Rumblings in Las Vegas, Part I

This past weekend I was in Las Vegas attending the All Women’s Judo Championships, a USJA board meeting, and the USJA National Coaches Conference. Here are my thoughts on what I saw and heard.

When I was informed about the All Women’s Judo Championships, my first thought was why do we need a special tournament for such a small segment of our already small Judo population? After attending my first All Women’s Judo Championships as a spectator, my opinion hasn’t changed. But that’s only because what Deb Fergus, the founder of this event, wants for women, I want for all Judoplayers, namely special development events held for the benefit of the players, not the officials and especially not the referees. Although the head referees tried hard to ruin it for the athletes, the gals who showed up got what they came for; lots of matches in individual and team competition.

Living up to my recommendations to others, I had told Fergus and USJA President AnnMaria DeMars weeks before that I would not bring athletes to the tournament if the new rules were used. Apparently, DeMars deferred to two international referees who don’t know any better than to parrot what the IJF says, regardless of the consequences. Thus it was decided the new rules would be used, although we still don’t know what they are, and four of my gals stayed home.

I got an earful from many of the referees who dislike the new rules, and felt the heavy-handedness of the international referees. Thankfully, hansoku make was not invoked for the first illegal leg grab. On the other hand, Martin Bregman stopped the action to inform us that not wearing the proper white t-shirt with the proper sleeve length would merit hansoku make in the future! Why does it matter what the sleeves look like? And while we’re discussing ridiculous rules, since color seems to be important- we don’t want to confuse the referees any further- why don’t we require a blue t-shirt under a blue gi? Maybe color coordination doesn’t matter. In that case, why require a white shirt? Why not wear any color t-shirt?

In talking with several of the lower-certified referees, it became evident to me that they want to object to what’s going on, but don’t know how to, or won’t because they fear their upward mobility in the refereeing ranks will come to a screeching halt. For me, there’s a rather simple solution: make your concerns known, accept the consequences, and stop refereeing if you don’t agree with what is happening to Judo or to you.

Since we are already so short of referees in the U.S.- we are encouraging children, some as young as ten, to referee- imagine what our leaders will do if more of our officials refused to referee. Change will not come from the top without some help. Thus it must be “encouraged” from the bottom. Every voice of dissent counts and there is strength in numbers. Maybe you don’t get to be an N2 referee or you don’t get promoted to 4th dan in a timely fashion. Big deal. Start doing what is right for Judo! Injustices will sort themselves out later. You’ll feel better and the sport will be stronger.

One of the lessons learned in Las Vegas by the organizers is that having head referees who have not bought into the concept and objective of the tournament is disastrous, and it should not be repeated in the future. I applaud that. There is no doubt in my mind that head referees don’t care about anything other than the power they wield over the rest of us, and enforcing rules that make no sense for grassroots Judo. This must not be allowed to continue. Tournament directors and organizers need to take the sport back from the referees. If they don’t, coaches, players and even lower-certified referees will stop participating in events, and in the worst case scenario will drop out of Judo. We can afford neither outcome, so we must protest.

Speaking of protesting, I received the following gem today from Oded Zyssman, a courageous, concerned Judoplayer, who understands that the IJF works for us, and not the other way around!

Dear Mr. Vizer,

Judo’s popularity in the world is declining. With the introduction of several mma organizations and the ever increasing popularity of Brazilian jiu–jitsu, it seems that judo participation has been on the decline worldwide.

The latest 2010 new rules have certainly, in my opinion, not helped judo as a whole. In fact, they seem to actually contribute to the decline in judo’s popularity.

When I began practicing judo more than 20 years ago, judo was dynamic, fast–paced, with explosive techniques and moves, that were both beautiful to watch as they were to practice.

Today’s judo is a lot different. It requires each participant to remember a long list of “nos”, and can’ts”. Instead of it being an open sport, where creativity, athleticism, and a wide variety of techniques can be utilized, today’s judo is rather limited in its scope, negative in its orientation and seems to abandon its clear original message.

