New rules by IJF：what is lacking in?
It has been already months since the International Judo Federation(IJF) announced new rules to be applied on an experimental basis until the next Olympic Games. The following is my personal view but it also reflects part of the feelings of other Japanese judo experts.
1. Changes are only partial
Let me say at the outset that the proposed changes are rather laconic and do not address a wide range of important issues which judo faces todaty. There are improvements but they alone do not suffice to realize what Mr .Viser calls a “much more dramatic and attractive judo”. There are other issues in order to make judo really attractive.
2. More inclusive and democratic arguments needed
I have for some time now entertained a concern about the method of decision making the IJF has employed with regard to important issues having considerable impacts on national and continental federations, referees, athletes and coaches. The IJF in its explanatory notes, refers to the “long process that led to these changes”. But it is hard to see if a wide range of people who are to be affected directly were consulted. The IJF has recently adopted a highly speedy decision-making and implimentation processes centering on its Executive Committee. In a way it seems an efficient system but I am afraid that those people most directly affected by the new decisions, i.e., ahtletes and coaches, have not been sufficiently consulted. They thus find themselves under the obligation to accept the new changes. I have heard many complaints from these people both at home and abroad. Therefore, wider and more democratic consultaions are wanted even at the risk of taking time. One simple idea would be to hold a series of symposia on the occasion of international competitions where we can listen to the views of the people concerned prior to their application.
3. Issues related to the management of international competitions
I dared to utilize the word “laconic” to qualify the latest changes, because I am one of those who wish to see some improvements in the way international competitions are conducted. In fact many athletes and coaches suffer from the current system. They feel themselves obliged to participate in international tournaments very frequently in order to gain points under the ranking system. This makes it difficult for them to schedule trainings at an appropriate rhythm or to find sufficient time to cure their injuries. I wonder to what extent the Athletes Committee of IJF listened to their voices before making the current system. There is room to consider some changes so that the present system does not cause too much burden on athletes and coaches.
4. Reduction of weight categories
I have been advocating that, in order to make judo more dynamic and attractive, the number of current weight categories should be reduced. From the pragmatic point of view, however, I do not propose a single open-category system. Instead one may think that each category may allow a weight difference of 20 to 25kg or more. From the Japanese experience, it is quite possible to see a lighter player defeating a heavier one. In the annual Japan Championships, smaller judokas often beat opponents with weight 20, 30 kg or even 40 kg heavier. In Japanese sumo tournaments, we see sometimes a wrestler of 133kg throwing an opponent weighing 212kg with a spectacular technique! If we expand the weight difference in each category, we will surely see development of tecniques for the smaller player to win against the bigger opponent. This will enhance the charm of judo. It is worth considering.
5. Importance of Kumite and Shido
In the London Judo games, there were a bit too many Shidos and decisions by flags. Spectators found such judo uninteresting. The IJF made some changes after London to make it more attractive. We see some improvements such as reassessment of the value of Ippon, abolition of decisions by flags or no points until the third shido.
There is no doubt about the importance of Kumite in order to realize a dynamic judo.It is therefore necessary, and there should be room, to explore rules to make two opponents grasp each other solidly. In this regard, the way to referee is extremely important, too. If the referee stops the combat and gives shido prematuredly or too frequently trying to make the players grasp each other, then they will try to grasp in haste only to end up with a loose grip. We should give some amount of time to have them grasp each other solidly.
6. Referees and the jury
I would like to give credit to the efforts taken by the IJF to modify the refereeing method. I consider that they are going into the right direction by reducing the power of the jury. This is what most of judo experts and spectators in the world generally want. The new rules on this subject, however, have some important ambiguity, which would allow the jury to continue to exert excessive intervention. The IJF explains that “the jury will intervene only when they consider it to be necessary” and “only in exceptional situations.” I wonder who judges the necessity and exceptional situations. It is reasonable to think it will be no one but the jury. More thoughts are needed from the point of view of reducing the power of the jury.
7. The shortening of the duration of Osaekomi
The duration of osaekomi is shortened. There are positve views that the new rule will facilitate to gain points in newaza and therefore encourage the practice of ground work. As for me, I think of another aspect. The new rule will reduce the value of osaekomi and this goes counter to the move to enhance the value of ippon by interpreting the conditions of ippon more strictly. If a somewhat loose osaekomi can give points, it would discourage efforts to develop techniques to make solid and strong immobilization. If osaekomi time is shorter, it may also weaken the will to try to escape.
I have some doubts about the wisdom of shortening the time of osaekomi.
The new rule to require a good courteous rei at the biginning of the match is a positive step forward. But it remains silent about the courtesy after the match. In fact, it is rather the lack of courtesy after the match that is more problematic today. The winner often shows extravagant gestures of pride while the vanquished stays flat on tatami for some time and, what is worse, does not try to rise even if the referee tells him to do so.
Lacking in respect to the opponent, these are the scenes spectators don’t want to see. The new rule should deal with this aspect, too.
9. Prohibition of attacks by hand below the belt of the opponent
Since before the London Olympics, the IJF applied a new rule to prohibit attacks by hand against the body of the opponent below the belt. I understand the good intention of the change and many people, including myself, recognize its positve effects. But it is true that this has made it virtually impossible to apply such techniques as kataguruma, sukuinage, or kuchikidaoshi. These are traditional good techniques which can produce a beautiful ippon. Reducing that possibility is a pity for the sake of attractive judo. More discussions by experts are necessary to strike an appropriate balance between the total prohibition and a complete permission. Why not have a series of international seminars on this question?