By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

As the judge will tell you in a court of law, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” The same is true in judo. The rules have changed significantly over the last several years, with notable changes in 2012 and 2013, so if Veterans competitors are going to spend the money to compete nationally or internationally, then they need to know the rules. For example, turning up in your favorite ratty old judogi may get you disqualified before the match even starts. Thirty years ago you could get away with competing in a judogi that was one size too small – not any more. Similarly, that kouchi-makikomi or te-guruma counter that has worked so well for you in the past will result in immediate hansoku-make (disqualification).

The most recent changes came into effect at the Paris Grand Slam at the beginning of 2013. This was the rollout of the experimental period for the new rules, running up to the 2013 World Championships held in Rio. The most notable change was no leg grabs, even as a secondary attack, part of a combination, or as a counter, which had been permitted in 2012.

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 brother and sisterhood of the international judoka.” Just for background, I arrived in Paris 10 days prior to the 2013 Grand Slam 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 secretary general for 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 at the Grand Slam.


As an introduction, it is important to understand the reasoning behind the various rule changes that have evolved over the past 20 years. The IJF is always striving to present judo as a dynamic international sport, attractive to spectators and television coverage, without detracting from good judo. In most cases they have been successful. Judo is not just wrestling with a judogi but 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.

Also keep in mind that the spectators play an important role in the success of judo, both financially and for growth potential. Using rough hypothetical 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, sponsorship and advertising in any international sport.

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

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 seem to be working. The referees sent a loud and clear message by consistently dispensing shido (penalty), with the objective of getting the athletes to fight. Contestants 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 quickly, 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 Institute du Judo (IJ) in Paris, 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 (USA) benefitted from one but Hannah Martin (USA) paid a heavy price for hers.

In watching the IJF videoes featuring Neil Adams and Ezio Gamba, the recommendation is to simply not attack the leg until scoring a point in tachi-waza is no longer possible and newaza is progressing. This does create a grey area if one competitor is on their back and the other is still standing, but there may be a clarification of this after the Worlds.

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 or 3rd division players in a 1st division event. For shear 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 small point advantage, such as a yuko, and then ride out the clock; 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 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 prematurely, before transitioning into newaza, will result in hansoku-make.

With the support of a team of off-the-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 “hantei” decision with flags has also been eliminated. Golden score continues until the first point or shido is scored, but there are fewer Golden Score because invariably there were already shido(s) 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.

Referees are communicating through an ear piece with the other referees 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. A referee must also call “mate” and waited for clarification from the table before issuing a final shido for hansoku-make.

Overall, I had never seen such consistent refereeing. For the You-tube spectators, be aware that 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. The same is true if you are following a championship on ippon.tv where slow motion replays can be run immediately following a good technique or unclear call. Any booing from the spectators at the Grand Slam was driven more by national fervor than bad calls by the referees. 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.

At the end of the day, the principle of judo competition is quite simple and has never changed: get your grip and throw your opponent. If you don’t get an ippon then get a grip and do it again. The experienced athletes 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 for two solid 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 the stadium experience is good. Whether you agree with the new rules or not, the overall standard of refereeing was consistent and unambiguous.

Teddy Riner (FRA) +100 kg final

Teddy Riner (FRA) +100 kg final

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. The 2013 Worlds in Rio were further evidence of the effect of the new rules. Japan, France, Cuba, Brazil and Mongolia were all doing nice judo with Georgia taking Gold in the men’s team championship and Japan narrowly defeating Brazil to take Gold in the women’s team championship.

A word of advice for Masters and Veterans: read the rules! It never ceases to amaze me how many coaches and competitors that I meet who have never taken the time to pull up the rules on the IJF web site, download them, print them, read them, and then re-read them periodically. It is also essential to attend regional referee training programs and pre-event referee meetings to further understand how the rules are being implemented on the mat.

Finally, best of luck to the Masters and Veterans who will be competing at the 2013 World Veterans Championships in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in November.


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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  1. Great Advice – Get your grip and attack ! Dont get an ippon then do it again – brilliant! The kind of Judo I will be doing in Abu Dhabi in two weeks

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