By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

As we discussed in the previous article on fighting fitness, there is fit and there is fighting fit. So this begs the question, which muscles do we need for fighting and for judo? We already know that judo is one of those sports that requires almost every muscle when doing randori or competing, but which ones are the most important?

To explore this question, let’s start with a novice to judo. The first thing he or she learns in judo is usually ukemi (breakfalls), which does not require any particular muscles, but the rolling and falling does help to strengthen the core and build confidence. Therefore, the first real strength comes in gripping, and as you will often hear in judo, “No Grip – No Throw.” In other words, if you lose your grip you often lose the throw. Therefore grip strength found in hands, wrists, and forearms, is important and often a weakness that must be addressed with female athletes. The novice will develop this strength with regular judo practice but elite athletes may want to supplement this with more specific exercises, such as rope climbs or pull-ups with judogi sleeves over a pull-up bar.

Teddy Riner (FRA)

Teddy Riner (FRA)

However, the novice also learns quite quickly that it requires leg strength to lift someone, particularly with the thigh muscles. Leg power is also important in reaping throws such as osoto-gari, plus the legs are integral to developing attack speed and balance. Balance comes from all the small muscles and tendons in the toes, feet, and ankles. Again, uchi-komi, nage-komi, and randori help to develop these areas over time, but this can be supplemented with exercises on a bongo-board.

At the more advanced level, when you watch an experienced judoka execute a throw, you will see the drive that he or she develops, mostly coming from the lower leg and calf muscles. This driving power is a critical component to finishing many techniques. Toe lifts, sprints, running stairs, and plyometric jumps all help to develop the required explosive leg power.

Many throws also have a turning or twisting component which requires good core strength in the abdominals, obliques, and back. Strong back and abs also prevents an opponent from bending you over, while allowing you to block attacks and execute counters such as ushiro-goshi. The pulling and lifting component of a throw should come from the trunk and legs, but it does not hurt to have strong arms as well.

Where arm strength becomes even more important is in ground fighting (newaza). Often times, escaping from a hold can be similar to executing a bench-press movement, combined with a bridge-turn. Working for a turnover, breaking out an armbar, or digging for a choke or strangle all require good hand and arm strength, particularly in the forearms. The force multiplier for the arms is in the shoulders and upper back. Ground fighting also draws on abdominal strength. If you are trying to resist a choke or strangle it is helpful to have strong neck muscles, which are also important in those bridge-turn escapes.

So in a one-page description of judo, you will have realized that the judoka uses almost every muscle in judo. This is not by chance but by design. Jigoro Kano put a lot of time and thought into selecting the techniques for judo, not just to limit injuries but also to exercise the entire body. Professor Kano’s goal, all along, was to develop a comprehensive form of physical education and human development, embodied within the value system of bushido and the martial arts.

To conclude, if a judoka has limited time for supplemental strength training, then the priorities would be core strengthening exercises, grip strengthening, and developing explosive leg power. All of these can be done in the judo dojo with a minimum of equipment, in most cases with just a training partner.


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If you have never read Kazuzo Kudo’s two books, JUDO IN ACTION, you should. His concept behind attack and defense is that defense should not be defensive in nature, but shaping the action for a counter-attack. In other words, your kaeshi-waza is actually an attack on your opponent’s attack.

Similarly, when you attack you are actually preventing your opponent from attacking you, so the attack also works as a defense. The goal is to shift your mindset from thinking defensively to thinking in terms of constantly attacking. By staying on the offensive you are keeping your opponent on the defense. This is also the principle behind good ippon judo.

kudo_attack-defense Mark Lonsdale

Mark Lonsdale – Judo Training Development 

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“Losing is merely a stepping stone on the path to success”

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

While some will call it strength of spirit, others may call it dogged determination, but either way, developing this inner strength is critical to success in judo and in life. Fortunately, one does not have to have this strength when beginning judo since a significant part of the judo process is developing the tenacity, perseverance, and strength of character that builds spirit.

