Judo Rules: A Case Study of How to Neuter a Martial Art

Judo was once an art of experimentation and adaptation, seeking all manner of competition in order to improve both the art and the practitioners.  Now, Judo has devolved to a sport trying to isolate itself from those from outside "The Art" who can nonetheless beat us at our own game.

In the early days of Judo, it was a time of massive experimentation by Dr. Kano and his students to find what worked and what didn't.  Of course, Kano had his own definition of what it meant for a technique to work - something along the lines of maximum efficiency, minimum effort. It had to be repeatable at full strength - that is, you should be able to do it over and over to someone without seriously damaging your partner/opponent. One criterion that is sometimes overlooked (most often, in my experience, by those who purport to teach Judo "the way Kano intended") is the most obvious one - the technique actually had to be able put a fully-resisting bad guy on his ass.  In my non-scholarly opinion, I think that these criteria form the foundation of a good Judo throw.  Notice, however, what I didn't say:  He didn't reject a technique because it wasn't how he was taught, because he hadn't seen it before, or because wasn't sure how to define it - and he certainly didn't reject a technique simply because other folks were kicking his students' asses with it.  Quite the opposite.

We all know the stories... Here's my synopsis: Kano's students with his new training method went out and kicked tail.  Yay!  But some folks noticed that these "judoka" weren't that great once you got them off of their feet, so they exploited that weakness and beat the judoka.  Shoot!  But then, Kano and the gang integrated some of those pesky ground techniques right on into this Judo thing, and gave them more emphasis than before!  What happens next?  Judoka take over Japan!  And then the world (except for the Americas)!  Yay!

If the IJF had been regulating those contests, they would have just banned groundwork outright.  Sissies.  When the Russians came in with their wacky Unjapanesy grips and started dumping Judoka on their butts, Kano might have integrated that into his teaching, and let the judo community learn how to effectively counter it.  The IJF instead outlawed "nontraditional" grips.  When ground specialists came back in and started butt-flopping and submitting their way to victory, Kano may have renewed his students' focus on their groundwork.  Judo refs instead worked to keep people off the ground as much as possible.  When the wrestlers came in and started yanking our legs out from under us, did we take Kano's example and figure out how to beat them?  No, we decided to make these effective attacks basically illegal.

The effect of all this is that instead of becoming a stronger Art that can take on all comers, we have isolated ourselves into irrelevance.  In making leg-grabs illegal, you make the judoka infinitely more susceptible to it in any confrontation that doesn't involve judo rules.  And I don't think that is what Dr. Kano had in mind.

Disclaimer:  I am not a historian, and everything I have said here is based on statements from instructors/colleagues or stuff I have read.  Please correct me if you see anything wrong - and if you can cite a source showing how I am wrong, all the better.



kodokanjudo said...

Good points.
IMO the IJF has done nothing but ruin Kano's judo since they took control from the Kodokan.

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