The Evolution of an Art

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?

5 thoughts on “The Evolution of an Art

  1. Two thoughts I belive to be factual. Judo came to prominence because of competitive competence, if not superiority. Martial Arts that are not competitively superior fade. The choice is ours.

    David Schrock

  2. An interesting read. As a personal friend of the late Geoff Gleeson I appreciate the references to him. Geoff had a problem with the establishment. He was too intellectual for some, (his books can be a heavy read) envied by others and he did not suffer fools gladly. I have not been involved with coaching for many years but I teach Aikido to a small class and run the occasional seminar for judoka. I use their bodies to develop new skills both within Judo rules and for self defence. It is a fascinating journey and some of the skills seem totally effortless. I suggest the following scenario. We live in a closed society and our Glorious Leader decides we would enter the international sports arena; to include Judo. We had never seen Judo; had no access to Fighting Films or any books. All we were given is the objective of the sport (throw, immobilise, submit) and a book of rules. No doubt we should reinvent some skills that were familiar to Judo but with such an open outlook we would develop many more that were not. Mr Lafon I feel that we have much in common and would welcome an exchange of views. For example would you permit me to publish some of your blogs on my website with accreditation to you? I would be happy for you to do likewise from my site. email:

  3. Thanks for the kind words and for the suggestion that we exchange views. Fire away. Feel free to use my blogs, and I will reciprocate. Looking forward to future discussions, especially vis a vis Geof Gleeson.

  4. Hi Gerald,
    I am a bit of a duffer re blogs. My website was set up by a friendly Canadian who commented on my DVD. I get an email response re your blog from Planet Judo. I am really looking forward to some collaboration with you. By way of some background regarding Geof Gleeson:-

    I am largely self taught through living in the west of England (Torquay) I met Geof through our Area coach Jerry Hicks, who was one of Geofs 4 main collaborators (about 1962) In 1966 I won the British light Weight trials and from that time on became great friends with Hicks and subsequently Gleeson. Geof was not a major influence on my judo but I was pleased to hear quite recently from his wife Dickie, that Geof regarded me as the best of the bunch and was sorry that he was unable to take me under his wing. he felt that my spontaneous style would be spoilt by the establishment. The Gleeson family stayed with us in Torquay on numerous occasions and the Hicks , Da Costa, Gleesons considered ourselves a tribe. My international contest career finished in 1975 and gradually I had been groomed to take on coaching. We invigorated the Western Area coaching scene between us. Geof conducted several seminars where he would lecture and I would provide practical teaching examples.
    Although Geof is no longer with us, we have remained just as close to his family. Geof’s son Finn spent 4 years in Japan. He now lives in Bath with his Japanese wife Minoko and his two children. The youngest has been winning gymnastic competitions against girls several years older. Jerry Hicks son Simon, was married to my eldest daughter. Before Simon (Fighting Films) died he was able to enjoy his baby son. I mentioned to Finn that hoped to exchange views with you. He is particularly interested in the comments you have about his father. I have written in haste.
    Best wishes

  5. Thanks for the follow-up. I am really excited about pursuing additional information on Geof. It’ll be great to talk with Finn. Please forward him my email address. I have been trying to figure out how to get some of Geof’s books reprinted for the generations of players and coaches who know nothing about his works. Perhaps Finn can help.

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