I’d like to start off my first post in 2013 by wishing you a Happy New Year, and by thanking you for your continued interest and support of my blog.
You’re probably not going to hear me say this very often, but the IJF’s latest decision to allow armbars for 15-16 year olds is a good move for a change. USA Judo promptly followed suit since it never preempts or contradicts the IJF. Players competing in the Juvenile B (USA Judo) or IJF Cadet division can now do what thousands of BJJ fighters and submission wrestlers participants have been doing all along- straightening arms out or bending them. Participants in these divisions must hold the rank of sankyu though.
While I’m happy for the age change, I have to ask the question. What ever happened to the often repeated mantra that armbars are too dangerous for kids under 17? Have 15- and 16-year olds become so much more mature in the last few years that it’s now safe for them to crank arms? What about those growth plates? Here’s the rationale from the IJF.
Cadets are, for many of them, on the eve of an international career. Therefore, it seems obvious that they can practice the arm-locks, in order to prepare for the juniors. In fact, as soon as they enter in the juniors, athletes can participate in senior competitions. They need to be ready.
The justification makes sense. Coaches don’t typically send their players into international competition without having them practice required skills like armbars well before they are authorized to use said skills in sanctioned tournaments. As many juniors are in fact fighting in senior divisions, they need to be able to ply their skills at a younger age.
Now that 15- and 16-year olds can officially perform armbars in competition, it means that they will be practicing these skills in their home clubs at 13 or 14. Again this makes sense. So, what’s my point you might ask? Well, why not start even sooner?
A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with my son-in-law, Israel Hernandez, double Olympic bronze medalist. He indicated to me that back in Cuba when he was a boy, he can remember young kids, much younger than 15 or 16, being allowed to do armbars and chokes in tournaments with one caveat. They were not allowed to make the skills effective enough to force a tap out or make their partner pass out. Referees would stop the action once the proper position had been obtained. No need to go past a 90 degree angle when applying Juji gatame. In addition to developing proper ne waza biomechanics and positions, this policy led to early recognition of armbar and choke opportunities without the fear of injuries.
I’m a firm believer in the early introduction of these ne waza skills for all ages with, of course, age-appropriate restrictions. Like the Cuban model, recognition of opportunity and proper body positioning are the focal points. For most of my kids, armbars and chokes are stopped short of effectiveness. And they produce no injuries.
It’s important they we come to grips with what the grappling community is doing if Judo is to remain relevant. We must quit infantilizing Judo and start thinking outside the box. If kids in submission wrestling and BJJ can do Judo ne waza skills, why can’t Judo kids do Judo ne waza skills?
I’d like to encourage coaches to experiment with an outside-the-box approach to teaching armbars and chokes during practices before rejecting the notion entirely. If you’re like me, you’ll find out that the practice is quite safe provided the restrictions are in place and the focus is on positioning and not effectiveness.
While I have little confidence that this approach will be recognized and implemented by any of the national organizations, perhaps Freestyle Judo will bite. Let’s reverse the model for change from top down to bottom up. For those of you who host your own in-house tournaments or friendly meets, this would be a great opportunity to experiment, and a great way to make Judo relevant. Let’s start a new tradition in 2013.