The World Judo Championships Tokyo, 9-13 September 2010 “From the Perspective of the Original Principles of Judo”
Gotaro Ogawa, September 2010
The World Judo Championships held in Tokyo between the 9th and 13th of September 2010 concluded with some interesting results and aspects worthy of reflection. I would commence paying tribute to the organizers and administrative officers for such professional management of the largest championship event to date, with more than eight hundred contestants.
The Japanese are generally happy about the outcome of the championships because of the excellent performances of their compatriots, both men and women. Japan’s success may be due, in part, to certain peripheral elements, such as the presence of a large number of supporters and a new arrangement which enabled two participants from each country in all categories. In fact, this new arrangement allowed Japan to enter hitherto unknown young combatants, who actually won medals. And the Japanese naturally hope that the good results in Tokyo will flow through to Paris (2011) and London (2012). But Japan’s head coach, Kazuo Yoshimura remains prudent when it comes to the future prospect of Japan’s judo.
While observing the championships, I had a number of occasions to exchange views with foreign judo experts. Based on this, I would like to share my thoughts, not on issues such as the number of medals or technical points, but rather from the view-point of what judo should be.
Judo which is underpinned by “courtesy and an Ippon victory through good gripping techniques (Kumite)”. Are we witnessing a revival?
In his opening message, Mr. Haruki Uemura, Japan’s top leader of judo, referring to the 150th anniversary this year of the Grand Master of Judo, Jigoro Kano, stressed that this championship would be a good occasion to return to the original principles of judo and realize “judo which adheres to courtesy and an Ippon victory through correct gripping (Kumite) of one’s opponent and application of rational techniques”. Mr Uemura has often used this phrase recently. I agree with it, and hope Mr. Uemura continues to make this important point. Moreover, Japan should take measures at the international level to ensure that the original elements of judo are more consciously respected and practiced worldwide.
To what extent, then, was the important advice of Mr. Uemura acted upon in actual competition? In my opinion, courtesy was not adequately displayed, despite the best efforts of some referees to guide combatants in that direction. A number of winners, including some Japanese, displayed triumphant gestures in front of their opponents. Even worse, some winners and losers remained lying on their back on the mat for a while after the end of their match, even after the referee asked them to stand up. This created a rather unpleasant scene. I hope that the IJF and national federations reinforce appropriate education to contestants in this regard.
With respect to appropriate grips (Kumite), there was a clear improvement thanks to the recent change of rules. The posture in the standing position was generally much better than before, but there were still instances of long period of time in which contestants skirmished to obtain a grip of their opponent’s judogi. I believe that action should be taken to ensure that contestants take a solid grip without too much delay.
To obtain Ippon, it is naturally important to have a strong fighting spirit. A strong combat spirit leads to Ippon. Kaori Matsumoto, the Japanese winner in the women’s 57kg category displayed remarkable spirit. Her eyes looked like those of a panther as she engaged in her bout, and she demonstrated an overwhelming will to maintain the pace right to the end. I would like to see the Japanese men learn from her admirable fighting spirit.
On the one hand, the number of matches decided by Ippon seemed to increase, and this was viewed as a happy development. On the other hand, however, there were a quite a few declarations of Ippon which did not conform to the international definition. Most Japanese considered this to be a problem, and believe that efforts should be made to reconfirm the conditions of Ippon based on international rules.
2. “Original judo”, “authentic judo” and referee issues
For me, one of the most conspicuous aspects in the last World Championships was the problem of referees. Let me explain.
First, although it was not a problem specific in the World Championships in Tokyo, I feel that Mate is often called prematurely, and Shido is called too frequently. Both Mate and Shido have the merit of stimulating combat, but at the same time they can also stifle combat. If these calls are repeated frequently, they will only serve as an obstacle to the act of solidly gripping the opponent’s judogi and entering into preparatory movement for applying techniques. In this context, there should be a balance between these two requirements: the necessity of stimulating offensive action and that of allowing contestants to take a solid grip. In my opinion, Mate is often called prematurely, especially during Newaza. It takes some time to pin an opponent on the mat because the attacking contestant must first control the opponent’s shoulder or arm, or disengage his own leg from the legs of his opponent, before finally going into the immobilization technique. Fortunately, over recent months, some referees have provided more time when contestants are at work in Newaza, but there is still a way to go on this issue.
