I have often voiced my concerns that current IJF rules are undermining participation in Judo in the U.S., and perhaps in other nations as well, although I don’t have any evidence to that effect. I’ve also touched upon from time to time how these rules are also undermining the technical development of our players. With that in mind, I’d like to present a case for eliminating the match-ending terminal ippon.
Some of you may already know that early Kodokan rules required two ippons to win a match. These were real ippons with both shoulders on the mat, and the opponent’s body impression left in the tatami. The story goes that with escalating militarism in Japan decades prior to World War II, the military insisted on the adoption of a single, terminal ippon to symbolize death on the battlefield. Since then, we’ve been stuck with this relic.
A few days ago, I was talking with one of my assistant coaches, who also happens to coach his daughter’s soccer team. He was wondering why young kids play on full-size fields, rather than on smaller fields. Playing on a smaller field would allow the players more touches on the ball. More touches would translate into more soccer skills for the same amount of training time. This was the same concept I covered in Where’s Judo’s Futsal? The smaller field is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, but the soccer luminaries thought otherwise when my assistant suggested the idea. You can almost hear them say, “Well, they’ll have to play on full-size fields sooner or later, so why not start now?”, missing entirely the idea that what’s good for adults is not necessarily good for kids.
In Judo, we have the same development issues, and our luminaries are just as clueless as those in soccer. Imagine if games were ended as soon as someone hit a home run in baseball, or a 3-point shot in basketball, or the first point of the first set in tennis. Thankfully, these contests are allowed to continue for well-defined limits (innings, time, or sets,) giving competitors the opportunity to overcome early mistakes and shortcomings, and still win the game. Not in Judo though.
When your beginning seven-year old makes one mistake ten seconds into the match, which results in an ippon, how much development occurred? Not much, right? TIM, or time in a match, is crucial for the competitive development of players. Therefore, matches should continue for a set period. Increased TIM equals more skill development. For this reason, terminal ippon should be eliminated.
Rules are getting more complex and harder to administer correctly, and ippon seems to get softer and softer by the week. Eliminating the influence of referees, bad referees in particular, and marginalizing ippon are important development considerations as we seek to increase TIM. For that reason, terminal ippon should be eliminated. It goes without saying that, overall, the rules require major surgery.
We lament the fact that Judo matches are boring, yet we can’t seem to understand that when rules allow for a quick end to a match, and penalize players for more acts that they are rewarded for, players will not risk much and will resort to boring Judo and tactics. None of us signed up for that.
Technical development is pretty simple. Train the way you expect to fight. Most tournaments should be used to gauge your progress rather than to win medals or trophies. Accordingly, in development tournaments, we should encourage and facilitate more attempts at doing positive Judo and more creativity in dealing with the opponents. More attempts are only possible if the risk is mitigated or outright eliminated. More attempts (like more touches on the ball in soccer) and less risk amount to greater skill development and increased TIM. For that reason, terminal ippon should be eliminated.
Finally, the elimination of terminal ippon would greatly improve the martial arts skills of our players. Nothing irritates me more than seeing my players score a big throw in training, act like the match has ended, and then promptly get pinned or submitted by a player who didn’t know he should have stopped fighting after he was thrown for an ippon. I’ m tired of the “I threw you for an ippon, so what you did to me after that doesn’t count” attitude. What happens to you after your throw does count, silly! It counts in most combative sports, and it sure as heck counts in the street where your life is at stake! For that reason alone, terminal ippon, and the mentality it engenders, should be eliminated.
I’m pleased to find out that more and more coaches are running small tournaments that eliminate terminal ippon. It’s a good start, but I look forward to the day that all events are run that way. Only the AAU has chosen to adopt rules (AAU freestyle rules) that do away with terminal ippon. Our official grassroots organizations- USJA and USJF- should seriously consider grassroots development and grassroots rules. They’re not at this point, because they’re wrapped up in the “they’ll have to play by IJF rules sooner or later, so why not start now?” mentality. What they fail to realize is that, in the long run, only a very small percentage of judoplayers in the U.S. will ever “have to” fight by IJF rules. Since we already know that USA Judo will simply parrot the IJF, not much relief can be expected from this organization.
If you are running tournaments that feature full matches, I’d like to hear from you.