By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

As a judo instructor, coach and competitor I make every effort to stay abreast of the current IJF competition rules, in addition to the reasoning behind the changes, but this is not as easy as one may think. Each time there is a rule change, or a raft of changes, a number of ripples run through the judo community. First there is a roll-out or announcement of the changes in three languages that may or may not be well written or well translated. These are often distributed to the senior referees at a major international tournament. Next there will be notifications to Unions and Confederations, to be passed on to their Referee Commissions for discussion and distribution. Some Unions are very pro-active and get these out immediately, while others take weeks or even months. Eventually these will filter down to the grassroots referees, but not in one coordinated effort. They will be passed around by email and on social networks by interested individuals, not all of whom are fully informed of the reasoning, interpretation, or implementation of the changes.

Predictably, this will set off a firestorm of emails by individuals decrying that “the IJF is ruining judo.” On occasions a few may make good points, such as touching the leg should be a warning, shido, not immediate disqualification by hansoku-make. But all too many are not active in international competition, either as referees, coaches or athletes, or they are confusing Kodokan Judo at the dojo level with IJF judo at the elite international level. These are two different animals with differing focuses on judo – a discussion for another day.

So following the outcry and blood-letting there will be a series of official explanations and clarifications of the rule changes. There may also be a number of documents on how and when to implement the new rules. If the changes are significant, as in 2012/2013, then there will be two or three major referee symposiums at strategic international venues where these rule changes are demonstrated and discussed. Unfortunately these lavish undertakings are expensive, beyond the reach of most grassroots referees and coaches, and only open to a select few. So to further push these rule changes out to the community there will be a series of videos, but these are also open to interpretation by the viewer and the clinicians presenting them at the local level.

Some months later the referee commissions of the various NGB or Unions will meet to discuss the new rule changes. They, in turn, will release their initial findings and interpretations. Weeks or months after that the senior national IJF referees will run a series regional referee clinics and seminars. Unfortunately these are usually less than 4 hours in length when, in fact, it would take one or two days to really examine and teach all the rule changes. And these only cater to the referees. All too often coaches are either not invited, or they do not take the time to attend, and yet they are the ones that must train their athletes to the new rules.

Through all this the official IJF Rule Book has not been recalled, amended, and reissued. Referees and coaches find themselves working with out of date rule books and a folder full of amendments, changes, and clarifications. Then, in addition to the official IJF rule changes and notifications, national referee commissions will meet and draft additional interpretations of the rules. Does all this create confusion? You bet!

To illustrate the problem, periodically I will post a question or problem for referees and coaches on the Judo Training Development facebook page. This will most often draw differing and conflicting responses from national level coaches and referees in various countries, Unions and Confederations. In addition to the referees discussing the finer points of the rule or interpretation, there will be the usual cast of characters whining about the IJF and their national governing bodies. Again, and unfortunately, the whiners do not involve themselves at the national level in any constructive way, so my response is usually, “if you are going to complain, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and become part of the solution.” But even a knuckle-dragger such as myself sees the Herculean effort required to change the way the “good old boys” and judo politicians do things. But I digress, so back to the rules….

The solution to all this confusion should be in the prior planning for a roll-out of rule changes. First, the rules are being changed and decided on, in seemingly secret conclave, by the referees and administrators with almost no input from coaches, athletes, or national memberships. There is no forewarning or opportunity to have input. Next, the distribution is poorly managed with insufficient or conflicting supporting documentation, explanations, and videos. With the popular use of YouTube, it would be very easy to have comprehensive videos ready to release, prior to and concurrent with the first announcement.

Concurrent to the announcement and videos there should be a new and complete IJF Rule Book that accurately reflects the changes. A referee or coach should not need a three-ring binder full of amendments and explanations. There should be one unambiguous rule book with clear and concise explanations and illustrations. In the age of computers and internet it is very easy to amend and update documents, and then release them as Versions V1, V2, V3, etc. Any coach or referee should be able to go to the websites of the IJF, their Union, and NGB, and download the latest version of the IJF Rules.

At the national level, the NGBs should be primed and ready for the release. The same day that IJF makes the announcement, the NGB should forward the changes and video links to ALL their registered referees, coaches, and membership. But, in reality, this is often not done until months after the fact, adding to the confusion. The official IJF Rule Book also continues to go unchanged.

Finally, a word to judo instructors and coaches…. The IJF rules and changes only apply to competitive coaches and their athletes. They do not affect how we teach Kodokan Judo at the dojo level, except when we are preparing athletes for competition. So my personal recommendation is to stay true to the principles of Kodokan Judo, as set down by Professor Jigoro Kano, during regularly scheduled judo training, and to schedule competition development training at different times. For example, run Kodokan Judo classes three nights a week, followed by competition development at the end of the evening. Competition training can also be run on the weekends. The mistake is to require all your members to do competition training when only a small percentage are interested in higher levels of competition. The exception is the dedicated competition judo clubs and national training centers that are wholly focused on winning medals.

But even for the serious competitors, judo instructors should make the point that there is more to Judo than the IJF rule book and IJF competitions. Elite levels of competition represent only a small part of judo and only a few years in their judo careers. To go on to become effective instructors, coaches, mentors, and sensei they must develop a solid understanding and appreciation for the principles of Kodokan Judo and the full range of Kodokan Judo techniques. We may never see kata-guruma or morote-gari in a competition again, but they are still part of judo so should be taught and practiced at the dojo level.

Finally, to be able to ask yourself if you are staying true to the principles of judo, you must first read and study the writings and memoirs of Jigoro Kano. It would be a sad day for judo when the IJF rule book takes precedent over books such as “Mind Over Muscle”, “The Way of Judo”, “Memoirs of Jigoro Kano” or “The Cannon on Judo.” The rules for competition judo may keep changing, but the principles of judo will not.


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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  1. Richard Riehle says:

    We have several Judo forums. The rules could easily be posted to any of them. For example, E-Judo is still active.

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