This is Developmental?

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.

11 thoughts on “This is Developmental?

  1. Hi Gerald,

    Why the heck didn’t they just copy the Judo Canada developmental rule sets? Those are quite good, and are already being implemented in Canada. The coaches I know in BC are all for them.

    Ben Reinhardt

  2. I like this. I may steal liberally from it for when I get certified as a ref (to hold my own tournaments) and put the rules I want in place so my players and other like-minded coaches and players can get in some good, fun shiai that’s educative!

  3. I think the reason is obvious. Not much thought went into the modifications. Tell me more about the Canadian rules, i.e. where to find them.

  4. A couple of years back I have mentioned CCSF Judo (M. Palacio) tournament with “double ippon” matches on judoforum… Got a lot of beef from the “judo purists” that would rather push novice people away than bend the rules and adapt.
    The point system you’ve mentioned reminds me of SAMBO. In SAMBO they also judge the quality of throw, as highest point possible only if the attacker remains on his feet after the throw.

  5. Wow….Really??…a shido first before Hansokumake?? Wonder how long it took them to figure that one out? Ridiculous! I have downloaded the judo scoreboard from and you can check “Monster Kosen Rules” in the settings, which allows for multiple ippon’s and wazari’s. That is what we are going to do build off of for our development program here at my club. Also, based on our conversation on the podcast, we are going to start having more inhouse tournaments using these rules, and are looking at developing a 3-month league.

  6. This plus the new Gi manufacturers rules, which some brilliant mind will let creep down the tournament chart, will continue to ruin developmental Judo. And face it, most Judo in this country is developmental up to the Nationals as far as caliber of player.

    AAU and Freestyle Judo rules are starting to look better and better.

  7. The politics involved with the excessive over sportification of Judo infuriate me to no end so I don’t often post in these types of forums. On the other hand; what the hell…

    I can’t speak to the international or national level but, in my opinion, on the state/local basis the practical application of the rules, by the refs, actually promotes the flop and drop “strategy” and play for an opponent’s penalty type judo because there is minimal risk to tori for a failed “technique” and the criteria to score ippon has been degraded down to yuko/koka quality. In my warped logic the solution seems simple; create a disincentive to flop and drop by increasing the risk and decreasing the reward to tori. This can easily be accomplished by giving the players a real opportunity (45-60sec) to progress in newaza (not the 5-10 second BS that seems to be the normal application) and go back to a more stringent criteria of ippon where uke must land (largely) flat on his back with technique, speed, force and control, etc. to warrant the score.

    Making these adjustments, flop and drop instantly becomes less attractive a strategy. Tori is no longer “safe” as he would have play from the turtle (or guard, ½ guard, etc.) for an extended period (increase the risk) to get a restart. With the more stringent criteria (decrease reward) the likelihood of achieving ippon, i.e. drop seoinage, is diminished.

    While we’re at it we should throw out these new rules prohibiting “leg grabs” and “grips below the belt” and all this subjective interpretation of “intent” by the referee etc. (Gasp!; that wasn’t very PC or congruous with the IJF’s present hallucination of what “judo” is supposed to be.) If you want to discourage those type of techniques, cap their scoring potential at wazari or even yuko, one could propose the same scoring restriction for drop seoi, drop kata guruma, etc. but banning part of the Gokyo from competition is just plain wrong and stupid.

    I’m no judo historian but I would venture a guess that were Kano alive today he would be very disappointed with the collective way the “leaders” of judo have shaped its future.

  8. Why not swiss-system tournaments? You haven’t mentioned it, but it is a very smart tournament system, you should definitely check it out: here is a link .
    In my opinion it is strictly preferable over round robin in most tournaments, as round robin is definitely too time expensive. And everyone gets to fight the same number of matches even if you lose them all (not just one or two).
    As a mathematician, I have been interested for quite a long time in models for tournaments; feel free to contact me about it.

  9. I knew nothing about the Swiss system. Upon reading the link, I now know scantly more. Could you provide us with a sample of pairings for let’s say a 16-man pool?

    I like the round-robin system. If used for divisions up to 6, it’s hardly more time consuming than a double elimination. For larger divisions, I like the system we used to use at the U.S. Open, which is the one used for the Ladies Belgian Open, namely round-robin pool play (pools of 4 or less) for the preliminary fights, followed by a repechage system with the top two finishers of each pool. It’s the best of two worlds. More importantly, it’s great for the development of the players.

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