Preliminary observations of an impartial judo coach….

CAVEAT Keep in mind that the following are personal opinions and observations and should not be construed as anything official or representative of any organization other than the “battered and bruised brotherhood and sisterhood of the international judoka.” Just for background, I arrived in Paris 10 days prior to the Grand Slam so had the opportunity to observe training with several international judo teams and to discuss the new rules with several international coaches. At the championship I was the guest of the former head of Paris judo for the French Judo Federation and was seated with a number of former Olympic medalists, World and European champions, and IJF officials. This offered significant insight into how the new rules were implemented and received at the Grand Slam.


The official draw for the 2013 Grand Slam in Paris had a total of 390 athletes (242 men and 148 women) from 55 countries. It was held under the supervision of Vladimir Barta, IJF Head Sports Director, and Daniel Lascau, IJF Sports Director. Over 24,000 spectator tickets were sold for this event, and the Paris Grand Slam is considered the premier event outside of the Olympics and World Championships.


As an introduction, it is important to understand the motivation behind the various rule changes over the past 20 years.

1. The IJF is always striving to make judo more attractive to spectators and for television coverage without detracting from good judo. In most cases they have been successful.

2. Judo is not just wrestling with a judogi. It is a unique sport that needs to be showcased as a unique sport. The last thing we want is for judo to be dropped from the Olympics because it is too much like wrestling, or there is insufficient spectator interest or television viewership.

3. Keep in mind that the spectators play an important role in the success of judo, both financially and for growth potential. Using very rough round numbers, 300 competitors at $100 entry fee generates $30,000; but 10,000 spectators at $30 entry fee generates $300,000; and this does not include television rights, sponsorship, advertising, and the positive impact on the local hotels and restaurants. So even the judo purists must accept the important role of spectators, television and advertising in any international sport.

4. Judo is still working to remove many of the eastern European wrestling techniques that crept into judo over 30 years ago – primarily the tackles and leg grabs. To maintain our identity as a sport, competition judo must look like real stand-up judo with big Ippon.


From a coach and competitor perspective, the key elements of the new rules are designed to discourage scrappy defensive grip fighting and encourage good aggressive, stand-up judo. To this end the new rules could work. The referees sent a loud and clear message by consistently dispensed shidos, by the boat load, with the objective of getting the players to fight. Players were eliminated with four accumulated shido – immaterial of ranking or experience. Gripping blocking and playing “patty-cake” were two of the most common shido. The others were being totally defensive, stiff-arming, bending over and stiff-arming, non-combativity, failure to attack every 30 seconds, false attacks, cross-gripping for too long, etc.

Keep in mind that the new rules apply to all competitors equally, so everyone was on a level playing field. For weeks before the championship I was able to watch several international teams training to the new rules and witnessed very few issues. One evening at the Judo Institute, with over 100 judoka on the mat, doing a several randori each, I saw only 3 instances where a player went for a leg grab reflexively. And at the Grand Slam I only witnessed four instances of leg grabs resulting in hansoku-make. Nick Delpopolo benefitted from one but Hannah Martin paid a heavy price for hers.

Hannah’s leg contact was not even a standing leg grab or counter. I haven’t found the video yet, but what I saw was she went to the leg when both players had already gone to their knees. It was essentially a transition to newaza – but apparently did not meet the requirement for an identifiable pause between tachi-waza and newaza. Had I been the ref I would probably have given her the benefit of the doubt (but need to study the video more). But in watching Neil Adam’s video on this topic, his recommendation is to simply not attack the leg going into newaza, and to find other methods of doing a turnover when going from tachi-waza to newaza.

The competitors who seemed most affected by the new shido rules were the ones who appeared to be inexperienced at high level competition; those who could be seen as 2nd division players in a 1st division event. For simple survival on the mat these players are often very cautious and defensive, blocking any attempt by their opponent to get a grip, while making no effort to prosecute an attack. These players could accumulate four shido in 2.5 minutes and the match was over.

