The Insurance Dilemma

If you live in the United States, you know that liability is a major concern, and that liability insurance is a must. Suffice it to say that we are often paralyzed into a single course of action, or inactivity because of our fear of being sued. If you happen to be active in Judo, this paralysis affects the growth of Judo.

Most coaches won’t send players to non-sanctioned events, even though their players may have proper medical coverage of their own. Referees are told not to participate in non-sanctioned tournaments, even if the tournament happens to be in-house and run by the referee’s own club. More on sanctions later. We are told that tournament rules can’t be changed because “our liability policy may not allow it.” And it’s hard to believe, but one coach told me he would require that Kosei Inoue be a national member before he was allowed on the mat! I can only hope that he was not serious.

In today’s economy, the commercial dojo operator struggles to justify requiring that all members join one of the national organizations just to get liability coverage for the training center, and little else for the members. I’ve started running summer sports camps and birthday parties for non-Judoplayers. I can’t require that these participants join a national organization, so I need another option. On the open market, a dojo operator can buy liability insurance (beginning at around $400 per year) for all in-house activities for far less than it costs all members to join a national organization. The cost of purchasing such coverage can easily be included in membership or registration fees totaling perhaps as little as $10 a year per person.

Companies such as can provide coverage for practices, tournaments, and clinics which alleviates the requirement that all participants be members of the USJA, USJF, USA Judo, or even the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU.) It might come as a surprise, but the AAU offers insurance coverage for its Judo program. In fact, AAU coverage is by far better and cheaper than that offered by our national organizations. Companies that cater to the professional personal trainer (NSCA, IDEA, ACE) can also be called upon to secure liability insurance coverage. In other words, if you are looking for liability coverage, you have many options.

Another advantage of the AAU insurance program is that athletes are authorized to compete in events that are not sanctioned by the AAU as long as an AAU-certified coach is present! This means that AAU athletes could compete in USJA/USJF/USA Judo-sanctioned events if those organizations allowed it. Unfortunately, there is no mutual agreement between the AAU and our national organizations. Thus, competitors with AAU membership can’t compete in USJA/USJF/USA Judo-sanctioned events, and vice versa. Sounds silly. We can drive hundreds of brands and makes of cars, which are covered by dozens of different insurance companies offering many different coverage limits with no problem, but we can’t or won’t figure out how to do this with Judo. Consequently, all Judo tournaments remain small.

In the insurance business, the more participants in the program, the cheaper the individual cost. With three national organizations, the AAU, and many smaller Judo/jujitsu organizations around, why can’t we come up with an umbrella policy that covers all our members? And why doesn’t the U.S. Olympic Committee step up to the plate? Talk about buying power if all national governing bodies came under the same umbrella.

Let’s talk about sanctions now. I can’t seem to figure out why we need sanctions, and more importantly why we need to pay for sanctions, for special events (camps, clinics and tournaments) when you consider that all participants must be members of a national organization. It would be different if the sanction allowed me to invite participants who were not members of a national organization, like let’s say AAU members. But that is not the case, because the sanction specifies that participants must be members of a national organization. So the only reason for paying for a sanction must be because it’s a fund raiser for somebody.

USJA, USJF, and USA Judo insurance coverage pales in comparison to AAU’s insurance coverage. The $2,500 deductible on medical coverage makes the medical part of the program good for catastrophic injuries only. We should question whether having this medical coverage is the best bang for our bucks, especially when most players in our sport have their own medical coverage, and those who don’t have private insurance are probably covered by state and federal programs.

We also need to realize that more and more groups of grapplers are springing up and wanting to enter Judo tournaments. Two things impede us from taking advantage of this large number of fighters:  terrible IJF rules and national membership requirement. We can manipulate both issues to our advantage, if we want to. We know what needs to be done with the rules: desissify Judo, and ignore the IJF.  On the issue of membership, we could allow non-members to compete by merely paying an additional $5. That extra money would go directly to the sanctioning organization.  Many organizations have different fees for members and non-members. Why can’t we do the same in Judo? The advantage is that more players could participate. This benefits players, the tournament hosts, and the sanctioning entity.

When it comes to insurance coverage, I believe we can do better for the Judo community.  Solving the problem requires that we step outside our box and comfort zone, and see things from a different perspective. Doing so will help more clubs expand their programs and increase survivability. It should also lead to more participants in Judo tournaments. That’s my opinion, and I’m holding to it.

2 thoughts on “The Insurance Dilemma

  1. Preach it. My former instructor Chris Dewey has done this for years now. I agree that the cost of USJA/JI/JF membership including insurance, for what little you get from it, is a huge disincentive to membership. There are plenty of small JJ and Judo orgs out there that would support one of the “Big Three” or maybe all three of them at once, if the useless insurance were no longer an issue. Rank fees fall under a similar discussion….

  2. Thanks for passing the information to your readers about the AAU Gerry. If anyone is intrested, they can go to or to get more information or to join the AAU.
    One comment you made about grapplers who are not judo people attending judo tournaments is a valid one. We have had numerous submission grapplers, BJJ people, sambo wrestlers and jujitsu people participate in our AAU Freestyle Judo tournaments. Some do better than others and anyone who enters must realize that freestyle judo is judo and not a variation of submission grappling, BJJ or jujitsu. If anyone would like more information about freestyle judo, they can go to my web site or e-mail me.
    One of the great things about AAU Judo besides the insurance coverage is the fact that the AAU is not involved in belt ranks. But, that’s a discussion for another time.

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