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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



 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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments



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.”


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments


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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

The question on many minds: How do you know when you are due for promotion? Or more importantly, how do you know when you are deserving of promotion?

No, it is not when you have the required time in grade (TIG); and no, it is not when you have totaled up all your points or exaggerated the amount of time you spend teaching judo. You are deserving of promotion when other respected sensei recommend you for promotion. Note that I do not say “your peers,” because your peers may be rank chasers who only want to promote you so that you, in turn, can recommend them for further promotion.

Unfortunately, the current judo promotion process has devolved into a complicated process of calculating TIG, promotion points, percentage reductions in TIG, and the ever nebulous “service to judo.” Whatever happened to simply being recommended by your sensei and elders, and then appearing before a formal promotion panel for testing?

From personal experience, I can recall entering a National Championships as a brown belt, with no expectation of promotion, but by the end of the tournament was told that I had accrued enough competition points for Shodan. The next day, along with several others, we were formally tested on technical ability and nage-no-kata. No complicated forms, no politics, just competition points, demonstrated ability, and the required kata. This was repeated a year later when I earned Nidan, also at the Nationals.

Flash forward three years when I was training at the Racing Club de France in Paris. My team had just taken three national titles when the head sensei, Shozo Awazu, informed me that I was to begin learning katame-no-kata for Sandan. I was also to attend the pre-examination weekend-long technical training camp. Again, not forms, not politics, no currying favor with the right people; just competition points, technical demonstrations, and kata. In France, this process continues through Rokudan (6th dan), which is the last time a judoka is required to formally test.

Sensei Shozo Awazu and Mark Lonsdale, 1975

Sensei Shozo Awazu and Mark Lonsdale, 1975

Now flash forward three decades and the promotion process has been watered down and complicated by some who could probably never have passed a formal on-the-mat promotion board. Instead of a 10-page guideline we now have thick manuals that no one except the people who wrote them can decipher. Or we have governing bodies with no published guidelines at all. Promotions are decided in secret, and all too often as rewards for service to the organization, not technical judo knowledge or ability. I honestly do not understand why we are re-writing promotion requirements in 2013, when the promotion requirements 40 years ago were perfectly adequate. The technical aspects of Kodokan Judo have not changed and the level of performance as a competitor, coach, or referee is still at one of four levels: local, regional, national, or international. That level of an individual’s active participation is a good marker for terminal rank. A judoka who does judo only at the local level should never aspire to the same rank as a competitor, coach or referee that is active on the national or international stage. An individual who has written well respected books on judo is in a different boat to the judoka who has never penned a single article. The IJF-A referee who is invited to referee at the World Championships is more deserving of rank recognition than the referee who has not risen past a State championship.

In France, to this day, the public can go and watch the Rokudan testing. It is also accessible on YouTube so there is total transparency in the testing requirements and process. Candidates will devote one or two years just preparing for that on-the-mat examination. But ask yourself, when is the last time you were able to go and watch 4th, 5th and 6th dan(s) being tested for rank in the US? Or when was the last time you spent months preparing for an on-the-mat promotion test? And for high-grade, how were you able to learn all seven required kata without going to the Kodokan?

One of the beneficial side effects of formal promotion testing is that it forces the candidates to expand their knowledge of judo and hone their techniques. Without strict adherence to the technical requirements of Kodokan Judo, the quality of judo suffers. This is why I now have dan-grades turning up at my clinics who do not know a dozen judo techniques by name, or cannot maintain balance when demonstrating a basic throw. Even worse, I had two certified national rank examiners whose knowledge of Kodokan Judo was appalling. One kept calling tomoe-nage kata-guruma and could not name four ashi-waza; and the other had to look up kyu-grade techniques in a judo text book while I was lecturing.

So back to the original question – when do you know you are deserving of promotion? The simple answer is to track down the most respected sensei and judoka that you know and ask them. Or, when you are teaching a clinic and respected high-grades come and sit quietly in the back of your class, then you know you have drawn the attention of your elders. Last year I was teaching a 3-day national coach development clinic, and was honored to see two highly respected sensei sitting in on my lectures and mat sessions (one 8th dan and one 9th dan). I was even more honored to see them actually taking notes. At the end of three solid days of evaluation they put me forward for promotion. Needless to say, I was again honored to have their signatures on my application. The interesting thing was that four high-grades that had seen me teach supported the promotion, while individuals who had never seen me on the mat tried to block it. It is no surprise that I had never seen them on the mat actually doing judo either. The point is that open and transparent testing before a formal promotion panel eliminates all that angst.

So, instead of fretting over the silliness of time in grade and points, get on the mat and impress your peers and elders with your judo. Even though you may not realize it, the judo community is quite small and the respected sensei(s) know who you are and are watching you. And be assured, they know the difference between puffery and real judo. They are looking for individuals who share their love of Kodokan Judo, who will carry on their legacy, and to be the gate-keepers for the traditions and practice of good judo. Our primary goal as sensei, in addition to turning out good judoka, should be to preserve the quality of judo while passing on our knowledge to the next generation.

Finally, it is better to be seen as a judoka deserving of promotion than as a self-serving individual with unearned and over-inflated rank. You can decide which one you prefer.

French Rokudan test and jury

French Rokudan test and jury


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


This is one of Professor Kano’s quotes that requires more than just a passing glance. If you think about it, and if you truly understand the principles of Kodokan Judo, you will find solutions to many of life’s challenges. The character traits of discipline, respect, perseverance, and mental toughness, alone, are just four of the greatest attributes we embody as judoka. – Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


“Train with discipline, treat your opponents with respect, win with humility, lose with grace; but if you do lose, get back to the dojo and train even harder and smarter. You don’t have to like losing, but you have to understand that losing is a part of learning. The winner only remembers the win, the loser studies and analyzes the fight so as to do better next time.” – Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



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.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment