Interview with Author and Freestyle Judo Founder, Steve Scott

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have come across AAU-backed "Freestyle Judo" as an alternative to the absurd rules of the IJF.  I tracked down Steve Scott, the founder of Freestyle Judo, for a brief interview (my first, so bear with me).

For some quick background on Steve Scott, he started judo in 1965, and has been involved with Sambo and Shingitai Jujitsu for decades, as well.  Sensei Scott is the head coach of the Welcome Mat Judo, Jujitsu and Sambo Club in Kansas City, Missouri - for those of you who remember Josh Henges visiting the club a few times, he studied under Scott, and Josh had some pretty wicked Judo.  Scott is also the author of several books, including Winning on the Mat
, The Grappler's Book of Strangles and Chokes
, Drills for Grapplers
 (which I left at the dojo, I think/hope), and about a bajillion others.  And of course, he is the founder of Freestyle Judo.

On to the Interview:

ChadLet me start by asking what, to you, is Freestyle Judo?  By that I mean, is it simply a different rule set?  Is it a movement?  Is it an organization?  A system? 
Steve Scott:  There is only one judo and that is the Kodokan Judo of Jigoro Kano. Freestyle judo is an attempt to bring back the original intent of judo as a combat sport. Today's judo rules as established by the IJF have, in my opinion, watered down the sport of judo and limited the skills and tactics athletes and coaches can use. We developed the freestyle judo rules so that athletes can use all the skills of judo, both throwing and groundfighting, to the best of their abilities. The freestyle judo rules also take out much of the subjectivity that are in the IJF judo rules and allow the athletes more opportunity to control the outcome of the match.

CM:  In the 2 years that FJ has been around, what have you guys accomplished, and what goals do you have outstanding?
SS:  We held our first AAU Freestyle Nationals in November, 2009. Our goal is to provide another avenue for anyone who is interested in competing in judo and developing their skills. I was one of the people in 1994 who got the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) interested in doing judo again. The goal of AAU Judo since that time (and continues to be) is to provide competitive opportunities and develop judo talent in the United States. I developed the freestyle rules as part of our overall AAU Judo program and believe it will provide more competitive opportunities for a lot of athletes and coaches.

CM:  Have you found that the FJ rule set has been more inviting to other arts (e.g., wrestling, BJJ, MMA, etc)?  Who has been the most responsive?
SS:  We've seen some interest from BJJ athletes and coaches, but have had more interest from many people in the judo community who are pretty well fed up with the restrictive rules of the IJF.

CM:  I think there are a number of us who have been frustrated/infuriated with the powers-that-be regulating judo into irrelevance.  So what drove you to start Freestyle Judo?  Was there a straw that broke the camel's back?
SS:  I've been involved with judo for a long time and served in several capacities in USJI (now USA Judo) and the USJA. Actually, in 1994, I simply got tired of dealing with the politics and got the AAU interested in promoting judo on the national level again. I've always been interested in developing a set of contest rules that take much of the subjective element from refereeing and judging in judo. The freestyle rules are an outgrowth of some of the work I did with my friend John Saylor in his Shingitai Jujitsu Association for the grappling rules of that organization. The real "straw that broke the camel's back" was simply my on-going observation that judo is being watered down as a viable combat sport and I wanted to do something about it. Like a lot of other people, I griped a lot about what was happening to judo, so I simply decided to stick my neck out and do something positive about it by offering freestyle judo as a viable alternative.
     One more comment; One of my pet peaves about the IJF rules is that a soft or rolling Ippon is scored. In freestyle judo, our referees look for control, force and if the athlete is thrown onto his back or back side, just like we did in judo prior to recent rule changes in the IJF that allowed for soft Ippons. We designed the rules so that the athletes decide who wins or loses, not the referee.

CM:  When you decided what you wanted to do, how did you go about it?  Did you try to work with any organizations outside of the AAU?
SS:  As I said earlier, I've worked within the "mainstream" of American judo for many years, and the initial step was getting the AAU, as a viable national sports organization, to get involved with judo again. The history of judo in the United States is one that is filled with a lot of politics and at one time the AAU was the governing body for all amateur sports in the United States. The Presidential Sprorts Act of 1978 changed that and gave the U.S. Olympic Committee the autonomy and authority to develop governing bodies foe each of the Olympic sports, including judo. The people who were in charge of the AAU in those years simply changed to the USJI (now USA Judo). The AAU was no longer involved in judo. When I appraoched the AAU in 1994, I promised the leaders of that organization that we would pursue judo strictly as a sport, and we have been good on our word. I served as the AAU Judo Chairman from 1994-1998 and my friend Norm Miller has served as the Chairman from 1998 to present. The AAU offers competiton in both our standard AAU judo rules (we use waza-ari, yuko, etc. and by the way, allow leg grabs, kata guruma, te guruma and all the throws and techniques that were legal in the IJF before thier drastic rule changes) and in freestyle judo.
     I like working with the AAU as we have a solid organization for judo. We're small, but growing. Our approach to judo is similar to what amateur wrestling's approach is...we offer quality tournaments with fair referees and try to provde a fun, fair and safe atmosphere at all our AAU tournaments. The attitude at an AAU judo tournament is very different than that of many judo tournaments in that our referees are "approachable." Many people who first attend one of our tournaments immediately see the difference in how we appraoch judo.
     We know, in AAU Judo, and especially in freestyle judo, that we are a development program and want to include as many people as possible. We make no claims that our tournaments are tougher than USA Judo tournaments or that our athletes are better than anyone else's athletes. Our goal is to be part of a positive approach to the devleopment of judo in the United States.

CM:  Do you feel like the Freestyle Judo rules are still a work in progress, or are they pretty much set now?
SS:  In the early stages of formulating the rules for freestlye judo, we initially looked at including leglocks, but dismissed the idea as not many judo clubs practice leglocks, although in the very early rules of Kodokan Judo, leglocks were included.  We hope to make freestyle judo a positive asset to the mainstream judo community and including leglocks was an interesting idea, but not one that would (in my opinion) be something that the judo community would embrace.
     From the comments received from people who have competed or attended a freestyle judo tournament, the rules allow for a wide and full range of technical skill to be used. I've received only a couple of negative comments. One negative comment concerned the awarding of Ippon for a throw. Just like in days of past, an Ippon for a throw is scored by throwing an opponent onto his back or back side with force and control. If any part of that is not present, a lesser score will be awarded. Some people who are used to getting a soft Ippon or rolling Ippon don't like having to actually throw someone for the score. Also, one young man told me that he didn't like "so much newaza" but then again, his idea of groundfighting in the freestyle judo tournament he entered was to lay flat on his face and try to crawl out of bounds. He was actually upset with the referee that he was not allowed to crawl out of bounds to avoid his opponent. I replied to him that if he were standing up and tried to run or walk out of bounds to avoid engaging his opponent, he would receive a penalty for that as well. And, as judo is a combat sport, I posed the question to him that if he were in a real fight, would an assailant allow him to lay on this face and try to crawl away?  So, there will be some people who may not like freestyle judo, and if that's the case, there are plenty of other competitive outlets for them to choose.
     And, if freestyle judo has popular interest and continues to grow, I am sure there will be some changes in the rules from time to time. However, it's my hope that any future rule changes only enhance athletes ability to use thier full range of technical skills and keep the officials from gaining too much subjective control of the match.

CM:  Why eliminate the victory by osae komi?  Doesn't that take a major tool out of the ground player's arsenal?
SS:  The idea is to bring back the original concept that "osaekomi" is an immobilization until the attacker (tori) can secure a finishing hold such as a submission technique. This is also used in sambo and with good effect. Doing this allows the athletes to pursue submission techniques more aggressively. However, if there is one aspect of the freestyle rules that is subject to change, it is this one. At the end of the 2011 season, our AAU judo committee will discuss any changes that may be made, but we won't do it until we get some input from athletes and coaches.

