To the best of my recollection, nothing has awakened or maddened the Judo community like the new IJF rules, which make their debut in 2010. My greatest fear is that in spite of all the grumbling and anger, Judo people once again will get in line like meek sheep and do nothing to take our sport back from the lords of the rules. Case in point: an official from the USJA told me that although she didn’t like the rules, and considered them stupid, they were still going to run a January tournament with the new rules. Mind you, this tournament is not some national or state tournament. In fact, it’s marketed as a unique tournament devoted to a small segment of our athletes- female athletes. You would think they would ignore the rule changes to make this event even more unique. So far, that’s not the case.
A colleague of mine recently suggested that, “The person with the power to do something about this [rule changes] for local and regional competition is the tournament director.” He’s only partially correct. The three groups that control tournaments are the tournament director, the head referee, and the coaches, although at first glance you would not believe that coaches have any say in the conduct of tournaments. More on that later.
The tournament director often is just another one of those sheep that uphold the status quo. More often than not, it is the referees who dictate to the tournament directors because we allow them to do that. If referees honestly care about the sport and its survival- as an American coach I don’t think they do- they too must say enough is enough, this is going too far to change our sport. But no, they’ll tell you that they are only following orders from the IJF, and they can’t make changes. Of course, it’s a lie because when they want to, they do modify IJF rules. In addition, the IJF has said that national federations are free to make adjustments according to their needs, knowing full well that federations are sheep that will blindly follow the leader.
I don’t know what to make of referees, especially American referees. Consider the attitude differences between a European A referee and an American PJU referee. Years ago while attending the European Championships in Poland I asked my host, a Polish “A” referee, why there were so few penalties for stepping out. She said that she and her (EJU) colleagues didn’t approve of the rule so they were not enforcing it! Conversely, when I mentioned to an American PJU referee that the rules were killing the sport, he said quite vehemently that he didn’t care if they were and he was going to continue to do his job without saying a word. It was clear that his allegiance was to the rules and not to the sport. Blindly following diktats regardless of the damaging outcome, now that’s scary!
So scary is that attitude of Mr. PJU referee that we must wake up now before the sport goes the way of the dinosaurs! The real power to effect change in Judo, especially at the local and regional level, resides in the hands of the coaches, if we stop to think about it and take advantage of it. Tournaments are a commodity that we Judo consumers can either buy or not buy. The quickest way to effect change is for coaches to tell tournament directors that their clubs will not be attending their tournaments, and why they won’t be attending. The loss of revenue will have a great impact on attitudes especially if coaches band together in significant numbers.
Simply boycotting an event, however, does little to change the battleground. Step into the tournament director’s shoes. If you don’t show up at his tournament, he has no idea why you didn’t participate. Was it because you were sick? Did transportation break down? Was there another event on that weekend? Did you not get the notice? Was the event too expensive? Did you not like the weight divisions, etc.? So it behooves all of us to tell him that you didn’t show up because you won’t support tournaments that enforce the hansoku make rule against leg grabs, for example, or because he is running a single elimination event. Don’t forget to tell him that when he changes the way he runs the tournament, you’ll show up with x number of players the next time around.
Our national organizations are in such a financial hurt that they are now going after the jujitsu crowd in order to raise funds through increased membership enrollment. Hey, national organizations! How about better serving the existing Judo community to start with. Want to make our sport more appealing? How about pulling your heads out of the sand and seeing how the IJF is killing a dying sport.
I recognize that it’s going to take some true leadership from our coaches and some courage to do what I am suggesting. It may mean that your little six-year old doesn’t get to be a national junior champion this year. It may mean that referees will not officiate at events that deviate too far from the official IJF rules. None of this matters. What matters is that our sport survives the onslaught of jiujitsu and mma, and we can’t do that with the emasculated, sanitized, penalty-heavy version of Judo that is being proposed.
To survive, we must voice our position vehemently through economic pressure. You don’t have to be a member of any national organization and you don’t need “sanctioned” events in order to practice and compete in Judo, and to make Judo grow. Our past history is already proof of that. We do, however, need to remove those shackles imposed on us by our national and international organizations. If the IJF disappeared from the earth today, Judo would still exist because it exists through the hard work and dedication of its coaches and participants. Understanding that should give you the courage to do what is right for our sport.
Note: As I was was finishing this entry, I received a very supportive email in response to Hansoku Make, IJF! from Patrick Mahon in Australia. I am attaching it here so you don’t have to go looking for it. Please heed his suggestions as well as mine.
Please, please send your feelings and comments to the IJF director Juan Carlos Barcos, Vladimir Barta, Jean-Luc Rouge and the IJF president. Mr. Barcos started all these changes back in June 2009. His idea then was to get rid of the Eastern European/Russian style judo. Now it’s come to this debacle. The new rules are not locked in yet. Only from the 1st of May will everything be locked in. If we all voice our dislike for these crazy rule changes, we can make a difference. We must. They will drive players away. I want to start a petition and present it to Barcos and the IJF before April 1st. Please email me at email@example.com to have your name included in the protest. It would be a good idea to have big name with us like Jimmy Pedro, Michael Swain, Pat Burris. In the USA, these guys have credibility. I am asking my old friends like Neil Adams, Rob Van de Walle, Kate Howie and Udo Quellmalz to join the list. We must change these ridiculous rules that will kill our sport which is already under stress.