I will change what should be changed, and keep what should be preserved

(Interview with Shoji Muneoka, Federations’s new President)


  muneoka     muneogawa                   

On August 21, 2013, the All Japan Judo Federation appointed Mr. Shoji Muneoka the  new President succeeding Mr. Haruki Uemura. It is the first time that its president was appointed from the business circles. Mr. Muneoka is the CEO of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, a giant global steel company.
( Interview conducted by Gotaro Ogawa on November 1, 2013)

My ties with judo
Ogawa: Thank you very much for sharing time with me out of your very busy schedule.
Meeting you, I remember very well the time when we practiced judo together at the University of Tokyo judo club some fourty-five years ago! We concentrated much of our time on the ground work (newaza) and when you drew me into newaza with your back on tatami, I struggled to go beyond your legs to immobilize you. It took time but in the meantime you often strangulated my neck in mae-sankaku with your legs and thighs, which are longer and stronger than those of other comrades. I was surprised that although you were a new student you were so strong. No wonder you later became  captain of our club.
Muneoka: I have no memory at all of giving such a hard time to my much venerable senpai(senior collegue).( laugh)
Ogawa: I think you had started judo at an early age. That’s why…
Muneoka: My father was 7th dan. He told me to learn judo and I started it at my elementary school time. I was never absent from practice during my high school and college times except when I got hurt and hospitalized. I haven’t resumed judo since I graduated from university. I think I had consumed and exhausted all the energy of my youth on judo practice which was very severe.
Ogawa: I believe it was your never-changing passion for judo that made you decide to engage yourself in the reform of Japan’s judo which undergoes a very difficult time now.
Muneoka: I was brought up and strengthened by judo. I could not stand by and do nothing when the fame of judo falls down so miserably in my country. My late father used to tell me that it is the lack of courage not to do anything when there is a strong need for it. I hesitated but thought it was my duty. So I finally accepted it.
Ogawa: Since someone like you who is the CEO of a giant global compagny assumed the leadership in the hitherto closed judo society, people look forward very much to your role. More than two months have passed since you took up your new responsibility, how do you feel now?
Muneoka: I feel that our judo circles have been inward-looking and find themselves out of step with the feelings and attitudes of the society at large. I may sound somewhat arrogant, but I dare say that if I had been in the judo world all my life, I am afraid I would not have recognized the need for reforms.

The teaching of the Grand Master Jigoro Kano should be the basis…
Ogawa: Upon assuming the Federation’s presidency, you stated “I will change what shuold be changed but will try to preserve what should not be changed”. Would you kindly explain more concretely?
Muneoka: Japan’s judo has a lot of problems today. We are much crticized because of the series of scandals which occurred recently. The most urgent task, I think, should be the reestablishment of compliance. I mean, we should change the situation where the rules and regulations as well as the social ethics are ignored. To be more precise, we must absolutely get rid of violence, misuse of subsidies, sexual harassements, etc. We are to steadily improve our governance situation, a point stressed earlier by the Cabinet Ministry. We intend to be more transparent and accountable in our management. To that end, we have recently reshuffled our governing board. The next agenda item is reducing to half the number of management council members and its reorganaization.
Ogawa: I hear that the last meeting of the Governing Board was quite animated thanks to the presence of new members. Do you think that the reform of the Managament Council will be succesful?
Muneoka: There are arguments against the introduction of retirement age at 70, or the halving of the number of the Management Council members. But, you know, we cannnot neglect to do what our Federation has committed to the Cabinet Misnitry at the end of August. At any rate it is evident that an organization with sixty management council members cannot act swiftly. The Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal which I lead has only a dozen members. It is necessary to have an efficient decision-making process in order to cope with the changing world. We must make a change by all means. We need to change regulations for that, too. We have to realize this reform and make a report to the Cabinet Ministry by the end of the year. I asked the Managing Director Mr. Chikaishi to make utmost efforts.
 It is also necessary to strengthen the core staff in order to carry out reforms. I would like to seek people from outside of the judo circles as well to achieve this objective, although we must think of its implication to the cost of personnel.
Ogawa: Mr. President, what are you thinking when you say “preserve what should not be changed”?
Muneoka: I am thinking of the educational aspects of judo. Grand Master Kano was a great educator. He sought to introduce both letters and martial arts in the practice of judo thus making it a “way”. By interweaving the spirit of bushido which is characteristic of Japan’s traditional philosophy or way of thinking, he succeeded in injecting intelligence and dignity in judo. I believe that it is this aspect of judo that practioners of the world believe in. I think this is the basis of judo and it is not to be changed.
 How is judo today? I am afraid that there exists an atmosphere where people tend to think in the stronger the better” manner. It is necessary not only to be strong, but also it is important to be dignified. In competitions of recent years, we see behaviors void of dignity. I find it uncomfortable to see coaches and trainers who concentrate too much on methods of wining, giving instructions or encouraging students in a manner contrary to dignity. Among those combatants who are trained by those coaches and trainers, there are some who show extravagant gestures of victory or stay flat on their backs on tatami for some time after being beaten. It is really apalling to see this. ”Win but do not be arrogant”. Such an attitude shows a respect for the loser. It demonstrates also modesty on the part of the winner. If I may add one more thing, I see some winners or losers who cry publicly after important matches. Showing such emotion is contray to the spirit of bushido which teaches to maintain calmness in all situations. Judo is a discipline inherently equipped with morality and dignity. But these days this is lacking. In kendo, if one of the players obtains ippon and then shows an ostentatious gesture of victory, the ippon will be nullified. In rugby games, the one who makes a successful try does not show any gesture, because they think it is part of the team play or perhaps, it is due to the English tradition of chivalry.
Ogawa: Recently I read a magazine article in which you said that we should reconsider  the judo of the younger generation.
Muneoka: Well, my feeling is that we should rethink the tendency of too much emphasis
on winning in judo competitions. It is regrettable to see that the younger generation tend to go away from judo. If the charm of judo is not tarnsmitted into the society, it is quite regrettable. It will take time, but I sincerely wish the younger generation learn judo from educational aspects. To expand the popular basis of judo is extremely important, too. I hear that in France judo is not taught in the competition-oriented manner. Children seem to enjoy learning judo. I would like to take into consideration how judo is taught and the system of qualifying trainers in foreign countries.

