Japan’s new head of Judo, Haruki Uemura, talks about his thoughts

April 1 saw the induction of a new Judo head in Japan. Mr. Yukimitsu Kano, grandson of Judo founder Jigoro Kano, retired from the posts of President of the All Japan Judo Federation(AJJF) and President of the Kodokan. He was succeeded by his close collaborator Mr. Haruki Uemura. It is the first time since Judo’s founding some 130 years ago that someone from outside the Kano family assumed the leadership. This has drawn attention at home and abroad.

Born in 1951, Uemura was winner of the All Japan Judo Championships in 1973 and 1975. He also won gold medals (open weight division) in the 1975 World Judo Championship in Vienna and in the Montreal Olympics in 1976. He is currently a board member of the International Judo Federation(IJF).

Uemura talks about his intentions as Japan’s new leader.

The essence of Judo is the same everywhere; its concept and nature should be clearly defined

Question : What are your thoughts as the new head?

Mr. Uemura : As Judo has developed into a worldwide sport, it is no longer part of Japanese culture but a culture based on Judo as rooted in the world. In this process, various problems have inevitably occurred. There are criticisms that Judo has turned into an uninteresting sport. In their judgment of throwing technique, referees recently tend to declare “Ippon” based only on the form in which the back of the thrown contestant touches the tatami floor. However, the real Ippon should be a movement to throw the opponent with such substantial force and speed as to cause physical shock or damage to the opponent’s body. There are broader issues such as “what is Judo?”, “what is the purpose of practicing Judo?”, which have not been answered clearly and to which we have been asked from abroad to provide easy-to-understand answers. I have given my provisional answers to these questions, but I consider it very important to discuss these issues nationally and internationally so as to obtain a clear and common understanding. I would like to work for clarifying concepts of Judo.

As Judo spreads worldwide, its very essence should be one and the same wherever it is practiced. Through the long years of penetration, Judo has been developed and customized in different countries and regions. It is quite natural that different opinions exist and I am not against superficial changes. There is, for example, a move to change the color of the tatami mat. It would be worth trying if it could serve the purpose of better developing Judo. We should conduct discussions on what are those elements that must not be changed or on what is true Judo. We should accumulate discussions and clarify these issues so that we obtain understanding on the essence of Judo. Thus I consider it is my duty to pass the true Judo on to the next generation.

Education/training of children and other long-term efforts are needed to remedy Japan’s current problems in Judo

Question: In Japan people argue about problems of Judo such as those related to performance of Judo or the fact that Japan is having so much trouble winning in men’s competitions, etc. How do you intend to face these challenges as the new national leader?

Mr. Uemura: There are voices in Japan these days that Judo has become quite uninteresting. In order to practice such Judo as to “respect courtesy, grip each other properly and obtain Ippon by rational techniques”, it is vital to carry out what the Grand Master Kano had taught, by enhancing both the quantity and the quality of training thereby to improve techniques towards perfection, and by maintaining the will not only to become strong but also to carry out the educational elements of Judo. The important thing is to consider the very basics well and practice them conscientiously. In order to realize this objective, a range of both short-term and long-term efforts is imperative.

In the short-term, we need to train strong competitors. Unless we have strong competitors, we cannot expect popular support for Judo in the country. We must have our competitors experience different international matches or get used to life in foreign countries. It is important to train our competitors in their basic techniques in Japan and let them have experiences in matches abroad.

In medium and long-term, we cannot expect a good future unless we build up human resources capable of carrying out the requirements of the next generation. Efforts to strengthen Judo’s human resources require a wide range of measures, of which the education and training of children is of utmost importance. For that it is indispensable to develop good trainers and teachers. In the recent trend of decreasing population in Japan, good athletic children are much wanted among different branches of sport activities. The important thing is to teach children not only the elements of competition but also the ethical and disciplinary side of Judo. In three years, Judo and other martial arts will be integrated into the educational curriculum at the middle school level. In teaching children it is important to “explain well and demonstrate in front of their eyes”. At any rate, it is of the greatest importance to provide appropriate education to teachers who can teach “real Judo”. With this in mind, I started a project aiming at educating teachers having expertise in such fields as school education, education of beginners, education of boys, training of junior female competitors, etc. Moreover, it is urgently needed to develop people capable of engaging in international Judo activities. In recent times the Kata has gained international importance as the IJF intends to hold a Kata world championship. We need instructors competent to lead in this field, too. Thus efforts to build up human resources must cover a wide range of activities. This should be done in united nationwide efforts involving all people concerned with Judo.

Question: This would take many years, wouldn’t it?

