Where’s the Skepticism within our Judo Culture?

Whether you call it Judo culture, or mentality, or mindset, one thing that’s clearly MIA- missing in action- in our sport is skepticism.  In other words, most of us are meek sheep following some leader who is often misguided, ill-informed, or just simply lost.  We keep marching to the tune of our Judo Pied Piper almost never questioning whether what we are doing makes any sense. Even when it does dawn on us that what we’re doing is crazy, there’s almost no attempt to discuss issues and remedy our lot.  Chalk up this behavior to our traditional hierarchy that instills in the lower ranks unwavering (and unquestioning) respect for our senior ranks.

A few days ago, I was discussing with my good friend Bill Montgomery, Chairman of the USJA Coach Education Committee, why we were having so much trouble getting American coaches to accept new training ideas and pedagogy.  I wondered whether there was a special genetic trait that you needed to have to accept change, or whether skepticism and willingness to change were teachable behaviors.  Why was it so easy for Bill and me to reject traditional dogma, while others struggle or refuse to change?  After all, we all come from the same traditional background.  Needless to say, we don’t yet have the answer to that question, but we’re working on it.

Maureen Stout author of The Feel-Good Curriculum: the dumbing down of American kids in the name of self-esteem explains the nuts and bolts of skepticism much better than I ever could. Here’s what she has to say.

Skepticism is the first step to wisdom….Indeed, a healthy skepticism is, or should be, the foundation of a good education….In practice, being a skeptic means not always accepting what is presented as the truth but examining it carefully, asking questions, demanding evidence, analyzing a situation or concept, then coming to conclusions about what the truth of a situation really is.  Critical thinking, which I have emphasized throughout this book as an essential aspect of public education, should lead to healthy skepticism.  Critical thinking means respecting evidence and logic, and demanding both before arriving at a conclusion regarding the rightness or truth of something, not just accepting at face value what is presented….The more we investigate a topic, the more familiar we become with different views on it, and the more skeptical we become about seemingly simple answers. In research, as in life, if it looks too good to be true, it usually is….We also need to teach children that they should respect the authority and knowledge of their teachers but that teachers are not infallible and they should not be afraid to question what they learn from them. For their part, teachers must become comfortable with the notion that students can and should question their wisdom.

So there you have it.  Teachers- and leaders- are not infallible, and students should not be afraid to rock the boat in a respectful manner.  Here’s another take on the same issue although the author uses “broad-mindedness” as a behavior we should espouse.

Finally, I would like to discuss the need for broad-mindedness.   Broad-mindedness means being open to new ideas as well as the ability to organize various kinds of ideas at the same time without mixing them up.  The reason this is important to the practice of judo is that when there is no broad-mindedness, people often become overly confident in their own beliefs, such that even if there are new ideas that are superior, not only do they not accept these new ideas but in doing so they fail to determine their value, and whether they are good or bad.  The same is likely to happen to anyone with regard to the theories of nage-waza or katame-waza in judo.

The author of this statement is none other than Jigoro Kano, educator par excellence and founder of our sport.  Most judoplayers who deify Kano and accept that his version of Judo is an immutable final product that we must all accept probably have never read this statement.  I’d like to think that had Kano not died in 1938, he would have continued to whittle away at Judo to make it even better.  Instead, most of us are paralyzed in a time warp.

So why do we fail to speak up or be skeptical?  One main reason is that we risk failing to move up the food chain if we speak our mind and question too often.  Whether we are moving up in the referee ranks or belt ranks, or are being considered for a committee appointment, we must be mindful to hold our tongue lest we be blacklisted as I was for years.  In the eyes of our Founding Fathers, we lack virtue.  We value what is important to us more than we value what is best for the sport.  Case in point: high dan promotions.  How can we accept the fact that we have more 9th dans in the United States than France does?  How is it that 9th dan holders are not more skeptical about meriting these high dan ranks?  Why are these people not speaking up and saying, “I don’t deserve this promotion!”

The list of what we should be skeptical about is long.  The drill in which a player does a zempo kaiten (forward roll) over multiple partners causes many injuries and has little redeeming value for our participants.  Yet we continue to use it, and players continue to break collar bones.  Hello!

In a dynamic sport that emphasizes movement, why do we not question the use of static uchi komi?  I know.  We’ve done them for decades and champions do them too.  That’s simply not good enough.  And we would know that if we took the time to learn about motor skill development.