Kyuzo Mifune, 10th dan, and author of the Canon of Judo put it well when he said, “Seven times down, eight times up.” From this we learn that it is not how many times we throw someone that marks us as good judoka, but how many times we are willing to get up after being thrown. And be assured, you will get thrown hundreds, if not thousands of times each year.

This brings us back to one of the first rules of judo training – you have to keep turning up. It is only through regular attendance at training that a judoka can advance in skill and grade. You will often hear people ask, “How long does it take to get a black belt?” Well, that depends on how often you attend training and how much effort you put into that training. The individual who attends training three times per week can be expected to advance three times faster than someone who only turns up once a week. Similarly, standing on the side of the mat with your thumbs in your belt will not bring about advancement in judo. You have to put in the effort, and anything less than 100% is unacceptable.

It is said that there are two types of people in the world: those that find excuses and those that find a way. Judo is all about finding the way, but this requires that we use not only our bodies but also our minds and spirits. While the body is sweating and toiling on the mat, the mind is analyzing our opponents and seeking solutions, and our spirit keeps us going, even when the body and mind become fatigued.

It is this spirit that keeps us coming back to the dojo, even when we are tired, our muscles ache, and we would rather be relaxing in front of the television. It is this spirit that gives us the courage and confidence to take on stronger opponents in randori and shiai. It is spirit that keeps us attacking even when we know we will ultimately lose. But we also know that losing is different to being a loser. A loser is someone who lacks the spirit and courage to try, while losing is merely a stepping stone on the path to success.

Professor Kano said that the lessons learned from judo must be carried outside the dojo, and we see this in the spirit and determination we apply to our everyday lives. Society respects the individual who has spirit more than the person who is merely strong. While the obviously strong man is expected to be able to move heavy objects, it is the smaller man who shows grit and determination that we admire more. We see this in judo every evening when the smaller child or judoka invites the bigger and stronger player to do randori; or in the novice who is willing to enter a shiai knowing that they will probably be beaten. When this level of spirit and determination is applied to their education, job training, or careers they are virtually assured of success. Initially they may not be the most talented person on the team but, in time, they will out work and out last their team mates. As they say, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

The lesson to be learned here is that the spirit that you develop through judo is equally valued and respected outside of the dojo.



Takamasa Anai & Mark Lonsdale

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FIGHTING FITNESS: Adapting to the Demands of Championship Judo

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

There is fit and there is “fighting fit. In other words, there are individuals who are fit for their chosen sport or activity and then there are those who are fit for fighting. Judo falls into the latter category.

A runner, for example, is assumed to have strong legs and good endurance, but even within the running world, there are sprinters who have tremendously powerful legs and minimal need for endurance, while marathoners have lean body mass and phenomenal cardio-vascular development. At the other end of the spectrum we find anaerobic athletes, such as power-lifters, with massive explosive strength but minimal cardio or running abilities.

The fighter, however, is a unique type of athlete in that he or she must have the correct balance of strength, endurance, resistance to injury, and mental toughness. In addition, unlike other athletes who may use a limited number of muscles of muscle groups, the fighter is using virtually every muscle and muscle group simultaneously, while having to have flexibility, lightning reflexes, and the endurance to go the distance.


To develop this type and level of fitness requires a well designed reality-based training program. This means that the training must be driven by the real world needs of the competition. In physiology and kinesiology studies this is often termed Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). In plain English this means that the coach must train the athlete so as to adapt the athlete’s body to the demands imposed upon it in championship judo.

This requires that the athlete’s training program be divided into a number of modules to include endurance/cardio training and strength/resistance training. This is in addition to essential technical, tactical, and mental development.  Fortunately, in judo, we have one exercise that works all of these simultaneously – randori. When correctly structured and managed, multiple sets of randori, with opponents of various experience and strength, are without doubt the single best tool that the coach and athlete have for judo training.