With the introduction of the 2010 rules, 3 main techniques were outlawed: Seated kata-guruma, kuchiki-taoshi, and a variation of tani-otoshi. When I teach newcomers to judo the 66 tachi-waza techniques, am I simply to skip over the aforementioned 3?

Judo has always been a way of life and a great fun to practice and teach. I’m afraid that with the heavy-handed rules and regulations that the IJF introduces so very frequently, that fun is no longer there.

I wish that you and the rest of the IJF officials would recognize the fragile and unattractive position international judo has found itself in. A complete and comprehensive overhaul in today’s judo rules and regulation is in order.

Most respectfully,

Oded Zyssman–yondan
Atlanta GA USA

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made possible for evil to triumph. If you would like to join us in the fight against the evil IJF, and go straight to the top with your comments, email IJF President Marius Vizer at

8 thoughts on “Rumblings in Las Vegas, Part I

  1. I’m sick of everone complaining about the rules The only constant is change. All judoka want to see judo improve but know one wants anything to change. Insted of complaining about what someothers have done do something about it yourself. It’s easy to sit on the side line and whine.

  2. I enjoy your site, please, keep more coming. I was wondering what you thought of AAU Judo, since they are not governed by the same rules as the IJF. I am a USA Judo club primary and USJA club secondary, but have the same feelings as you have posted here about the new rules, and definitely agree with Mr. Zyssman as explained in his letter.

    Last year, I attended the AAU Grand Nationals in Kansas, and it was my first dealing with the AAU. I have to say I was extremely impressed. Not only that, the parents of my kids who competed, about 5 families, immediately noticed the difference of the tournament, and told me how relaxed they felt at that tournament, and how good it felt to come to a tournament where they felt it was all about the competitors.

    Thanks for your time, and we would love to interview you on thejudopodcast sometime at

  3. I have looked into the AAU rules, most of which I approve. It’s a good start, but I think we can even do better.

    I’d love to be on your podcast!

  4. Unlike at any other time when rules were changed, the latest IJF rule changes have been so dramatic that many of us are no longer sitting on the sideline and merely whining. We are seeking to take back our sport by actively voicing our displeasure to the officials of the IJF.

  5. Let’s do it then. I know Lance Wicks in the UK has been wanting to talk to you too, so maybe we can all do a podcast in the next couple weeks. Ill send you an email about some possible times. Take care-

  6. First things First,

    American Judo will continue to fail because we eat our young. To become a Referee means to put up with people who you would otherwise tell to kiss your A**. I’ve met several ‘A’ Level referees and the majority of them haven’t put a GI on/nor fought anyone in a great many years. Yet, the up and coming have to bow down to some of these guys in order to have the right to kiss their A** later.

    The rules are the rules. Do they make sense? It doesn’t matter, we have to play with the cards that were dealt. The only way to change the rules is to get some ‘A’ levels to push the envelope, which isn’t going to happen…

    Women’s Championship: In a recession, spending money on a tournament that garners 60-80 players isn’t worth the time. If asked, I would have told my players to save their money for something that can give them points. Although I see the need to increase participation, the cost must be weighed. The glaring difference is that if you have a Women only tournament, they can’t split the cost with their Male counterparts. The Nationals hotel rooms cost $129 per night. It’s cheaper if 2-4 people are staying together than 1 women (that is roughly the numbers 1 in every 4 Judoka is a woman).

    Second, if your going to have a Women’s Championship, have it in Women’s History Month!

    When are the Minority Championships?

  7. Hi Gerald,
    Just surfing the web and came across your blog.
    The first four AWC, were put on by Robert Treat and the Southside Dojo. I was a small part in the dream.
    I have to get to Chicago to referee this am so this will be short for now.
    On the Vegas event….I was not involved with running or organizing. I promoted it but was not consulted on what should happen.
    Yes we were all informed that new rules would not be used and I assured you that the new rules would not be used as that was what I was told. Mr. Bregman took it upon himself to name himself the Chief Referee and changed all that. I brought this up and was told to just shut up and sit down.
    The event was not at all what it was suppose to be but I think that was due to the fact that it was an afterthought put together a month before and not what should have happened. Until ego’s get out of Judo there will be unrest.
    For that I apologize for that event.

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