Rules: From Bad to Worse

I admit it.  I’ve been missing in action for more than I wanted to be.  Several of my readers have reminded me that I haven’t posted anything in over a month.  Time flies when you are busy.  I’ll have a lot to discuss in the coming weeks.  In December, I spent 12 days in Japan watching the Tokyo Grand Slam and teaching here and there.  I recently received The Second Life of Judo, a new book by Alan Rafkind, who’s one of my fans.  I’ll have more to say about that soon.  And then, when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, there’s the IJF with its latest version of how to make Judo even more irrelevant.

The recent changes to the rules remind me of the incessant rule changes when Jim Kojima was the director of refereeing.  Let’s face it, we’re still suffering from an identity crisis.  Are we a spectator sport or are we something bigger?  Should the rules be tailored to make Judo more aesthetic, more beautiful, or should the rules reflect one of Kano’s three main purposes for Judo training: self-defense?  Can a complete, outside-the-box revamping of the rules make Judo both aesthetic with dynamic, high amplitude throws while maintaining sound elements of self-defense?  My bet is that, yes, we can combine beauty and functionality if we wanted to.  Instead, the current IJF leadership is trying to take us back to the 1950s and early 1960s Judo when players walked around playing a slow game of chess.

Even though I’m not happy with what the IJF is doing to my sport, I have to give it credit for several reasons.  First of all, it issued to the general Judo community in writing the reasons for the changes of the rules.  I don’t necessarily agree with the reasons or the solutions, but at least we now know where the IJF is coming from.  This is good for Judo.

Secondly, it took into consideration the comments of coaches and former athletes.  This is also very good for Judo as referees and the IJF executive committee are part of the problem.  And because referees are part of the problem, I’d like to see them completely removed from the making of the rules. They can enforce them all they want, but making rules should be in the hands of a different group of people with a different outlook on the sport.

Now to the rule changes.  Let’s first discuss the rule that will detrimentally affect Judo in the United States.  In my opinion, that rule is the one that states, “all attacks or blocking with one or two hands or with one or two arms below the belt in Tachi-waza” will be penalized by handsoku make!  This makes it easier on the referees who had to decide if the leg grab was done at the appropriate moment.  It’s a no-brainer now.  Grab below the waist, and it’s hansoku make, period.  This is not good for Judo.

Take a moment to fathom what we just lost.  Gone are Morote gari, Kata ashi dori, Kibisu gaeshi, Kuchiki taoshi, Kata guruma, Te guruma, and Sukui nage.  Gone are 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.  We will also see the disappearance of many combinations that culminate with a hand grab.  Finally, also gone might be some of the defensive hand grabs to stop from being thrown with let’s say Seoi nage.  If that is not emasculation of our sport, I don’t know what is.  What kind of self-defense art is this?

If the total ban of leg grabs wasn’t bad enough, there’s now an additional no-no in gripping.  Players will be penalized when they break a grip with two hands.  I’ll be the first to say that I hate all the grip fighting that goes on in a match.  I wish players would just grab and manage to do Judo without the “patty-cake, patty-cake” nonsense.  However, I’m not necessarily in favor of removing sound martial arts skills just to make Judo more spectator friendly.  So, the jury is out until I see what this rule does to the effectiveness of Judo.  In addition, the deja-vu rule to get a grip quickly is back on the table.  Nothing came of this the first time this was tried, so I’m not sure what this amounts to other than another opportunity for referees to penalize players.

Since we’re on the subject of penalties, one good decision, I think, is that penalties will only count in determining a winner if the technical scores are even.  According to the IJF, “Shidos do not give points to the other fighter, only technical scores can give points on the scoreboard.”  If both players have one yuko, the winner of the match will be the one with the fewer shidos.  I’m hoping that we will see more technical Judo and less tactical Judo.  This is good for Judo.

My only concern is that since the shidos no longer give a score to the opponent, what will stop players who are ahead late in the match from simply running away from the opponent and taking the shidos that don’t count unless they amount to hansoku make?  It’s one thing not to attack, but an entire different story to run away.  Will the IJF have to resort to immediate and quick shidos for refusing to fight?

The time for a winning osae komi is now only 20 seconds.  All ne waza skills (pins, chokes and armbars) will be allowed to continue outside the contest area as long as they were effectively applied while still in the contest area.  This will force players to learn how to escape and/or defend against these techniques rather than just crawl out of bounds.  This is good for Judo.

