Back in January 2010, I announced that the USJA was going to create new rules for “developmental” tournaments. That was great news. I thought that some sanity would return to our sport after the IJF’s latest, and drastic, rule changes were announced. Well, the results are in, and I am very disappointed, but not totally shocked.
When I got wind that Martin Bregman and his referee committee were working on a set of developmental rules, I knew that their finished product would hardly be what I considered developmental. And it isn’t. I fired off a series of emails to the USJA board to voice my concerns. This is what I told the board:
I applaud the USJA for trying to create a set of rules for developmental purposes. Coaches throughout the country have already been doing this informally for years. However, I find it unconscionable to allow the referees committee to formulate these rules. Referees are responsible for screwing up Judo, even if they won’t take responsibility for this fact. They can’t keep pointing the finger at the IJF, while acting like they too are victims. Our referees, to the detriment of Judo development in this country, follow the diktats of the IJF lock, stock and barrel. They should not even be consulted when it comes to creating these developmental rules.
New rules should be developed by coaches who understand that competition is but one aspect of the overall technical development of our athletes. Coaches have a vested interest in developing better athletes. Referees don’t. We need to start treating tournaments (and rules) as more than a means to merely designate winners and losers. If you haven’t already done so, please read Where’s Judo’s Futsal? to get a better perspective of what we can achieve with rules that facilitate technical development. This is a serious undertaking, and referees should not be allowed within a thousand miles of this project.
Only four members answered, and all agreed that the referees should be involved. Again, I was disappointed, but not totally shocked. In subsequent emails, I stated that putting referees in charge of rules is like asking criminals to effect penal reform, and I mentioned there is a reason that rules for professional sports in North America are voted on by the owners of the teams and not by the guys officiating.
USJA President DeMars justified her selection of three A referees for the project by saying that they were also coaches and past competitors; true, but irrelevant. All three are by training, mindset, and outlook referees! They are referees who happen to also teach/coach Judo. That does not make them coaches with the mindset of a coach. This distinction is important because their final project reflects their inability and unwillingness to think outside the referee box.
So what are the modifications? In a nutshell, penalties will be lessened for first time infractions: shido for grabbing a leg, followed by hansoku make; shido for a small gi with an opportunity to change into a bigger gi; and penalty-free verbal warnings. My gosh, these guys really stretched their minds, didn’t they? This is exactly what I expected from referees: obvious changes that still don’t go far enough, nothing earth-shattering, and no outside-the-box thinking.
OK, so fewer penalties are always a great idea, but let’s be honest here, these rules are not very developmental. We need rules that will promote sound, technical skills. We need to eliminate winning matches by penalties. We need to use a reward system for good Judo rather than a punishment system for bad Judo. We should reward with higher scores those skills we want to see performed by our athletes, and conversely downgrade the scores for skills we don’t want to see. We must also minimize the risk factor associated with attacks.
These are some of the ways we can accomplish the above. Eliminate most of the penalties we give out. Referees need to issue verbal warnings to shape the match. I know this works because I use this system in my in-house events. AAU and freestyle Judo rules also use this, and it makes for more exciting matches. Players must win via positive Judo and not penalty-derived scores.
To eliminate the risk factor of attacks, do way with the match-ending ippon. Let the match continue for a set time, and allow for many ippons. Mitch Palacios has run tournaments in San Francisco that require two ippons to win.
To encourage the development of standing Judo, and to mitigate flop and drop Judo, downgrade the scores of flop and drop techniques regardless of the impact, or ignore them for scoring purposes. There’s no need to ban them however. We have already emasculated Judo enough.
The purpose of developmental tournaments should be twofold: to encourage the development of technical Judo, and to encourage the participation of more players in Judo tournaments. We can achieve these objectives by using a reward system rather than a punishment system, and by increasing TIM (time in a match) by removing terminal ippons. We should also think about doing away with the standard scores and using numerical values instead. This would enable us to reward more of the skills we want to see in Judo.
I’m tired of ten-second matches under a modified double elimination system. Throw in hansoku make for illegal leg grabs and small gis, and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to technical growth and participation. This is precisely what we are experiencing now. Developmental tournaments should also use the round robin or double elimination system.
Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. The USJA’s developmental rules are not really developmental. They are modified, which is better than the full IJF rules, but not by much. We need to send this rule project back to a committee that can think about the technical development of our athletes by thinking outside the box. Our referees couldn’t get the job done if their life depended on it. I want a do-over. Of course, nothing prevents coaches from developing their own set of rules and running tournaments as they see fit. Sadly, this may be where true change comes from.