CM:  I want to compete!  Where can I find a Freestyle Judo tournament?  For that matter, how could I start my own?  Is this strictly an American phenomenon, or can FJ be found outside the US?
SS:  We want you to compete as well and encourage everyone who reads this to go to our web site at to see the rules of freestyle judo as well as a lot of other information on what we are doing. We encourage people to join AAU Judo by going to to sign up as members.
     The best way to get involved is to host a local or club tournament using the freestyle judo rules. If you read them carefully, you will see how we devised them so that all aspect of judo skill can be used. You can get a good look at some freestyle judo matches on our web site or by typing in freestyle judo on YouTube. My YouTube account is welcomematstevescott and I have a lot of freestyle judo stuff there.
     The AAU is a volunteer organization. I'm a volunteer and our referees and coaches are volunteers as well. The other national judo groups are volunteer as well.  I mention this because if anyone wants me or any of our freestyle judo referees or coaches to come to do a clinic or help run a freestyle judo tournament, you can contact me at We are willing to come and help anyone as long as our expenses are paid. Tom McGuire and Matt Marcinek are hosting a freestyle judo tournament this Summer in Scranton, Pennsylvania and information can be found on our web site.
     Also, freestyle judo has gone to Australia and the first freestyle judo tournament outside for the United States was held last April and hosted by Terry Williams. He plans to host another one in late July as well.
     I am working on getting some more international contacts and we hope to have a viable international championship for freestyle judo by 2012.
     As I said before, I encourage everyone who reads this to host a club or local freestyle judo tournament. By the way, the AAU provides excellent (I think the best) membership benefits for athletes, coaches and referees as well as club membership insurance benefits. I'm convinced that the AAU offers the best membership service possible. If you host and sanction an AAU judo tournament, you can also purchase some of the best-looking medals on the market at really cheap prices.

CM:  What else do people need to know about Freestyle Judo?
SS:  I'm sure as freestyle judo gains in popularity, there will be those who enjoy doing that more than competing in tournaments that use the IJF rules. We don't encourage anyone to stop doing IJF judo, but at the same time know that freeestyle judo will catch on simply because it makes sense.  If you want a serious look at freestyle judo, I encourage people to read my book WINNING ON THE MAT, published by Turtle Press. I'm not trayhing to peddle books but this book offers and in-depth look at the functional skills of sport judo and especially freestyle judo. Go to to find out more about it.
     If anyone wants to receive my free monthly e-mail newsletter (called Welcome Mat Online Newsletter), please e-mail me at and I'll be glad to add your name to the mailing list.
     Again, I encourage everyone to get involved in freestyle judo. As my good friend John Saylor said; "It's the way judo ought to be."

CM:  Thanks for the interview.  This was great.



Josh said...

Great interview. We would love to come out there and kick it freestyle.

Chad Morrison said...

Bring it, Hippie!

sam byers said...


kodokanjudo said...

I can certainly see that these rules are a reaction to the IJF rules but if most everyone agrees that Kodokan rules were much better, why not simply re adopt them? The answer is to revert back to 1972 rules, it's that simple.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

This really is a good interview. I like your blog a lot. There aren't many judo blogs out there and most of them are little more than someone's personal training diary, which can be interesting , but it's very nice to read something with a broader perspective

Chad Morrison said...

That's quite a compliment, Dr. De Mars. I'm just getting started, so hopefully it will just get better from here. Of course, it may also be that I get all of my interesting thoughts out up front... but we'll have to see. I've enjoyed reading your blog for several months now... really, your blog and were inspirations for me to start this one. And as a side note, I'd love to interview your daughter about the application of Judo in MMA... so be on the lookout for that! :>

kodokanjudo said...

Chad, I agree with "La Presidente" Dr AnnMaria!
This is a great blog and you might consider to require everyone in class read it as part of the Kogi part of judo training and they can use the comments section as the Mondo part of their training.

Erica said...

Cool interview!

Mr. Martial Arts