Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a promotion ceremony for my business partner, Parker Linekin, a kenpo karate and tai chi instructor. His sensei, Brian Adams, was flying in from the East Coast to promote him to grandmaster 10th dan in Adams’ Integrated Martial Arts system. Adams had been one of the first students of Ed Parker, founder of American Kenpo Karate, and had studied a variety of striking and weapons systems before founding his own system.
After a series of demonstrations by Linekin and his students, Adams took the floor and started talking about the evolution of kenpo karate. Within a few minutes, it was obvious to me that Adams’ remarks would form the basis of my next blog entry. Quickly, I found pen and paper, and started taking notes. While Adams was speaking about kenpo and kung fu, I was already connecting the dots and thinking Judo. Who would have thought that I would learn something new by attending a karate promotion ceremony? Boy, was I lucky.
Ed Parker’s kenpo was initially a strong, brutal, crude system that favored big Hawaiians. Over time, Parker’s kenpo was influenced by other arts, in particular Chinese kung fu, and became more sophisticated. This evolution led Parker to rename his system American Kenpo Karate.
The most important catalyst for the evolution of the striking arts was Bruce Lee. According to Adams, Lee “allowed us to question the validity and realism of the arts.” Lee didn’t favor well-defined, formalized martial art styles, but rather promoted the idea of picking and choosing techniques from many sources, thus creating a more functional “style of no style.”
Today, the martial arts world is open-ended, evolving, with sharing of information, and it’s full of innovation and creativity. Except in Judo, which is stagnating under the mismanagement of the IJF. Slowly but surely, we are going the way of all those arts that didn’t evolve: near extinction.
Near extinction need not be our fate. We have our own Bruce Lee: Geof Gleeson. Gleeson, like Lee, empowered many of us to think outside the box. The problem with Gleeson is that he wasn’t a Hollywood star, so few judoplayers have heard about him, even though he left us a legacy of his thoughts through his books. A few of his disciples, fellow Gleesonians like myself, attempt to spread his thoughts and vision, but it’s an uphill battle.
While other arts are borrowing from each other to make their arts better, Judo is eliminating its “foreign” influences. Judo started out under founder Jigoro Kano as an amalgamation of several jujitsu arts with a minor influence of Western wrestling. Over the years, Judo has further evolved thanks to kosen Judo, sambo, Western wrestling, and now Brazilian jiujitsu. All these influences have made Judo a stronger and more functional art.
But now, as you all know, the IJF has reared its ugly head. Rather than embrace the technical improvements to Judo, it seeks to purify Judo techniques by changing the rules and banning techniques, forgetting that Kano was an innovator who pieced Judo together from various sources. The emasculation of Judo goes against the grain of evolution.
The technical improvements to Judo must continue if we want to keep our sport relevant. It goes without saying that the rules of Judo need to be completely revamped to embrace innovation, creativity, and fighting effectiveness. The IJF is correct in thinking that rules can encourage competitors to perform the Judo we all would like to see. Unfortunately, banning techniques and penalizing players to death isn’t the way to achieve this.
I can’t wait for the day when those who have hijacked Judo are no longer in power. Until then, I will continue to fight the sissification of Judo. Let us stand on the shoulders of the Jigoro Kanos, Bruce Lees, and Geof Gleesons of the world. Let us question and be skeptical of the machinations of the IJF before it’s too late.
I leave you with a final comment on Brian Adams’ presentation. On two occasions, he stated that Judo was best for developing certain combative skills. Would he say the same thing if he knew where Judo was heading today?