So why do we need to supplement judo training with road work, stairs, weights, cross-training, and plyometric exercises? The short answer is that our bodies simply cannot handle too much hard randori training. Time on the treadmill or lap swimming does not breakdown the body like judo training. Swimming, in fact, is a great low impact way to rehabilitate injuries or just exercise tired muscles, while plyometrics are great for developing explosive leg power.


Injuries are a perennial problem in judo training that haunts every competitor. As a result, the coach and athlete must structure the training to avoid or at least limit injuries. This is where newaza randori and standing randori with weaker opponents become useful. Training with weaker opponents allows the athlete to work on technique and timing while limiting the probability of injury.

But the fundamental principle of sports training remains the same – progressive over-load and recovery. After the appropriate recovery period, load, over-load, and then recover again. Whether it is endurance or strength training this principle applies. In judo we are able to do this by alternating hard randori training days with technical and tactical training days. We are also able to begin the season with four or five 3-minute randori(s), working up to championship levels of eight 5-minute randori sessions. This serves to develop both strength and endurance, while nage-komi sessions and randori with weaker opponents are used to hone technical ability.

Finally, to quote Thomas Jefferson, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Or, to paraphrase, to achieve more you must be willing to do a little more each day, each week, each month, each year, and each quadrennial. But, at the same time, never underestimate the value of rest, good nutrition, and recovery periods.


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One of the many joys of Judo is seeing how it changes the personalities, attitudes, and lives of our students. The shy student that develops confidence. The timid student that finds courage. The brash student that learns respect. The lonely kid that makes new friends.


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 By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

 Contrary to popular belief, Kodokan Judo was not introduced to the world as a sport in 1882 at Eishoji temple. Eishoji was in fact the first of several sites of Professor Kano’s academic preparatory school (Kano Juku) and judo, which was mandatory for all students, was better known at that time as Kano ryu jujutsu. At age 22, and even after being entrusted with the transmission scrolls (densho) for Tenjin Shinyo ryu jutusu after the death of Master Fukuda in 1879, Kano felt that due to “his youth and inexperience” he lacked the knowledge to be a true jujutsu master.

Even after formulating the most basic concepts for judo, Kano continued to take instruction in Kito ryu jujutsu from Master Tsunetoshi Iikubo until 1886, and in the process honed his understanding of kuzushi. He also studied sumo, grappling techniques, western wrestling, and even boxing to improve his knowledge of fighting skills.

In these early days, Kano felt that Kodokan Judo should be a “way” and not merely a sport, and that narrowly defining judo as a competitive sport would defeat his purpose of creating an all-encompassing way of life, form of physical education, martial art, and self defense.

As Kodokan Judo grew and evolved in the mid to late 1880s, Kano wrote about how the competitive aspects of judo had adversely affected judo randori as he had envisioned it. He agreed that it was through winning competitions, and accepting all challenges from jujutsu schools, that the reputation of Kodokan Judo had grown, but he was still concerned about the effects of sporting competition on good judo. But at the same time he continued to encourage his students to participate in the monthly tournaments and biannual Red and White (kohaku) team competitions.

In his own writings, Kano observed how judoka bent forward and used stiff arms and strength in competition; and how new judoka, who had not been trained by him personally or his senior instructors, tended to follow this example in randori. He attributed this problem to the rapid increase in the number of students, but lacking in a correspondingly sufficient number of qualified instructors. A problem we also have today.

Kano wrote how fighting bent over, in what he termed the “western wrestling-style,” exhibited poor posture and balance and was vulnerable to attack. He also noted how stiff arms and the use of strength slowed a judoka’s reactions and ability to move quickly. All of these were contrary to his belief in maximum efficiency and minimum use of energy.

Kano wanted judoka to stand upright, in the style of a “western boxer,” and to remain relaxed so that they could move more fluidly in attack and defense. This coincides with what every boxer and athlete knows today, that a stiff muscle is a slow muscle and a relaxed muscle offers faster action and reaction. To this end, Kano encouraged new students to “take note of the high-grade skilled judo men they see practicing in the dojo and endeavor to do all they can in future to instill in themselves the correct methods.”

