Show Me the Evidence!

Several months ago, I had a heated discussion with my assistant coach who happens to be an international referee.  As usual, the conversation revolved around the silly IJF rules, and how he could not support my transition away from IJF rules Judo to my own version of Judo competition, which is similar to AAU Freestyle Judo.  Upon telling him that I needed to move on in order to keep Judo relevant, and that lots of people had similar concerns and had made the same decision as I had, he demanded that I show him the evidence. Furthermore, he stated that he wasn’t interested in Judo that can’t be done outside the dojo.  Small mind.

Well, the evidence is all around us if we are willing to take off the blinders.  Mr. Referee has a problem understanding the demise of Judo in the U.S. because he doesn’t step outside his comfort zone, which is his little world of sanctioned tournaments and referee colleagues.  He can’t hear the disgruntled voices on the martial arts discussion lists.  He doesn’t field the phone calls from prospective members who inquire whether my dojo’s curriculum is IJF rules-based.

He is not aware of the clubs that have switched over to Freestyle or AAU rules, or left Judo for submission grappling or BJJ because he doesn’t interact on Facebook.  Since he’s not the person responsible for the financial welfare of the club, he hasn’t bothered to look around to see that for every Judo club in a community, there are 4-6 BJJ and MMA clubs, not to mention the still large number of taekwondo studios.  No, all he cares about is the next sanctioned event he can referee.

What about the evidence of disenchantment within the international community?  Even if you search casually on the Internet, you’ll find that there are many international organizations that are dedicated to a Judo that is other than IJF Judo.  If you are a reader of my blog you know that the World Judo Federation was founded in August 2011.

Many of us were rooting for the WJF to adopt different competition rules, but so far we have been disappointed.  That may be changing though.  WJF is a member of The Association For International Sport for All (TAFISA), which is going to hold the TAFISA Games in July 2012.  WJF has queried its national organizations to see if there’s support for participating in these Games.  I don’t know whether Judo will participate, but one thing is certain: according to Dr. Hoglund, the WJF Vice-President, “the demonstration/competition should be for a “different Judo” than the “Olympic Judo” administrated by the IJF.”

Steve Scott from the AAU and I have been lobbying the WJF to discard the IJF rules and adopt AAU Freestyle rules or something similar.  I’ve received support from Dr. Ivica Zdravkovic from Serbia who writes:

My full support to this suggestion- freestyle judo or any similar form of FREE Judo, with more groundfight, which will attract BJJ people. I am afraid that leaders of WJF have forgotten that the initial Kodokan rules were actually “free style” rules. I run “maybe-soon-to-become” a member organization of WJF on behalf of Serbia, but we still hesitate in here, because if WJF insists on using the same rules like IJF, then it makes no sense founding new organization. I also run International Shinbudo Association (ISA) where we have large international championships and we already use rules that we call “JUDO GRAPPLING” – which is similar to freestyle judo and is a mixture of judo and BJJ.

Still not enough evidence?  Here’s another distressing clue.  Since 1970, the population of the U.S. has grown by 100 million- a 50% increase!- yet the number of registered members in our three national organizations has not budged.  In fact, the numbers are so low that these organizations are enrolling members who do other arts.

How do you explain the lack of Judo’s growth?  Either Judo is no longer appealing to Americans, or Americans are doing Judo in clubs that no longer belong to the establishment.  My vote is for both.  Judo is becoming unappealing and irrelevant mainly because it has been sissified, and many of us operate “underground.”

The cure to our irrelevance and slow death is to put back the Judo that was taken out, and do Judo the way it was intended to be played.  Have the courage to make the change within your club, and to unite with us on the national and international scene.  Let’s show Mr. Referee the evidence!

13 thoughts on “Show Me the Evidence!