Falls are predicated on what tori does to uke and how he does it.  Yet we spend way too much time on solo ukemi practice.  How does that make sense?

Judo is being attacked from many directions within the grappling world, yet we cling to an archaic, useless training modality that other grappling arts don’t have: kata.  I’m not saying we should ban kata, but let’s get real here.  If we want to be perceived as a functional fighting art, we must do better than formalized kata.  Instead, we sanitize, neuter, and sissify Judo to extremes, and use training methods that have seen better days.  How’s that working out for us in the martial arts world?  Are Americans beating down our doors to learn the manly art of Judo?

How do we not yet understand that earning a black belt in Judo doesn’t prepare us to teach the sport or run a Judo business?  Actually, let me back up here.  Why do we not realize that we must run our clubs as businesses if we care to compete with all the other martial arts available to the consumer?

I don’t know how you feel about being able to become a “certified” coach by merely attending an 8-hour seminar, or, even better, a 3-hour USA Judo “course,” but I’m livid about the whole notion.  Would you accept these standards from your school teachers, doctors, dentists, or lawyers?  Of course, not.  Yet we have no compunction about accepting them for ourselves because, although these courses hardly make us better coaches or more professional, they do earn us the right to coach at tournaments.  Where’s the virtue, my fellow coaches?

And just as we should be skeptical of big government, we should also be skeptical about our national and international organizations, especially the IJF.  Why we allow these organizations to destroy Judo is beyond my comprehension.  Blindly following their diktats is a tragedy.  Can we honestly believe that the clowns who run the IJF have the welfare and best interests of our clubs and students in mind?  I think not.

We can make a positive difference in Judo if we care more about the sport and less about our own personal advancement and political power.  Be skeptical and broad-minded.  Rock the boat.  Choose the harder right over the easier wrong.  Above all, never stop questioning.  Never.

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3 Responses to Where’s the Skepticism within our Judo Culture?

  1. Cheryl Ellis says:

    There is wisdom in what you say. But, are you assuming that everyone would need to part with “old ways” in order to be open-minded and progressive? When I was in graduate school, we were taught counseling techniques using a then-recent book with cute diagrams and pictures. But, it was basically the same process from the old Carl Rogers books, and perhaps others before him. In my active judo days, I was privileged to have classes in the clubs of judo coaches all over the USA (no, not overseas, though my own coach studied abroad for eight years). Many if not most coaches do teach dynamic judo. Some practice rapid sequential drills employing a variety of moves and counters. And, some people just do not want to operate a judo “business” but have other strengths to contribute to the art. People who are less than enthusiastic about a new course or about doing things the same as you would are not necessarily closed-minded and unwilling to develop or “change.” It just might be that they already have been doing things your way for decades and are a little tongue-in-cheek about having to “learn something new.” Consider that most other ‘older’ coaches have developed over the years by learning, practice and experience, same as you. But, of course, everyone can improve, ‘All is Flowing’ and such. And, you have earned your time to lead!
    Respectfully and Questioningly,
    Cheryl Ellis

  2. In my humble opinion, I see four stumbling blocks:

    1. The average participant at a coaching certification course attends only for the certificate and grading points, and does not possess the burning desire to learn or become a better coach.

    2. That same participant has had four to five years training and behavioral conditioning under his or her old school Head Sensei which is hard to change in the prescribed 6-8 hour clinic.

    3. I have watched 2nd and 3rd Dans refuse to offer an opinion when their 6th or 7th Dan colleagues are present; yet those same 2nd and 3rd Dans may have Masters degrees in sports physiology, kinesiology or child development. Old kohai /sempai conditioning.

    4. The three governing bodies – USJA, USJF, and USA JUDO – need to completely rethink the requirements for coaching certifications. Eight hours may suffice for an introductory program at the lowest level, but training competent coaches requires robust multi-day programs supplemented by required reading, assignments, and evaluation. For example, to become a certified coach/instructor in SCUBA diving, Skydiving, Alpine skiing, takes a minimum of 10 days, and often much longer. Earning coaching credentials in Canada, Britain, or France are also long involved programs, but at the end one has a certification that actually means something.

    Respectfully,
    Mark
    Shugyousha

  3. admin says:

    Agree with all four points.

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