We will listen to our combatants
Ogawa: Japanese judo is not doing well in international competitions. What do you think of the current training method?
Muneoka: We have Jin Saito and his Comission of Training examine the past results and study the ways to improve our training. I consult Vice-President Yasuhiro Yamashita also. We have exellent coaches and good experts in the commission like Kosei Inoue. We have also created the Athletes Commission in order to listen to the problems and wishes of combatants. We are thus trying to improve the communication with them. Another thought is to strengthen the cooperation between the Training Commission and original affiliations of each athlete with a view to enhancing the capability of our players. It is important to rationalize our training methods, too.

“Diplomacy” in judo is also needed
Ogawa: How do you see the current internationalized judo?
Muneoka: I am pleased to see judo becoming truly a world-wide martial art. But I am a bit skeptical about international competitions having ostentatious elements. It is not good from the “dignity” aspect which I mentioned earlier. I have some doubts also about the recent way the rules have been changed and the refereeing methods as well. 
 I recognize, however, that we the Japanese alone cannnot rectify things from our own point of view because judo is changing. There are always cultral traditions in the countries that undertake judo. There are certainly international trends. So I think it is necessary to understand these elements when we consider the internationalized judo. In other words, I believe “diplomacy” is needed in international judo matters. I don’t have much knowledge but it seems to me that Japan has not been sufficiently active in managing judo internationnally. Luckily enough, we have excellent people in the International Judo Federation and other national and regional federations. I thik they all believe in the judo as created by Jigoro Kano. It is, therefore, very imporant that Japan as the country of origin of judo, exchanges views and cooperates, or coordinates, with them in order to make judo better. I sincerely hope that we construct a good relationship with President Viser of the IJF in which a Japanese director is now absent. That is why I asked you this time, Mr. Ogawa, to become our special adviser in charge of international affairs. Would you please help us cooperate and coordinate with the IJF and other federations. (note: Ogawa was appointed Special Adviser in charge of international affairs on November 1st.)

Relationship with Kodokan
Ogawa: Regarding the relationship between the All Japan Judo Federation and the Kodokan, there have been various criticisms including the one concerning the dan conferring system. Since last August, two different persons lead the Federation and the Kodokan separately. Mr. Muneoka, as the Federation President, how do you envisage managing the relations with the Kodokan?
Muneoka: There is no doubt about the great importance of the relationship between the two organizations. But I think this question has various aspects and things are quite complex. It will take time but I intend first to listen to the opinions of the people concerned including, of course, those of Mr. Uemura.