  1. Gerry,
    Great post. Here are some of my thoughts from AAU Judo’s perspective. AAU Judo has a bit more than 1,300 judo athletes registered. I do not know what the membership numbers are for USA Judo, USJA or USJF are, but I can report that (in AAU Judo) we have seen a steady increase in membership and activity from 2009 to present. And while I am pleased to see this steady growth, it is small in comparison to the growth of BJJ and submission grappling in the United States.
    Judo people have to come to terms with the very real notion that judo is not the dominant martial art (or even dominant martial art that is grappling-based) anymore. The popularity of MMA has brought along the popularity of BJJ and other forms of submission grappling. In fact, there is also a definite increase in popularity for the traditional forms of jujitsu as well as “sport jujitsu” in both the United States and internationally. While judo is an Olympic sport, that isn’t enough to sustain it, in terms of popularity.
    In AAU Judo, it’s been our goal to provide a variety of competitive opportunities for judoka in the United States. We offer tournaments 1-using the regular AAU Judo rules (not IJF, as we allow Kata Guruma, Morote Gari, Te Guruma, etc.), 2-using freestyle judo rules, 3-technique tournaments, 4-kata tournaments. In other words, we are attempting to offer a variety of judo activities that the public will be interested in doing. Also, we have made it very clear that AAU Judo is a development program and we encourage people to participate in USA Judo, USJA and USJF activities. (By the way, we are hosting the National AAU Freestyle Judo Championships and National AAU Technique Tournament March 23-24 in Kearney, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City.)
    But again, the fact remains that the number of people doing judo is small compared to the number of people doing other grappling-based martial arts, especially in the United States. Go to a big regional NAGA submission grappling tournament and you will see over 1,000 athletes entered. Compare that to a big regional judo tournament and see 250 to 300 athletes entered. It doesn’t take a genius to see what is happening.
    There are an increasing numbers of clubs that offer a variety of grappling sports (mine included) and not exclusively judo. My athletes compete in judo (including freestyle judo), sambo, BJJ, submission grappling (with various organizations), sport jujitsu and anything else we can find that looks interesting. As I said, my club isn’t unique in doing this. The powers-that-be in judo need to realize that this is what is taking place and they do not have a monopoly on grappling-based martial arts anymore.
    Several years ago, I coined the phrase “judo snob” to describe the person you mentioned in your post Gerry. These are the people who look down their noses at the rest of us, but the fact remains that these judo snobs are becoming (increasingly) fewer in number as time goes on. By the way, there are “BJJ snobs” just as well. These are the BJJ people who think anything not Brazilian is something they look down their noses at. That’s human nature, but it is something that we have to deal with on a regular basis.
    To steal a quote from someone else (not sure who said it originally); “Prof. Kano invented judo, not the IJF.” What we have done in AAU Judo is to ignore the judo snobs and pursue judo as a competitive sport, method of physical education and as an enjoyable activity that can be be studied for a lifetime. You can show the evidence to the judo snobs, but it really doesn’t matter (to people like me at least) if they accept it or not. We’re still going to pursue judo in the manner we wish. Freestyle judo is growing in popularity, as are the other types of judo competition offered by a variety of groups and organizations, whether the judo snobs like it or not.
    By the way, thanks for doing this blog.

  2. My family and I were Judoka big time. Now I run a wrestling club. Love both styles, but have a hard time with the restrictive rules in Judo that have come down recently. Freestyle Judo looks awesome. Like the way we would fight in our club, as apposed to tournaments. Please keep up the fight.

  3. This post is dead on! Judo is dying a slow death because we as Martial Artist were taught to Learn, Adapt, and Evolve first and Foremost! Judo is going the opposite direction. Let’s say my Sensei taught me the finer points of “Grappling Judo” which he did because he was almost 70 when I started to train with him. As a result my Newaza is simply amazing but I never get a chance to display it because we are stood up as soon as we hit the mat. So I as a club member am expected to pay yearly fees to USA Judo or some other organization in order to compete in a sanction tournament that penalizes me for having strong Newaza. Add in the cost of a plane ticket, gas, Hotel, and food to get to these events and I am unable to play to my strengths. I think I will pass! I love the Stand up Judo but I also love the Grappling aspect of Judo as well. I have rolled with several BJJ players and they always ask me how long I’ve been training BJJ. I just laugh and tell them that this is “Old School” Judo. I see no reason to support a style that is being watered down daily. I train for self defense, health, friendship, etc… I could care less if I ever attended another sanctioned Judo TOURNAMENT! However, I have learned to evolve and cross train with people who are very good at things Judo doesn’t allow anymore. As a result I am able to submit opponents in a short time if we hit the mat! I am all for any organization that is smart enough to allow people to compete in an ART that was formed from Japanese Ju Jitsu and not penalize me for developing a VERY STRONG NEWAZA GAME! Let’s keep it Real People! Judo as we know it today is Quick, Flashy, Throws and if you can’t accept that you may as well not Waste your time or money! There are simply to many choices in today’s Mixed Martial Arts world to settle for something that is a shell of it’s original self. To each there own, but I prefer to spend my time, money and energy on something that gives back and supports those who support it.

  4. Don,
    It sounds like freestyle judo is something you will enjoy. I hope you get involved. We now have a Facebook group for freestyle judo. We need more people who are willing to host freestyle judo tournaments and get involved.

  5. Not sure if that’s the Donald Mills near me in Memphis. If so, Hi!

    Steve, my club is still in the baby stage but getting up to one of your freestyle tournaments and hopefully hosting one here are on my list. It’s far off in the future, but I also want to get you down here for a clinic as well.

