WHEN Judo For All was first established, I was tasked with opening up negotiations for us to affiliate to the World Judo Federation. During that process JFA held a course at the Sobell that was attended by Alfredo Vismara from Italy. Vismara Sensei and JFA Head Coach, Sampson Sampson, Sensei had a meeting there that I was privy too. It was a remarkable coming together of two great Judo minds. Neither spoke the other’s language, but clearly they got on, enthusiastically discussing the way forward for our nascent organisation.
One of the subjects discussed was the rules of judo contest and it became clear that the two of them had similar thoughts. It was observed that within the ranks of traditional judoka, the technique Drop seoinage is disparaged, yet it continued to be a staple of contest, even being used regularly by those coached by those decrying the technique for a multiple of well-rehearsed reasons.
The conclusion was that in a sport oriented organisation, coaches will teach and pupils will pick up on whatever is likely to succeed in contest, which meant that you can complain as much as you like about time-wasting, low scoring techniques, and dangerous tactics, but you will not eradicate them whilst they have a perceived advantage.
The talks concluded with an agreement that we would seek to establish a set of contest rules that reflected our shared values within judo: drop seoinage would be out, but some other techniques banned by the international sporting body would be re-instated: we decided that morote gari (double leg grap) should be acceptable to us, even if not to the IJF. We also discussed the validity of kani-basami (scissors throw), before sadly rejecting it.
Kani-basami was still a legal throw when I first started doing judo and one of the contest first dan in our area was rather adept at it. I have since been taught it and have also passed it on to pupils of mine. Last year, myself and a colleague from a different organisation shared coaching duties at an event and we took the assembled judo through the technique, with a couple of variations on approach. It had no value to those only interested in contest, judo, but fortunately we were in a room full of eager pupils.
Summer Schools and other seminars are useful for giving us the time to pass on in detail aspects of judo that are not usually covered in weekly classes. Kata is an obvious example of that, but non-contest Judo is something that I have made an especial study of in recent years and I like to pass it on.
The problem is that as the sporting bodies, which comprise a large and most visible body of judo organisations show little interest in such techniques because they do not fit in with their overall strategy of building contest success. The result is that techniques that are not acceptable within contest judo get left behind, with, eventually, nobody left qualified and experienced enough to teach them.
Currently we have on the mats, up and down the country in all organisation coaches that can go through te-garuma (hand wheel), kata-garuma (shoulder wheel) and a plethora of other te-waza (hand techniques), but how long will that be the case if we do not encourage the learning of non-contest judo?
A similar problem appears with the attitude that sporting bodies have to groundwork. Whilst such activities as BJJ are becoming popular, we as judoka are finding ourselves at a disadvantage on the ground because we have contest rules have failed to encourage a ground –fighting strategy that is based on being involved in newaza for any length of time. This translates in real fighting: I had a discussion with a fellow security professional recently who suggested that his attitude to fighting on the ground was based on getting in a good position and being able to wait and feel for movement from his adversary, something that I was initially taught in judo, but a strategy that doesn’t work when a referee wants you on your feet when he can’t see any action.
It is a good thing that contest rules are reviewed on a regular basis, but in the process those doing the reviewing should consider not just what they are trying to achieve, but what overall effect they are having on the activity. Equally, coaches need to be careful not to allow their own skills to atrophy, because eventually there will be nobody left to teach some of the really basic judo techniques. And that would be a shame for the generations that follow.