Judo in Japan: The “All Japan Championship 2010” and beyond!

The “All Japan Judo Championship” is held every year on 29 April. The 2010 championship was an occasion to re-build the future of men’s judo in Japan, which has suffered a continuing decline in international competitions in recent years. Leaders and trainers in Japan have been making efforts, particularly to strengthen young players, with the London Olympic Games in mind.
The 2010 championship had another interesting aspect to it. Mr. Haruki Uemura, who assumed the Presidency of the Kodokan and the All Japan Judo Federation, Japan’s top leadership post, in April last year, has been advocating strongly the necessity of returning to the origins of judo, and urging all judoka to practice and realize those principles enunciated by the Founder and Grand Master of judo, Jigoro Kano. At the opening ceremony of the 2010 championship, Mr Uemura reminded the audience of this year’s significance as the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Grand Master. He also reminded the audience that the World Judo Championship would be held in Tokyo in September this year. The purpose of Mr Uemura’s comments was to encourage all participants “to show respect and courtesy, to grip each other correctly and try to win by Ippon through applying rational techniques”. Conscious of Japan’s role, as the founder of judo, to lead and guide world judo, Mr Uemura was keen to encourage Japanese judoka to adhere to the original principles of judo. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether Mr. Uemura’s goals will be realized.
With regard to this issue, the result from the 2010 championship was not, in my opinion, satisfactory. On the one hand, there were very few matches in which opponents struggled to grip each other in low bending positions, which was good. On the other hand, however, we did not see many active offensive techniques. Mr Takamasa Anai, last year’s champion, and Mr Keiji Suzuki, gold medalist at the Athens Olympic Games, respectively executed superb techniques to obtain Ippon but other than that, we didn’t see lively interaction involving offensive techniques. Mr Yasuhiro Yamashita commented in one of the daily newspapers that: “As far as the content of matches is concerned, we didn’t see anything special. If we expect the advent of a new judo era in Japan, we are still far from there.”
With respect to the rejuvenation of Japan’s judo, Mr Kaihan Takagi, aged 19, who advanced as far as the semi-finals, attracted much attention at the 2010 championship because of his very sharp techniques. But he was the only young player to draw attention this year, and it appears that the rejuvenation phenomenon is yet to come. Suzuki (29 years old) and Anai (25 years old), who were considered as possible winners this year, were both beaten by Kazuhiko Takahashi (25 years old) in the semi-final and in the quarter-final respectively. However, Takahashi, who was the eventual 2010 champion, did not win a single match by Ippon. Of the total of 36 matches, 15 (42%) were decided by Ippon, which may not be sufficient if we consider Mr Uemura’s expectations. Only four (4) matches were decided by Newaza. Unfortunately, there were no interesting actions and counter-actions in Newaza, either.
The issue of weight categories is always the subject of debate among judo watchers. As with last year, I would like to undertake a numerical analysis focusing on the weight of participants in order to examine the extent of weight differences on the result of matches. This year, 37 judoka with weights varying between 81kg and 165kg participated. Of the total of 36 matches, 24 were fought between two opponents with more than 10kg weight difference. In eleven (11) matches among these 24, the weight difference was more than 30kg. In how many matches did the lighter player win against the heavier? In ten (10) matches out of 24, and four (4) out of 11, the lighter beat the heavier. Looking at these figures, we can most probably acknowledge the maxim that in judo, smaller players can well vanquish bigger ones.
The next big judo event in Japan is the World Judo Championship to be held in Tokyo on 9-13 September. In this tournament, there are seven ordinary weight categories plus the “open weight” category. Japan’s Preparatory Committee considers that the “open weight” category is the place where the really best judoka can be born. The winner of this category, they say, will be the king of true judo. Japan will attempt to revive and practice the true origins of judo. The coming World Judo Championship will provide the Japanese with another opportunity to demonstrate good judo performances. Will Japanese judoka play an exemplary role in the upcoming World Judo Championship and beyond?