Kano went on to address issues of gripping, stating that while everyone learned the basic lapel and sleeve grip, it was not mandatory that they maintain that grip at all times. But he did encourage a light grip so that one would be capable of, “instant, totally free and quick reaction.”

To conclude, on numerous occasions Professor Kano has emphasized the importance of doing randori correctly and not allowing it to deteriorate into competition style fighting. The whole purpose of randori is free practice and to have the opportunity to practice the full range of your techniques, with less concern about who wins and who loses. In fact, if both players turn randori into an all out battle to the death, both are losers since neither has the opportunity to perfect their techniques and timing.

So take a lesson from the founder of judo – try to stand upright, do not use stiff arms or strength, grip lightly, and try to remove ego from the equation. By doing this you set a good example for your students and the next generation of judoka.


 For further reading on Jigoro Kano’s thoughts and writings on judo, randori, and competition, read “Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano” by Brian N. Watson.      

A "must read" for all judoka and sensei

A “must read” for all judoka and sensei

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So you want to be a 10th dan and Heavenly Grand Master worshipped by all in the martial arts world, but not sure how to go about it. Well, it is really not that difficult so read on….

The easiest way to become a 10th dan, or even a 12th dan if you want, is to invent your own marital art, print up a fancy certificate and some business cards stating that you are a 10th dan, and throw up a facebook page. Heck, you don’t even need to open your dojo. Who is going to challenge you if you are the founder of that particular martial art? Buddabing, buddaboom, you are a living legend in your own mind and the poor unsuspecting students and their parents will never know the difference. They will even pay for the bragging rights to say their kid is being trained by a 9th or 10th dan.

Does this actually happen? You bet!

Some years back I saw a new martial arts studio open up in my area, offering a style of karate that I had never heard of. Turned out I knew the head sensei. He had been a mediocre sankyu (lowest level of brown) in judo and an equally mediocre kyu-grade in shotokan karate, and yet here he was a 5th dan and world champion in what we will call “XYZ karate.” He had invented his own style and declared himself 5th dan, then held a World Championships, for his style only, at his dojo, of which he was the only senior competitor, therefore, by default, world champion.

I ran into another martial arts studio recently that offered two different martial arts but neither was affiliated with a legitimate national or international body, even though they claimed they were. A little research turned up the fact that each head instructor was also the head of each “international federation,” and each bogus federation had cross-graded both instructors. “Hey, it’s Thursday, I’ll promote you to 8th dan in ABC if you’ll promote me to 8th dan in DEF.” You get the idea, but again, I feel sorry for the parents who sign their kids up for these unstructured, unrecognized, cash generating programs.

Recently I was talking to a concerned parent, from out of state, who was telling me about the problems she was having with the high-grade judo instructor her kids had. I had never heard of him so checked him out – he was unaffiliated with any legitimate NGB and the rank was unrecognized. Probably another brown belt jumped straight to 9th dan.

More recently one of my fellow judo coaches joked that I should call my style of self defense “Combat Jujitsu” and declare myself 10th dan. Unfortunately, when I Googled it I found that someone had already claimed that name, and no surprise, he had also declared himself 10th dan. Guess I missed another opportunity to be a 10th dan.

Even with legitimate martial arts and Olympic sports such as judo and taekwondo, there is nothing to stop an individual opening a club and declaring himself a high-grade of any rank he wants. The only time they will come under scrutiny is if they try to affiliate with a legitimate national governing body. But can they still keep their high-grade title? Sadly, in some cases yes.  I have run into high-grades who know little to nothing about Kodokan Judo, but because they brought their grappling club into an association their claims to rank were not questioned.

Fortunately this is not always the case. I can recall when I joined one governing body in the US, the first thing they did was contact the NGB in the last country I had trained in to verify my grade. But I have also contacted overseas NGB about individuals I doubted, and sure enough, no record of them or the grade they claimed.