The other players that suffered were those who had been trained and coached to get a yuko and ride out the time; or when their opponent was awarded a shido, simply stop attacking effectively. These defensive fighters were penalized immediately and repeatedly. So the answer is quite simple: get a grip and attack or risk “shido, shido, shido, hansoku-make!”

As for newaza, the referees seem to be giving more time for a ground attack to develop, unless the opponent simply goes completely defensive on his or her stomach and there is no progress. Where the referees used to allow about 5-10 seconds for something to develop on the ground, now they are giving 10-15 seconds resulting in some nice armbars and strangles. The extra time also allowed for turnovers and progressive development of newaza, but keep in mind that osaekomi has been shortened to 20 seconds so you need to hustle to escape. And again, going for the leg while transitioning into newaza will result in hansoku-make.


With the support of a team of off-mat referees and video replay (CARE) it has been deemed that one referee on the mat is sufficient. This seems to be working. Since the edge of the mat is also “dynamic” there is less need for corner and line judges. The hantai decision has also been eliminated. Golden score continues until a point or shido is scored, but there were fewer Golden Score because invariably there were already shido on the board at the 5 minute mark.

The referees at the Grand Slam had obviously been briefed on the new rules and were prepared to enforce them uniformly and unequivocally. It did not matter if the competitor was a first time rookie on the international stage or a seasoned elite competitor. If the individual was overly defensive and not attacking they were penalized without prejudice or favor.

The referees were definitely communicating with the referee on the video monitor and depending more on the video for clarification. There was no hesitation down-grading an ippon to wazari, or a wazari to a yuko, if the table had a better view; and a referee invariably called “mate” and waited for clarification from the table before issuing a final shido for hansoku-make.

Overall, I have never seen such consistent refereeing. For the You-tube spectators back in the U.S., you cannot judge a referee or even the new rules by watching one or two fights. At the stadium I was able to watch over 200 fights and had the benefit of immediate replay on the overhead big screen monitors. The replays from four different angles were invaluable for the spectators in clarifying the referee’s call. Any booing from the spectators was driven more by national fervor and patriotism than any bad calls by the referees.

Finally, the referees showed more courage than I have ever seen at an international event in awarding penalties – even when penalizing favored French athletes in front of a passionate French crowd of over 15,000.


I took the time to track down some spectators who had never seen judo before and had never attended a championship. Most all of them found the Grand Slam interesting and engaging. They also quickly came to understand the shido system and were able to predict when a player was about to get shido. The refereeing was so consistent that anyone watching could predict that a player was going to get a shido after 30 seconds of scrappy defensive fighting, stalling, or trying to run out the clock. Even top players were penalized and eliminated in the semi-finals and repechage for ugly judo.


At the end of the day, the principle of judo competition is quite simple and has never changed: get your grip and throw the other guy. If you don’t get an ippon then get a grip and do it again. The really good players know this and systematically and aggressively go after their grip and then attack. They may risk one shido in getting to the grip they want, but once they had the grip the attacks were strong. There were some really nice techniques and big ippon during the Grand Slam, right up to Teddy Riner’s (FRA) uchi-mata in the finals of +100 kg. Even Lucie Decosse’s defeat was a spectacular counter.

I watched over 200 fights from 9 am to after 6 pm both days and, to be honest, the competition held my interest. As long as you see a good ippon every few fights, the overall impression of judo and stadium experience is good. Whether you agree with the new rules or not, the overall standard of refereeing was consistent and unambiguous.

Advice to coaches and competitors: train to the new rules and train for aggressive gripping and attacking judo. While France and Japan dominated the medal count at the Grand Slam, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Georgia were all taking medals and doing some nice judo. Russia’s “A team” is still in the USA at Pedro’s training center, but after watching the way Ezio Gamba has been coaching them, it is evident that they are moving away from sambo-style judo and into some really nice fast moving judo. But we shall see at the Worlds in Rio later this year….

Good luck to Hannah and Team USA on the rest of their European tour.

Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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