  6. Hi from Serbia! I just wanted to thank to the author for mentioning me and I want to confirm dedication of many people in International Shinbudo Association (ISA) which I run to the mixture of “JIF Judo” and grappling arts of BJJ, “classical judo” and MMA. I am quite sure that Kano shihan would be backing us today, not the JIF and their stubborn xenophobia. Even despite all the glamour of Olympic games… It is not all about Olympic status (and that is the keypoint why JIF ats the way they do…). There are so many Olympic sports and disciplines that no one cares about. On the oter side, BJJ, grappling, submission sports – ATTRACT SO MANY PEOPLE. Whyo would judo, REAL JUDO, give up on this “wondering crowd” – when they all actualy do JUDO? To quote a joke: “BJJ stands for Basically Just Judo”. I wish we could join the forces of Freestyle Judo that you do, AAU judo and “Judo Grappling” that we do in here. That could be the engine power of the new WJF, if they are wize ebough to see the future.

    Greetings to all!

    Ivica Zdravkovic, MD
    ISA president, 7th Dan jujutsu, 3rd Dan judo

  7. I would love it if you would share with us the differences between Freestyle Judo and the Judo grappling that you do in Serbia.

    In the Mid-Atlantic, there are judo black belts working hard to branch out into BJJ to teach judo, keep it relevant and attract more athletes. Let’s face it, in a BJJ competition having the ability to score with a takedown or a takedown into side control can be a huge advantage particularly for players who like to take the top position. So judo should be benefitting from the popularity of BJJ. Instead, judo is too much of a moving target away from self-defense and grappling sports. As we get cross-trained BJJ athletes and wrestlers interested in judo competition, new rules come along to ban gi styles, techniques, etc., that frustrate their attempts to participate. I hear that the USJF is now going to ban armlocks in novice divisions without any evidence of an increase in the number of injuries due to armlocks. The intent is only to prevent cross-over BJJ athletes from winning at a novice level. At our last yudanshakai promotional/tournament, there appeared to be more referees than competitors. Very frustrating! Learn some freakin’ newaza like the old school judoka! Aaaghhh!!!!

  9. I thought armbars were already illegal in novice divisions. Notwithstanding that, I agree that Judo needs to teach players more ne waza skills early on. That way, you don’t have to protect your players from outsiders willing to give Judo competition a try. That being said, what our “leaders” do is far too often illogical and counterproductive.

  10. Anyone watching judo at the London Olympics? I’d have to say the accumulation of rule changes has been a disaster.

    When one player gets a dominant grip, instead of countering with leg attacks the other player is forced to pretend he has been knocked down to his knees and turtle or go out of bounds. So the matches are a continuous series of furious gripping, falling on knees, hiding in turtle, going out of bounds and mate and penalty calls. I can’t get my family to watch it, they think it looks ridiculous. And this is all because of rules that provide the wrong incentives.

    Here are my suggestions:
    1. There should be a score awarded if a player is caught in turtle (not another penalty). The emphasis on hiding in turtle looks really bad in sport and would be even worse in a self defense situation. It is embarassing to watch judo players that constantly appear to be hiding from their opponent and then win on a technicality.

    2. Players that go out of bounds while not in the middle of a throw should be moved to the center of the mat while holding the same grips. This would eliminate the incentive to maneuver out of bounds to escape a dominant grip.

    3. Bring back leg attacks. The ban on leg attacks has not resulted in higher quality judo and the loss of techniques does not help the sport.

    My comments do not apply to competitors like Travis Stevens and Kayla Harrison. They fought like lions. Kayla is completely dominant and Stevens fought truly inspiring matches against tough opponents. Courageous matches and always looking for an opportunity to put the opponent away with submissions and newaza. He beat Bischof for certain and should have medaled.

    Let’s watch as the IJF responds with another set of penalties and limitations: no cross gripping, no gripping the belt, no grip behind the neck – and hansokumake for any violation.

  11. i have to say i like the leg attack rules in IJF, not because they “had to be different than wrestling” which to me is stupid but because a grappler who is forced to defend himself on the street can get seriously injured trying one of these moves, especually if he does not set up the attack with good punching and kicking combinations to distract the opponent first. NOT TO SAY I AM SUPPORTING ALL THE OVER REGULATIONS that is turning judo into Mixed Martial Footsweeping. But I think Judo needs to be an art that can help people defend themselves. For supporting evidence, Shinya Aoki just lost one of his most recent bouts by initiating an attack with a single leg takedown and got knocked out by knee strike from an opponent with very little grappling experience.

  12. Anyone can get seriously injured using any technique if he is not properly trained. There are too many variables to say that technique x shouldn’t be used in the street or in the ring.

  13. Fabulous post!

    Well written and right on every point.

    I fell in love with JUDO back in 1968. At that time Kodokan Judo was truly the greatest sport on earth. I can vividly recall Airmen, Marines and other soldiers conversing about “Judo chops” and how great Judo was a self-defense system for women.

    Fast forward to the present and what do we see happened to Judo? IJF has killed it. Literally, killed it. The hogwash that they call Judo, is an insult to the legacy of the Masters who taught us and Judoka who know better.

    Forget IJF! Freestyle Judo is the wave of the future.

    Kevin D. James-Sensei

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