Another option is to become a famous politician or actor. A national governing body will give you exalted rank and status just for the free advertizing. An example is President Putin who just got jumped from 6th to 8th dan, but I must admit, he has done a lot for Russian judo. Then there are all the odd-ball martial arts associations and so called “halls of fame” that will recognize or promote anyone for a few hundred dollars. They will even invite you to a banquet to give the impression of legitimacy, but you will have to pay another couple of hundred dollars for the banquet ticket. There is even an online course that takes you from white belt to 6th dan in 16 DVDs, no training or testing required.

So don’t be discouraged if your legitimate promotion is slow coming, or you really don’t want to have to actually train or test for rank. Just invent a name for your martial art, create a facebook page, and declare yourself a “Sifu Shihan Kancho Dai Soke Supreme Heavenly Grand Master” with a lineage going back a thousand years. Because so many knuckleheads have already done this, the legitimate marital artists have long since given up on busting these frauds. Just don’t step onto the mat with legitimate judoka, because they will see through your BS in seconds.


PS – How to tell if you promotion certificate is legitimate. First, it must be really big and impressive; second, it must have writing you can’t read and at least a dozen official stamps. And it must be signed by a Professor or Doctor who is at least a 12th dan in no less than a dozen martial arts. But if one of them is judo, let us know and we will go and have a talk with him.

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By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

Over the years, I have had the good fortune to make some great friends in the judo world. One of these, a highly respected sensei and venerable sage, has been encouraging me to begin my judo lectures and articles with a short story. He is a master of this teaching technique so I always look forward to his lectures.

So, to begin my story, no, I have never poked a real dragon, even though I would welcome the opportunity. But I have poked my share of heavy-weight judo champions – sometimes with painful results. I was also the kid who would try to pat the vicious dog. Back in my youth, when walking home from school, and in the time of dragons and giants, there was always one house that had a barking dog that would charge the fence or strain at its chain to attack passers-by. This was the house that deliverymen would avoid or just throw parcels over the fence. Well, I was the kid that wanted to see how close he could get to the dog, and if feeling really brave, try and touch it – all to the tremendous amusement of the other kids walking that route.


In most cases I was successful at patting seemingly vicious dogs. While they may bark and look intimidating, and even lunge towards you, this was just part of their defense mechanisms. When you stepped towards them they often back-off, as long as you did not enter the space they considered theirs. In reality, most dogs would rather play than bite when treated with patience and kindness. So each day I would walk a little closer and then just stand still to let them get used to my presence. Eventually, once they realized I was not a threat, they would come sniffing around for a pat on the head or scratch behind the ears. Tossing scraps of lunch meat could speed the process.

The moral of the story is that I am not scared to pat the dog or poke the dragon. This is why I have no hesitation in addressing issues and problems related to promotions – which most consider a “hot topic”, “political minefield” or “highly sensitive issue.”

Why is this, you may wonder? Is it because those in positions of power are protecting their own interests? Could it be that they have arrived at their exalted ranks without actually testing for promotion? Have they become too comfortable in the status quo? Are they all focused on making it to the next rank, or even 10th dan, through nothing more than time in grade? Is this why promotions are now conducted behind closed doors? And why is it that people become so emotional on this subject – especially when it comes to their own next (often unwarranted) promotion?

I honestly don’t know. I prefer to hang out on the mat with people who actually like doing judo and who are not insecure about their judo abilities. However, being a pragmatist living in the present, but working for a better future, I do know that the promotion process has been weakened and complicated to the point where rank means almost nothing. (See Hayward Nishioka sensei’s article, What the Hell is a Black Belt Rank). But it was not always like that. A judoka’s rank used to be an accurate marker of their competition skills and/or knowledge and technical ability. If you told me someone’s rank four decades ago, I could tell you exactly what they had endured to get there. I could also show you a list of the techniques and kata that they had done for that last promotion, and all previous promotions. It was black and white with very little room for politics and interpretations. Every promotion was done on the mat, in front of spectators, and requiring demonstrations of technical ability (waza) and kata – but that was about the same time that dinosaurs roamed the planet. I have actually received recent emails from Shodan and Nidan that have never seen a formal promotion exam for dan-grades, and this is not surprising when some judo leaders hand out promotions like candy.

