Ever since the days of the old JudoForum, there has been public debates about what Judo authorities and organisations can do to make Judo more poplar as a spectator sport. The anguish has been plain, the debate long and the ideas varied. As public debate moved into the facebook era, the number of threads that talk of glamming up Judo and what needs to be done to attract more viewers has not diminished. Why?
As a Judo enthusiast, somebody who has been practicing for 37 years, I am not in the slightest bothered about TV viewing figures, nor do I care if Judo is not part of the Olympics. I do wish to see a greater take up of Judo as an activity, but as a spectator sport, I care not. In fact, on balance, I am against it.
Now I know that to some that statement is sacrilege, but it certainly does not go against the principles of Judo as I understand them. Removing Judo from the Olympic rosta and down-grading it from being a spectator sport may jolt the power that some governing bodies exert over their members, but on the other hand it just may empower those that wish to practice Judo in its wider sense, those that wish to embrace non-randori techniques.
Before wishing to block my in-box, with messages telling me I don’t know what I am talking about please let me explain further. Judo was never established as a sport, nevermind a spectator sport. That is a pretty well documented historical fact. Dr Kano, the founder, was a champion of sport, but considered his art as something more. A cursory flick through the contents of Mind Over Muscle, written by Kano shows multiple references to the purpose of Judo, what it is and what it is not. Kano clearly thought his art more than a martial art; he considered it a training for life, a means of making better citizens; he talked of its efficacy as a fighting art and its role in education. He did make references to sport within the pages of Mind Over Muscle, but it is clear that he did not consider Judo as a sport per se. Even for those that want to stretch the sporting aspect of Judo, there is no reference at all to it being a spectator sport. Judo, for Kano, is about the activity: The blending of physical activity and the development of the human mind, something that modern psychologists widely acknowledge as being a good thing.
So, why the objection on my part, to those that wish to celebrate the inclusion of Judo as a spectator sport? Well, overall my opinion is that in the modern context of elite sporting prowess it flies in the face of every principle that Kano talked about. Modern elite Judo is the antithesis of Kano’s ideas.
Kano spoke a great deal about balance. Not just the breaking of balance for the purpose of throwing, but in everyday life. For sure he pointed out the advantages of sport, even competitive sport, but also warned that sport has a different purpose to physical education, ie winning. Thus, the training methods change and as he noted, an individual’s muscles are not developed ‘in a balanced way.’ If you then factor in the sort of injuries that sport people are prepared to endure and inflict, you can see that the ideals of professional sport are some way different to those of Kano.
Competition was not frowned upon by Kano. He encouraged it. He saw it as part of Judo, part of life. He did not, however, like the concept of Champions or championships. Which when you consider his overall philosophy, is not surprising. Championships are all about an elite attitude. Once you go down that road, you have the emphasis on one aspect of training, one aspect of your own development. Throw an audience into the mix and you are already not far short of the showmanship that is the staple diet of WWF or any of the other televised combat sports. Is that I ask, in all sincerity, what those of you that are trying to gain a bigger audience for Judo want?
If you answer ‘yes’ to that question, there is still a subsidiary question : Who are you trying to recruit into your dojo and for what purpose? You need to answer that question, because it will not only inform your recruitment, but it will drive the way you run your club and the way individuals develop therein, what they get out of Judo and what they put back into society as a result of their involvement.
What they put back in is important. Or at least it was to Kano. You may disagree, but again Kano suggested that the purpose of Judo was to develop better citizens.
As an ironic aside I have noticed over the years that many parents who bring their offspring to Judo clubs have a clearer idea of the principles of Kano that some coaches. They bring their children to learn the disciplines of a martial art. So, they are more than happy to see some of the things that sports clubs neglect: wearing zori to the edge of the mat, learning to show respect for training partners via the rei, the joint enterprise of learning along with the development of body and mind. They are not there to pay for their governing body’s elite performers, nor, largely, are they there to push their own children into that rarefied arena of elite sport.
The question, then, I believe is not about how we can attract more people to view Judo: we are not in competition with professional football or boxing. We are not in competition with cage fighting. Judo has, at it’s core, a philosophy that takes it away from such activities. This philosophy makes it a good fit for schools, for police training, for personal development of mind and body. It is not, never was, never will be and should not be considered as a spectator sport.