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?