Whether you call it Judo culture, or mentality, or mindset, one thing that’s clearly MIA- missing in action- in our sport is skepticism. In other words, most of us are meek sheep following some leader who is often misguided, ill-informed, or just simply lost. We keep marching to the tune of our Judo Pied Piper almost never questioning whether what we are doing makes any sense. Even when it does dawn on us that what we’re doing is crazy, there’s almost no attempt to discuss issues and remedy our lot. Chalk up this behavior to our traditional hierarchy that instills in the lower ranks unwavering (and unquestioning) respect for our senior ranks.
Comfort zone: [definition] a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.
One of the reasons progress has been so slow in coming to American Judo is that we are deeply happy and comfortable with the traditions and training model of our sport, and we don’t want to be the nail that gets hammered down. By golly, if it was good enough for my sensei and his sensei, then it’s good enough for me. Unfortunately for us, progress comes from stepping outside our comfort zone just long enough so that new skills can be learned and better performances can be achieved.
There’s an old saying in team sports that good defense wins games. I’ve never heard any similar statement applied to Judo but I think it should. If good defense does win games, why shouldn’t it also apply to winning matches in Judo? I can’t come up with a rational reason why it shouldn’t. To be more competitive at the international level, it’s time we change our training paradigm on a national scale to reflect this adage.
“It is true in sport you should have respect for any opponent. You need to take him into consideration, but only if in the right amount. You must not be afraid of your opponent. And what’s more, you must not imitate your opponent, nor make an idol of him…It is common knowledge that a copy is worse than the original.” Anatoly Tarasov, father of Russian Ice Hockey
Bringing change to a traditional, culture-influenced sport like Judo often appears to be an exercise in futility. I spite of my best efforts to point out the latest in research or the cultural parallels in other sports, Judo people desperately cling to traditions and old methodologies sometimes for no other reason than, “But it works for the Japanese,” and, “World Champion so-and-so does it, so I’m going to do it.”
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
The problem with stretching man’s mind, especially in a highly traditional sport like Judo, is that it’s fraught with opposition. Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting a USJA Coach Education Course for twenty-two coaches from Southern California. Several had shown up because they had heard that I was controversial! Much to their credit, they came to see and hear for themselves, rather than rely on the words of people who have never had an intelligent conversation with me.
John Locke was correct when he said, “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed without any other reason, but because they are not already common.” While I am considered controversial in Judo, my courses are based on the latest research, and I would be considered mainstream in other fields.
Although most U.S. Judo Association members don’t yet know it, we are working on yet another revamping of the coach education system. It’s unfortunate that we have to address this so soon after the last fix, but four years ago we threw out a lot of good stuff and didn’t replace it with anything meaningful. “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing” is a French proverb that sums up our coaching situation. After serving on the coaching committee for nearly thirty years, I’m getting tired of the changes that seem to make little difference in the quality of our coaches. Continue reading