The IJF now promises to give more value to “only the techniques with real impact on the ground on the back.”  My first thought is, “What the heck took you so long to get rid of the soft, rolling ippon,” but since we are dealing with the IJF, we’ll have to see if what they say is really a return to the hard ippon we used to see as late as in the 1970s.  Hard ippons will be good for Judo.

Also in the “good for Judo” department, cadets, which are players in the 15-17 year old bracket are now allowed to use armbars.  I hope that USA Judo, USJA and USJF follow suit.  I’ll revisit armbars and chokes for younger players in future posts.

Finally, a new procedure which will affect players who compete at the international level, and possibly the national level, has athletes weighing in at 7pm on the night before the tournament.  The IJF is rightly concerned about the toll on athletes’ health when it comes to weighing in at 6am the day of the tournament.  As part of the testing period of the new procedure, athletes will also be weighed at the time of the judogi control “to determine if the weight gain during the night is consistent with the weight categories.”  Sorry, IJF, but you’ll find that most athletes will be in the next higher weight division by rehydrating and eating between weigh-in and competition time.  They’ll probably see differences in the 3-5kg range or more.

This new procedure, while a good idea, will be detrimental to players like my daughter whose normal weight was always within the range of the division.  Fighting in the 57kg division, her normal weight was always 55-56kg.  This allowed her to show up at the weigh-in eating and drinking in front of her fellow competitors.  By contrast, most of the competitors in her division were 63kg players who had to cut weight.  Come competition time they were back over 57kg by 2-3kg.  If the IJF truly cares about athletes’ health, weigh-ins would be done one hour before competition.  This will force athletes to fight in a division that is closer to their normal weight.

All the new rules will be evaluated during the Paris Open in February.  Final decisions on modification, elimination or outright approval of the rule changes will be determined at that point.  So hold on to your horses until then.  All in all, there are lots of good things in the rule changes, but the one disastrous rule on leg grabs makes me gasp for air.  It’s the kiss of death for those of us fighting for a share of the grappling community in the U.S….unless we all band together to ignore the IJF rules.  It’s also a great time for the growth of Freestyle Judo.  If you are not familiar with FSJ, please check out our Facebook page at International Freestyle Judo Alliance.  You’ll find rules and regulations, and get a feel for how many players and coaches are going the FSJ route.


13 thoughts on “Rules: From Bad to Worse

  1. Great to hear you’ll be there. Hope it’s better than what I saw at the Tokyo Grand Slam. I look forward to your report.

  2. Freestyle Judo/AAU sanctioned Judo doesnt seem to have any traction as it seems to do out here in the Northeast. My next best guess if clubs don’t want their athletes to suffer from lack of Goykyo-techniques-in competition, some of the Judo clubs, especially those with Russian or former Soviet block sensei’s/coaches are affiliated with FIAS Sambo and even in my club a few of the kids have had the opportunity to compete in Russia.
    But until there is new leadership at the IJF, or new thinking that loves the Goykyo, its going to be an ugly 4 year period up to Brazil.

  3. The answer to the IJF nightmare is to ignore their directives at the local level, which is where most Judo is performed. Few of our students will ever have to compete under IJF rules. Like-minded coaches need to band together and do what is best for Judo’s survival and relevance.

  4. Your writing indicates positions and objectives separate and different from those of judo. With respect, at some point consider changing the name of your practiced style from judo to a name that more appropriate to a modified form of judo, similar to that of Freestyle Judo.

    In following the IJF events and website, I believe the following statement to be true: The IJF is leading judo is multiple, positive directions.

    It is possible your sport will be successful and blossom beyond the point of your retirement. From this point, our paths diverge, and I wish you and your sport the best.

  5. Peter, I’m not sure what positions would require that I rename my “style of Judo.” If anyone or any entity needs to change the name of the sport, it’s the organization that recently banned around twelve techniques that have been part of Judo since its inception. That would be the IJF.

    The IJF has made some quasi-positive changes to the sport, but to the detriment of many countries, athletes and grassroots programs. The World Cups and Grand Slams allow for a few athletes to earn prize money…enough to cover their travel and training expenses for that one tournament. But for the majority of countries and their athletes, they can no longer compete because of the financial hardship. Olympic qualifying works for those who can afford to qualify. For those athletes who are not supported by their nations or federations, good luck with that. I don’t think Kano would look favorably on that. Some of the rule changes, as I have mentioned in my posts are good changes. On the other hand, when you ban things to make the sport achieve some aesthetic values, you weaken it as a form of self-defense. Remember that Kano wanted Judo to fulfill a self-defense need. You can’t do this with the silly rules on gripping and the bans on leg grabs.