I am trying to keep these articles shorter, for those of you who only look at the accompanying images, so in the next post I will expand on the subject of Terminal Rank – a term that is considered shear heresy by the “rank chasers.”


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By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

One thing that seems to have been lost over time is the concept of “terminal rank.” While I have read about it in articles going back to 1970, I have never seen the concept embraced by a governing body. Simply getting older should not qualify an individual for promotion, and yet all too many people, with very weak judo resumes, have come to assume that they will make 9th or even 10th dan. These are ranks reserved for those humble and yet exceptional individuals who have had outstanding judo careers and have contributed enormously to judo.

Individual judoka should be honest enough (with themselves) to know when they have reached the point in their judo career, where their knowledge of judo and contribution on the mat has ceased to evolve or advance. That is when you hit terminal rank, with the general thinking that this should be around Godan. As an example, I have a good friend in France who was a national champion and is still involved in judo, but he broke his back so was never able to take the Rokudan (6th dan) test. He is recovered, but he accepts that his terminal rank is Godan.

Forty years ago, Godan was an uncommonly high rank, but now we have 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th dan by the boat load – so many in fact that you could live within 200 miles of a 9th dan and not even know him. Serious judoka now refer to many red & white belts as “candy strippers” – which is a sad state of affairs for what was once a highly respected badge of honor.

The simple solution to the entire promotion dilemma is open and transparent testing up to the rank of Rokudan, on the mat, in front of a panel of qualified examiners. Only when we know that every 6th dan has passed the same rigorous testing, should these sensei be considered for future promotions based on time in grade and service to judo. There must be at least one benchmark, or clearly defined minimum standard, for progression to higher grade. If an individual cannot pass the Rokudan test, for whatever reason, then terminal grade becomes a perfectly respectable Godan.

So where does competition come into all this? Promotion through competition points is usually only up to the age of 30 or 35 years; but now with Masters we would like to see them recognized as competitors too. A Master or Veteran competitor, who is still competing into his or her 50s, 60s or 70s, should be given credit for their effort and dedication to judo. This is a tangible demonstration of ability and dedication so recognition should be given through reduction in time in grade for promotion.

From 35 years to say 55 or 60, a judoka is tested primarily on technical ability and kata, but should still be proficient in randori. They should also be active in teaching, coaching or refereeing. So, if for example, an individual physically cannot do judo, then it is logical that they cannot progress in technical ability (waza) or in kata. Service to judo is a wonderful and essential thing, but it should be rewarded with certificates and awards, not rank. The exception would be individuals such as former All Japan champions, Olympic champions, World champions, and international coaches and referees, or those whose service to judo is significant, unswerving and undisputed. Other than those truly exceptional individuals, such as Toshiro Daigo sensei, 10th dan, or Yoshihiro “Yosh” Uchida sensei, 10th dan, a terminal rank of Godan should be considered perfectly respectable in judo. It is better to be a respected Godan than a known “rank chaser” or self-serving politician with an over-inflated rank.

In most countries, promotion up to and including the rank of hachidan (8th dan) requires demonstration of technical proficiency and the required kata(s). If you go to the Kodokan, on most evenings you will see 70 and 80 year old judoka doing judo and kata, and being taught by equally venerable 8th, 9th and 10th dan. Most of us at the Kodokan Kata Camp this summer were well over the age of 50 and many over 60. But how many 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th dan have you seen on the mat testing for their rank in the US? Personally I have never seen it happen here.

Any time another sensei calls me to ask about promoting one of their judoka, or a judoka that i may have worked with in one of my clinics, my answer is always the same, “Convene a promotion panel and test the individual.” But do you think this happens? Never. The individual is invariably promoted with no testing and no competition record. The problem being that too many promotions are done behind closed doors; too many good old boys are taking care of other good old boys; and mediocre high-grades are propagating mediocre judo. We seem to have lost our “gatekeepers” of quantifiable technical proficiency and good judo.

