I love and respect the art and may join it.

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