Have the IJF rule changes and points system improved high performance judo?
The stated purpose of the IJF rule changes, over the last decade, has been to improve the quality of elite judo competition for television coverage; discourage and penalize defensive fighting; and to eliminate what appears to be non-judo Russian and Mongolian wrestling techniques. But watching the 2012 Olympics, the IFJ has failed.
1. The IJF rules now favor the fighter who plays for the smallest point and not for the big ippon. This is why Japan, who trains for big ippon judo, did not do well; and in the process, judo matches have become scrappy and less visually interesting.
2. While fighting for grip advantage is a critical tactic in judo, the spectators cannot see all the effort that goes into this. Grip fighting takes approximately 25 seconds of each 30 second Hajime-Matte block (about 80%) – so again, rather boring to watch.
3. The referees give the players no more than 3-5 seconds to transition or make progress in a ground attack. This negates half of the art and sport of judo, to include newaza, osaekomi-waza, shime-waza, and kansetsu-waza.
4. Fights that statistically averaged 3.5 minutes are now going the full 5 minutes, and more often into Golden Score. Why? Because the player’s coaches are telling them to run out the clock after gaining even the smallest point advantage.
5. Players are being awarded yuko as a result of their opponent being penalized with two shido. This is not a demonstration of technically or tactically superior judo, but of the defensive posture of both players.5. Players are being awarded yuko as a result of their opponent being penalized with two shido. This is not a demonstration of technically superior judo, but of the defensive mindset and posture of both players.
6. Many players are losing matches after accumulating 3 or 4 shidos, admittedly because their opponent dominated the grip fighting. Again, this is defensive and boring judo.
7. By reducing the number of eligible players from a starting pool of 64+ to fewer than 36, the spectators and news media are being denied the big ippon wins in the early elimination rounds. The most visually interesting judo for the general public is seeing the top seeded players eliminating the less experienced fighters in the early rounds – often with big, body-slamming ippon. Now, with the world’s top players meeting in the first round, neither is willing to risk a big attack, so both resort to scrappy defensive judo.
So IJF has done us no favors in tinkering with the judo rules and points system, and in fact, have forced coaches and athletes into adapting their fighting to optimize their chances of medaling. Japan had the right idea by trying to preserve the enjoyment of watching and participating in big ippon judo, but sadly, they will undoubtedly have to change their tactics for 2016.