Some readers of the previous article in this series were fixating on the role of competition in promotion. Promotions above 4th or 5th dan are not driven by competition points but by demonstrated knowledge of judo, demonstrated technical ability, and demonstrated kata. You do not have to fight for 6th dan, but you should be an exceptional judo practitioner to earn the red and white belt. The point being that the quality of judo in the future must be projected and propagated by “gatekeepers” with exceptional judo skills and an unwavering love of judo. This is why the Rokudan test should be the penultimate right-of-passage to higher rank. If at some point in an individual’s judo career they did not have the physical ability and skills to pass the Rokudan test, then terminal rank becomes the once totally respected rank of Godan.

Are there people that believe rank should be awarded for little more than time in grade and service points? You bet – and they are the problem. They are protecting their right to keep promoting each other aggressively and void of merit. This is why we now have all too many high-grades who don’t actually do judo, barely fit into a judogi, cannot demonstrate clean techniques, and are not well versed in the principles of Kodokan Judo or the writings of Professor Kano. Do you think that a 6th dan that does not know the meaning of “koshi-waza” is a good gatekeeper for Kodokan Judo; or even worse, could not demonstrate four hip techniques in front of the class? How about the 4th dan calling tome-nage kata-guruma; or the Nidan who did not know the Japanese name for kami-shiho-gatame? How about the sensei teaching leg attacks, preparing his juniors for a tournament a few months ago – long after leg attacks were taken out of competition judo? One of the parents had to call me for a clarification on this, having read that leg attacks would result in hansoku-make. How about a certified national rank examiner who did not know there were three levels of brown belt; or all the certified national coaches who have never been to an official Nationals? Then, last year there was the individual attending a dan-grade clinic who was asked to demonstrate a simple kyu-grade technique. With the look on his face, you would have thought that someone had stuck a nail in his foot. Even though he was a Yondan and certified examiner, he did not know the technique, and then when shown it could not do it without falling over. Sad but true.

All of these problems are symptomatic of promotions without testing and certifications without merit. Promotion must be more than just a revenue generator for the national organization. At one time in my career, when meeting a red & white belt for the first time, I would have had instant respect for that individual. But now I need to see them on the mat or Google their judo resumes to see if that respect is warranted. All too often I have asked others about an individual’s judo ability, only to get the response, “We don’t know – we have never seen him actually do judo.”

Judo, by doctrine and philosophy, is an activity that places tremendous importance and value on Respect. But how does one show respect to an individual claiming kodansha grade but does not even know what kodansha means? When you hear the general public and other sensei referring to a particular red & white belt as a “candy stripper” then you know that there is no respect for his rank. But even worse, this is tolerated and propagated by promotion boards and national governing bodies. Last year I contacted the chairman of a national promotion committee about a particular Rokudan in his organization but he had never heard of the individual. How have we come to the point, in such a small judo community, where promotion committees do not know every Rokudan by name and reputation?

So to conclude, the solution is mat-slamming simple. All promotions above 4th dan should be done on the mat, before a formally convened, qualified promotion panel, with public access and total transparency. What is not needed is more complicated manuals on how to negotiate the complex promotion process and a distinct lack of robust technical standards.


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How do we reverse the trend of over-inflated run-away promotions? How is it that we have hundreds of Kodansha (high-grades) in the US with little to no technical ability, no prior national-level competition credentials, and never trained at the Kodokan or overseas?

The simple solution is open and transparent testing up to the rank of Rokudan (6th dan), on the mat, in front of a panel of qualified examiners. Only when we know that every 6th dan has passed the same rigorous testing, should they be considered for future promotions based on service to judo. There must be a benchmark or minimum standard for progression to higher grade. If they cannot pass the Rokudan test, for whatever reason, then terminal grade becomes Godan.


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