It is easy to forget that Judo was envisaged by it’s founder, Dr Jigoro Kano as a pedagogy. What started as a martial art and is now seen in the eyes of many as a combat sport has many functions. Kano himself stated that whilst Kodokan Judo’s start point was martial art, it ‘became clear that it could be applied to physical education, intellectual training, moral education, social interaction, management and people’s everyday lives.’
It is not surprising, therefore that Judo is championed by a number of people within the education system. What is disappointing, however, is exactly how that translates in real terms. There has been a growth over the last decade or so of commercially-driven instructors moving into schools. Without impuning a large number of very well-motivated coaches, it is clear that Kano’s ideas are not always being implemented in such settings. Often those that get involved have had successful careers as contest Judo ‘players’ or coaches; they see a gap in the market and think they have the skill set to teach a form of physical education. Many have there eye out for the next champion many more see Judo as a means to living, without taking on board is ‘way of life’ status.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. Traditionally Judo has always had those that earn money teaching the skills and no coach would eschew the chance of helping a potential champion find their way to the top. However, what makes Judo a very special pedagogy is often missing in this scenario. Kano wanted Judo to ‘make better citizens,’ and although that can sometimes involve turning a young person away from a life of degeneracy into a model Olympian or professional athlete, the real work goes into much smaller scaled targets. Any coach that sets foot inside a school should understand that they are there first and foremost as educators.
So, then, the question must be what is the subject? Well on the surface of it, we are talking physical education. Yet I have never gone into a school setting with physical education being at the top of my agenda. I have not hidden this either. I have been invited to teach in mainstream schools, special needs schools and schools for those excluded from the mainstream. My lessons are tailored, but more critically my intent is to communicate with pupils, to find out how I can help them through the journey of life. That may involve helping them be more confident in their own abilities and potential or it may be about addressing anxiety or exploring how they can better deal with stress. I may simply try to get across the importance of personal hygiene to a young person who comes from a chaotic background. Not by battering them into submission on the subject, but by helping them understand its significance in their lives.
Doing all this on a Judo mat is not easy. I have been studying and practicing Judo for over 35 years and I still misfire as a coach on a regular basis. But I do understand what I am trying to achieve and it’s importance. Nobody should decide that they are going to teach Judo in a school without understanding what sort of message they want to get across and if your prime motivator is either cash or the desire to find a champion, please stay away. Both of those can be achieved, but they are secondary targets.
Whilst there are those that play a financial game by entering into schools judo, there are many that do understand what they are doing. I spoke a while ago to an individual who wanted to criticise school coaches that are not part of the National Organisation for the Olympic Sport of Judo. This individual gave up an example of young people coming out of a school scheme with grades that he felt they were not up to. I noted the irony that, in fact, most schools coaches do come from the mainstream sport judo organisation, but notwithstanding this error in his perspective, he failed to understand what goes on in such a setting and more fundamentally failed to understand the pedagogic nature of Judo. The grades given in such a situation are reflective of the effort and relative achievement of the individual concerned: they act as an encouragement, a spur to continued learning and development, not just at Judo but in life. It reflect the precise reason that Judo is a pedagogy, so for somebody outside and unknowing of the situation to pass comment on the grades shows a lack of understanding of Kodokan Judo.
My experience of teaching Judo in schools has been wonderful. It has been based on a desire to help young people, some of them from very difficult backgrounds, some with very special needs. I have enjoyed having lunch with my pupils, they have made me cakes and given me great satisfaction. I have also had classes completely disrupted, been sworn at and walked out. I have been educated.