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.