August 23, 2018

The Growth of Judo

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.






8 Comments on “The Growth of Judo

Steen Brix Eriksen
August 23, 2018 at 12:26 pm

An interesting and “federationally controversial” perspective, though a bit of a return to the days of squabbling over “who is the real Kodokan” judo club/federation……..instead of focusing on the biggest issue for GB Judo today….recruitment and retention.

So, to focus on the issue that should be of concern to all federations today (in my opinion) and seeking to fulfill what ALL federations can agree on as a common goal, based upon what ALL federations agree to – the positive impact of Judo on the practitioner and society – is increasing the numbers and retention not what Judo federations/clubs should be working together on?

As a judo-parent myself, with children training both competitively and “less so” in several clubs, I fully agree on Judo ethos having an impact on children’s behaviour…..but only as a supplement to parenting outside the dojo, not as the single solution in installing discipline, respect, honesty, etc. into a child.
If parents think that 1,2,3 or more hours a week of Judo training will compensate for the impact of “morally corrupt sports”, like professional football & WWE (though not a sport in my opinion), has on children, I think this is a fool’s notion.

My kids and I wear zoris, Rei in & out of the Dojo, no matter the club or federation, not due to club or federation rules but to switch on/off to Judo, its ethos and philosophy.

So, to end on a controversial note!
I would like to see GB Judo federations allow BJJ coloured Gis for training u12 but not for grading and competitions! It would make judo a little more attractive to kids and “fashion” parents, hopefully draw more kids into the sport……
Done in the right way, it could help kids embrace Judo ethos when grading and competing….and not “playing power rangers” as many do during training sessions…..and rival one of the things that attracts many kids & parents to BJJ!


Dave Hammond
August 23, 2018 at 1:27 pm

The post was nothing to do with, or was not intended as a federational controversy, Steen. It is a genuine response to the number of debates that I see about improving Judo figures and attracting more people, a debate that often revolves around ‘elite’ judo. Words are put in my mouth, here.

I train and have been invited to coach with a number of different organisations at club level, so the debate is not about ‘my outfit is more pure than yours’

When you say the biggest issue is recruitment and retention, as in so many fields, people put the cart in front of the horse. Do a good job and the tale will sell itself. This applies to grades in Judo or any martial art and it applies to business and how you go about your life generally. I do not want to recruit and retain for the purpose of recruit and retain. The purpose is to promote what you do – do what you do. I have a life partner because I am who I am, not because I put nice after shave on and know all the dance moves.

Steen Brix Eriksen
August 24, 2018 at 7:53 am

Hi Dave,

I think we seem to be discussing what we both agree about, the positive impact of Judo on practitioner and society.
My point is that Judo needs to move with the times, particularly with the use of the same communications methods that are a judo-distraction today for GB youth.
I don’t see this contradicting judo ethos – 1882 – and think we can agree that if you were to use the communication from then, or we shouldn’t be debating it here…..but awaiting somebody knocking at the door with a handwritten letter.

andy bye yodan seishin
August 23, 2018 at 12:52 pm

well put dave,as having done judo in two countrys (australia, uk) over 41 years the standatd of contest,and randori has declined to more a wreastle not many judoka will stand up and fight as they are scared of defeat, one last thing if you only win all the time what do you learn?

Corinne McMinnis
August 24, 2018 at 5:54 am

As a parent of little judoka, I like that my children can progress and succeed in judo whether or not they compete.
Contest judo is an important aspect. But so is randori and kata. Contest does not have to be in a spectator environment. Actually, I think my kids develop better in a contest setting without spectators (including parents) because they realise their fellow club members support them. This is an important thing to learn as it moves them on from relying solely on parents for support.

August 24, 2018 at 10:47 pm

Dave; I found what you wrote very interesting and may I say ‘spot on’! I don’t normally comment, however you inspired me…thanks!
I now find myself questioning the same things, with similar answers.. Like many having read Kano’s Book, I too came to a conclusion, that contest & elite performance creates a different dynamic that takes/moves judo in a different direction.
I find myself having gone full circle in teaching, from grassroots to elite performers, questioning why our judo ‘competively’ in Britain has got worse. (Not that I’m saying those presently competing at the elite end are bad, but that we only produce a few from a system/organisation that is focused on competition)
Contradictory as that sounds’ the process of looking at it, made me realise so many are chasing medals, belts and status, that the fundamentals are being sacrificed for short cuts & tricks. Not just that, but you referred to the ‘Art’. Where I see so many stuck in the ‘Martial’ aspect of judo, with only the few who embrace the Art!
I may be wrong, but having recently been at British Cadet sessions, I see a lot of stylists and copy-cats (some very good), but very very few will aspire to senior level.
British Judo in my view is very popular around the country, with the entrepreneurial aspects, they’re are many judo club businesses. I know some who have over a 1,000 kids…most of these kids never compete. Why? Because it’s good business to keep them as members, rather than risk putting them off by competing. Those who indicate they’re happy to compete are filtered away from the recreational classes.
The conundrum I see is that we lose lots of kids from two areas: 1/. The Clubs/Competitors – as most don’t get beyond Junoir level (internationally) & 2/. The Judo Club businesses – where the Coaches/Owners are left to their own devices.
Also the general membership & clubs – the BJA support – a lack of real investment in the clubs & coaches. As you rightly said, most of the funds/money gets directed towards elite performance.
The drop off in membership of teenagers is big and we lose their participation, where we have an ‘Art’ which can proudly serve them into their older years.
You mentioned ‘the philosophy’ which, is not really taught throughout the membership. Most are stuck in the fight and only pay slight homage to the true virtues.
But who teaches them? Where are the endorsements? Where are the reinforcements to the Judo’s our system?
I believe this is missing and as an organisation, if we could truly harness the virtues into our system; within the teaching/coaching structure; endorsing those clubs/coaches/players who examplify these virtues; and by reinforcing a value in being a member of such an organisation; I’m sure we would retain more members into their older years and be the envy of many other organisations.
I mentioned that I felt I’ve went full circle, which made me realise that it is I who has to get back coaching the kids, right back to the fundamentals…the virtues and reinforce their value!
Yours in Judo….David 🥋

Geoff Moore
August 25, 2018 at 3:35 pm

Wonderful read, a nice summary of Kano’s feelings of competition and championships.
Incidentally the decline in British results in major events is not, in my opinion due to a decline in competitors skills, rather the influx of former soviet bloc players who brought a unique style to the table, the emergence of Korea as a strong judo nation and the depth and numbers of the French players who have a great infrastructure and depth of class players.
There are many more emergent nations and some have been playing catch up. The U.K. Is tiny compared to other European countries and our sports funding is diminishing year on year. Having said that our women continue to perform at a high level and our men, although not quite as many are doing well, particularly the likes of Ashley,
British Judo does have a really good coaching scheme and those following the route through the levels are receiving top notch instruction and lecturers, backed up by an academic and scientific approach to performance. I really like it and feel it will and is paying off enormously.

Kati Gibler
August 25, 2018 at 5:27 pm

This is exactly what judo needs. The problem with it being a spectator sport is the neglect of core principles and standards of behavior. I wish it could be both, but many years of seeing how it’s going leads to the impression that it really can’t. Thank you for sharing these well written thoughts.


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