At the World Championships in Tokyo, I saw a number of referees who called Mate when the attacking contestant was just about to disengage his leg from those of an opponent. There are some good and some less than good referees in this regard, and the criteria for judging Newaza are not uniform.
The decision of a bout by Koka has been abolished. A single Shido, therefore, is not reflected in the result of a bout. However, a score of more than two Shido gives points to the opponent. As a result, referees sometimes designate the winner and the loser in a match in which there is no clear sign of superiority on either side. This is not in conformity with the principles of martial arts. I would humbly submit that we should agree at the international level on the more prudent usage of Mate.
The quality of referees was another issue at the World Championships in Tokyo. There were some cases which left us wondering whether the referee really understood judo, and there were some judgments which were clearly wrong. Moreover, referees often changed their judgments whenever one of the sub-judges or the head of judges at the center table expressed a different opinion. One had to wonder about the self-confidence and self-respect of some referees.
I happened to meet Mr. Barcos, Head of the IJF Referees Committee, behind the scenes at the World Championships in Tokyo, and I presented my opinions with regard to premature Mate calls, the quality of referees, etc. Mr. Barcos accepted most of my arguments, but said it was not easy to ensure that all referees were truly qualified because referees had to be chosen fairly from among those recommended by the five continental federations. I then proposed that the world federation organize intensive trainings, but he referred to budget restrictions. I hope the IJF can find the ways and means for training international referees.
There was talk among observers about the role of Mr. Barcos, who often gave instructions to referees on the mat from the center seat of the IJF officials. In fact, referees often turned towards the center seat looking for Mr. Barcos’ judgment. Some people say there is an excessive dependence on Mr. Barcos. Others say it is fine to hear the opinion of the director of refereeing as he can check the video in front of him (in fact, the video is on the table where he sits).
At any rate, the World Championships in Tokyo demonstrated a lack of competence on the part of a certain number of referees. It appears that more intensive training of referees is required.
Finally, I want to mention that I was encouraged to see some referees who attempted to induce combatants to display courtesy when their conduct was less than exemplary. It is reassuring that these referees have a clear sense of the importance of this essential element of judo. Manners are an integral part of authentic judo.
3. The weight of Newaza
The number of Ippon by Newaza at the World Championships in Tokyo was low, as is the case in most international competitions. In my opinion, this is due, in part, to overly frequent and often premature Mate declared when contestants are fighting on the ground. Another reason, perhaps, is that the importance of Newaza is overlooked in daily practice in most Dojos. Newaza is very important in as much as the degree of its proficiency counts a lot, especially in close matches. Akimoto, Japanese winner in the men’s 73kg category, and Matsumoto, Japanese winner in women’s 57kg category, are good examples. Both of them demonstrated extraordinary capability in turning over their respective opponents who attempted to stay flat on their stomach in a firm defensive position, and then drawing their opponent into groundwork and successful immobilization. Such efficiency of these techniques is only obtained after long and assiduous training in Newaza. Overall, I have the impression that Japanese women are generally well trained in Newaza. Newaza should be accorded greater importance in competition. In order to attain this objective, a few rule modifications and a change of thinking on the part of referees are required.
4. How did foreign experts view these issues of judo?I took advantage of this precious occasion to exchange views with some officials of national and international federations, as well as some journalists who came to Tokyo. They were generally happy to see that the posture of combatants improved considerably as a result of the recent change of rules which prohibits a direct attack against the opponent’s body under the belt. I feel that there exists a common sentiment among many judoka around the world that judo should be approached from the starting point of good grips (Kumite ) and a win by Ippon.
Of the points raised earlier, the question of courtesy did not seem to be of interest to everybody. But they generally agreed that it is an essential element of judo. On other issues, they were in agreement with me concerning the problem of the quality of referees, and premature Mate. They also expressed the hope of a larger role for Newaza in both competitions and daily practice.
On the whole, the visiting judo experts, especially the French, have a clear view on the need to realize authentic judo - namely, judo based on original principles such as those enunciated by the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano. I sensed that they expect Japanese initiatives in these endeavors, but are somewhat disappointed because the Japanese are not much engaged in this undertaking. After talking with those foreign judo experts, I was convinced once again that the Japanese should play a more important role in the pursuit of “original” of judo in cooperation with like-minded colleagues in other countries.