By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

 Someone asked me recently why I went all the way to the Kodokan (the one in Tokyo, Japan), to get certifications that are barely known or recognized in the U.S? And more to my amazement, they asked, “If the certificates are not required for promotion, why bother?”

This attitude concerns me because it shows a distinct lack of appreciation for judo as a sport, a recreation, an art, a lifestyle, and more importantly, a “Way.” The simple answer is that it is not about the piece of paper, the certificate, or promotion. It is the training process of earning those certifications that makes one a better judoka, a better instructor for their students and, by extension, of greater value to the judo community as a whole. The uninformed may be impressed by certificates on the wall of the dojo, but it is the individual’s performance on the mat that is the true measure of the judoka or sensei. It is about living the philosophy of judo as set down by Jigoro Kano: Jika-no-kansei for the purpose of Jita-kyoei – or to paraphrase, striving for perfection so that one may better help others.

Unfortunately, all too many judoka have fallen into the habit of only doing courses and certifications if they carry promotion points, and even then, they want the certification process to be cheap, easy and convenient. Even better, they would prefer to just mail in the fee and receive the certificate in the mail without actually having to make an effort. Heaven forbid if they should actually have to get on the mat, train, sweat, and demonstrate judo in front of their peers!

Fortunately, as with many of the training camps in Europe, training in Japan is very different to certification clinics in the U.S. In July I spent three very hot, humid weeks at the Kodokan, during their Shochu-geiko (summer training period), primarily to do the 7-day Kata Camp and the 5-day Technical Program. That was three weeks and a couple of thousand dollars, I was told, which I could’ve just as easily spent vacationing on a white sandy beach in the Caribbean, and would not have dislocated one finger and fractured the other. So once again, why?

Summer training at the Kodokan

Summer training at the Kodokan

Because training and certifications earned at the Kodokan actually mean something, if not in the U.S. then definitely to others and the individual judoka. It meant something to me personally since I had spent a lifetime in judo, with elite level training mostly in Europe, so the opportunity to train at the Kodokan was a dream shared by many serious judoka.

Summer training at the Kodokan was 6 hours a day during the Kata and Technical Programs, with an additional 2 hours in the evening when we were given the opportunity to study Kosen Judo under 88-year old Matsumura sensei, 8th dan. These were unique opportunities since the Kodokan rolls out their heavy hitters for the training camps with primary instructors being 8th, 9th and 10th dan, with 5th and 6th dan functioning as assistant instructors. We had the opportunity to train under judo legends such as Toshiro Daigo sensei, 10th dan; Abe sensei, 10th dan; and Osawa sensei, 10th dan, along with three All Japan national champions.

With Uemura sensei and Matsushita sensei at the Kodokan, July 2013

With Uemura sensei and Matsushita sensei at the Kodokan, July 2013

Each program had almost two hundred participants from over 40 countries, with about 40% internationals and 60% Japanese. Everyone, from sixteen to sixty-five years, was on the mat every day doing the warm-up exercises, ukemi, technical drills, kata and even randori. The Kata Camp was for men 4th dan and above and women 2nd dan and above, so we were no spring chickens. The Technical Program was divided into three groups based on age and grade, but we still had participants in their fifties and sixties mixing it up with local eighteen-year old black belts. Bumps, bruises and minor sprains were not uncommon, but everyone bowed out each day knowing they were better for the experience and effort expended.

So this brings us to judo in the USA. If you have read any of my articles or attended my coaching clinics, you will know that I am constantly pushing for several improvements as they relate to on the mat judo development programs. This has not been without resistance, but the short list includes:

  1. Longer and more robust coaching certification programs focused on producing qualified coaches not merely certified coaches
  2. Technical development programs focused on improving the overall understanding and appreciation for Kodokan judo techniques
  3. Multi-day training camps to educate, evaluate and certify national rank examiners

These are not revolutionary ideas so I take no credit for them. These programs have all existed in the past, and still exist in other countries, reflecting the concepts set forth by some of our former visionaries. But somewhere during the past three or four decades aspects of U.S. judo went off the rails and the quality and credibility of some certifications and promotions suffered in the process. Fortunately there are individuals who are working to reverse some of the damage done in the past by putting real teeth back into the three development programs that have the greatest impact on quality control and quality assurance: 1. The Promotion Process; 2. Rank Examiner Certification; and, 3. Coach Education & Training.

However, to achieve this would require that the board of directors of any NGB, the membership, coaches, and sensei to get behind the concept of training with substance as opposed to cheap and easy certifications. In the short term, as club level instructors, you can all make the decision tomorrow to begin using the formal promotion guidelines and to maintain, or institute, formal rank testing in your dojo. Handing out ranks without merit of formal testing does a disservice to judo, your students and your own reputation. And in place of counting promotion points and tallying time in grade, seek out robust academic and on the mat training programs that will actually improve your judo knowledge and skills and, thereby, enhance your value to the judo community. Keep in mind that to be of tangible value, training should require commitment, time, and effort.

Finally, for a certification to be respected, it should accurately reflect the training and effort required to earn that piece of paper. A certified “National Rank Examiner” should be a highly proficient and knowledgeable judo technician; and a certified “National Coach” should be an experienced and credible competition judoka qualified to develop athletes up to the national level of competition. When instructors or coaches graduate from nationally sanctioned training programs, their students and peers should be assured that they have actually earned the certification. More importantly, they have learned something that will have positive and lasting effects in their local judo communities. Robust training and high standards equate to Respect & Credibility in the judo community.


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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  1. Parabéns Mark! Concordo com você! Estamos indo em 2014 com um grupo de Brasileiros para a Kodokan e viver o judô em sua essência. O compartilhar de sua experiência foi muito bom! Oss, Diogo Schirmer

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