Mr.Uemura: Yes, it certainly will. But you see, there are moves in various parts of the country these days. Prefectures and local schools are making efforts in this direction. Someone must coordinate these efforts and, in this respect, the AJJF, as part of its concrete steps, initiated in last March a “Trainers Forum” at the National Training Center, gathering young local Judo leaders from across the country. At the Forum we discussed future plans and the result was quite positive. We intend to work out concrete measures in different agenda sectors. For children to be interested in Judo, it is important that they get in touch with “real Judo”. For instance we should demonstrate in front of their eyes really good techniques so that they catch the real sense of fantastic Ippon techniques. At the same time we must teach them through practice how to acquire a sense of gratitude and respect toward partners and teachers. We must also teach them in simple words what “Seiryoku Zenyo (the most efficient use of energy)” and “Jita Kyoei (mutual well-being)” are. We furthermore want teachers to show them how to execute correct Rei(courtesy) conduct. So in this, too, we should find those teachers who can demonstrate “real Judo” rather than those who simply “know” Judo. We would ask senior high-Dan holders for that.

International discussion on how to realize “True Judo” is a requisite

Question: What is your view of today’s quite internationalized Judo?

Mr. Uemura: Judo has become popular worldwide. But I don’t think the “real essence of Judo” has permeated every corner of the world. Because of making rules of games so meticulous, we often see Judo matches with the two players bent down low at the waist without gripping each other tightly or making the attempt suddenly to apply leg-taking techniques. This tendency has made Judo look strange and uninteresting in the eyes of spectators. I would like very much to see the two opponents grip each other appropriately and mutually apply rational techniques. There is a general international recognition of the importance of this point and there has thus been little objection to the abolition of “Koka”. We Japanese should not think in terms of “Japanese” or “foreigners”. We must deepen discussions and acquire skills of argument which can convince everybody.

In the past I was involved in international arguments regarding the proposals of abolishing “Waza-ari” or shortening the time of “Ippon by Osaekomi” to 20 seconds. In the latter argument, I strongly argued that in Judo concept “Osaekomi” is to pin down the opponent compeltely on the tatami mat, that it would take at least 30 seconds for the opponent to do all efforts to escape before giving up and thus 20 seconds is too short for the opponent to make all-out efforts to escape before psychologically realizing that it is impossible. I thus tried to obtain the understanding of other people on the meaning of “Ippon by Osaekomi”. We should conduct thorough discussions in Japan on other technical agenda, ethical or spiritual issues and present Japanese views in international fora.

In Japan there exist people who advocate things only from the Japanese perspective. On the other hand, there are people abroad who seriously consider about the future of Judo. All Judoka must be united and cooperate with one another regardless of nationalities.

There were arguments about whether it was appropriate or not that the winner show excessive emotion of victory or jump to coaches or other persons right after the match. The behavior of coaches was also a subject of debate, which led to the abolition of coach boxes. It is good to thoroughly argue what are necessary or what are required and have common understanding.

I would like to see young Japanese Judo leaders to go abroad and cultivate internationalist mind. From now on it is important to argue with sufficient knowledge about what is being discussed abroad. It may take a long time but the Japanese Federation should consider establishing a framework to train human resources in this field. In France, for instance, there are nearly 600 thousand registered Judo practitioners. The French Federation exerts a lot of effort to train Judo trainers as well as competitors. Groups of Judokas frequently come from France for training in Japan or to learn about Japanese undertakings. I think we Japanese can learn from French efforts. I am thinking of sending young Japanese Judo leaders to France not only to “teach” in but also to “learn” from their training programs.

Judoka must learn to adhere to “Rei(courtesy)” principles, grip their opponents appropriately and win “Ippon” with rational techniques

Question: What messages would you like to send to fellow Judokas around the world?

Mr. Uemura: I hope very much to see that all Judokas try to adhere to principles of “Rei(courtesy)”, to grip each other in a correct manner and to obtain “Ippon” with techniques which reflect rational body movements. Also I would like to expect that Judo practitioners learn to acquire the spirit of respect and gratitude to peers, teachers and friends. I wish all Judokas in the world work together in this spirit to further develop true Judo. On the Japanese side we need to change our passive attitude of just waiting for foreigners to come here to learn Japanese Judo. Rather we should endeavor to develop true Judo in a joint effort of all people around the world. The Japanese are requested to communicate to the world their Judo techniques, knowledge and thinking in a clear manner.

I will assume my duties with everything I can offer to attain this goal. Modesty is necessary but I will not hesitate to say what I think is right. I will not make any compromise in my efforts to transmit Judo as it should be to the future generation.
(Interview conducted by Gotaro Ogawa on April 24, 2009)