    Many clubs at the grassroots level teach all aspects of Judo, not just IJF approved Judo. In this debate, IJF is clearly the criminal element. If anything, it’s time for the IJF to rename its sport as Olympic Judo.

  6. I believe that you are right Gerald. Just as Tae Kwon Do has traditional version, it has Olympic Tae Kwon Do. Maybe that’s what we need with Judo. That way a dojo can specify whether they are practicing Judo purely for sport and competition or if they are teaching you the true form of Judo as a self-defense martial art.

  7. “The World Cups and Grand Slams allow for a few athletes to earn prize money…enough to cover their travel and training expenses for that one tournament. But for the majority of countries and their athletes, they can no longer compete because of the financial hardship. Olympic qualifying works for those who can afford to qualify.”

    Very, very true. Let each country select their best players like in most other sports.

    Sure, you’ll see huge differences in skill sets at time but isn’t that part of the charm of the Olympics? How else would Olympic icons such Eddie the Eagle or the Jamaican Bobsled team have become part of the wonderful Olympic history?

    On Olympic Judo vs. Traditional (freestyle) Judo…

    Is is such a big deal to learn different rules for different competitions? Wrestlers can handle this, BJJ players can handle this, and young kids competiting in Olympic Judo and BJJ easily handle moving between the different sports. We have 8-10 year olds compete in both sports without problems even though they miss being able to choke and armbar in Judo.


  8. Those rules really changes judo. From not good to so bad. Because better is the enemy of good.
    All IJF changes come out of the Utopia that judo can be more spectacular sport than it was. Those who didn’t go for judo do not care about grabbing legs not grip fighting….

  9. AAU Judo differs with what I have dubbed Grecco Roman Judo. The IJF style may prove to be far more popular, but an alternative is available Choices enable all of us to choose either or both.

  10. I want to make a couple of points that really are, in my view, critical, and which I have read others on this forum make as well:

    1. It is critical that kids practices armlocks in competition, so the recent IJF change to allow armbars was a big step in the right direction. Now, kids need to start learning them by 14 or 15.

    2. IJF is Greco Roman Judo. AAU Freestyle (or Kosen Judo) is a vital complement much as Freestyle/Folkstyle complements Greco. Students should to deal with the wider variety of attacks in keeping with Judo’s budo tradition. Even if you don’t ‘like’ single legs and double legs, you need to be able to defend against them, not rely on rules to ban the techniques you can’t deal with.

    3. IJF rules don’t need to be for everyone. Point one: It is stupid not to give shido to a ten year old for initiating with a hand attack to legs (hansoku under current rules). A friend told me he drove his son 3 hours to a tournament (10 years old) where the boy tried a double leg at the outset of his first match. Hansoku maki and done for the day. (Load up the car pop…Uggh.) Second, if you want to initiate an attack from a grip with a 3-5 second limit at the international level, you need to be able to spend 10 seconds trying it in junior and local shiai. That is the only way to try it and refine it. What is worse is that a lot of clubs place the 3-5 second ban into their randori. That effectively kills off any chance of developing one of those attacks. If you happen to have refined the attack well enough before the rules were put in place, you can work within the five second limit, but new development is almost impossible.

    4. BJJ and submission wrestling are competing for the same population of new grapplers and if they take too much market share, Judo risks being relegated to an auxiliary sport or worse. Judo must remain dynamic, effective, and attractive in order to continue to grow as a sport and as a martial art.

  11. Judo is a sport. To think of it as self defence is to endanger anyone that might feel safe because they know judo. I say this as a black blend in judo and also in traditional Japanese martial arts and as a person that has tried both on the streets.

    If you want self defence learn something like Bujinkan or Jujutsu! If you want to do a sport learn Judo. Judo is a great sport!

    Soft Ippon is a huge fail IMOHO. Judo is dynamic, it is about getting the other airborn with great timing and really taking his balance within the dynamics of pushing and pulling. It is about the pin, the choke and armbar done with skill, not done because you happen to be 5 kg heavier and a bit stronger. It is about skill! It is about the smaller lighter guy winning because he trained harder and spending more time perfecting his skills. Judo is about being skillful not fast, strong and big and pushing the limits of the weight class or the rules. Win with skill, win with knowledge, win with your years of wisdom won in battle on the mat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *