Interview With USJA President Gary Goltz (Part 2 of 2)

Here's part 2 of the interview with Gary Goltz, the current President of the USJA.  In this part, we get a bit more in to what's going on with Judo in the US vs. the rest of the world, and how it can be grown...  If you didn't catch it, you can find part 1 here.

CM:  I recall that you mentioned that there were ~25,000 registered judoka in the US. About how many of those 25,000 are registered with the USJA?
GG: We have about 9,000 active members and about 20,000 life members - though many of those are inactive. The USJF and USA Judo have about the same in terms of active members.  There are many people who are members in more than one organization, which is how we arrived at the 25,000 total amount. If you count some of the other groups that aren't recognized by the NGB there may be about 30,000.

CM: When did US Judo participation peak, and how many folks were practicing at that point?
GG:  Right after WWII during the 50's and early 60's, judo was at an all-time high in this country perhaps twice the current amount.
CM:  So while we've seen the US population almost double, we've seen judo participation cut in half.
GG:  Exactly. During the 50's and 60's, we were the martial art. There wasn't that much karate, tae kwon do, aikido, kung fu, or any Brazilian jiu jitsu. You know, when I started judo in 1965, I watched the Green Hornet with Bruce Lee and I said to my dad I want to learn how to do that stuff... The next thing I know, I'm at my local Y enrolled in a 10 week judo class as that was all they had back then!

CM:  Do you think that the competition from other martial arts has pushed Judo to the background, or is it something that we in the Judo community have done to ourselves?
GG:  I think the judo community can take much of the credit. In the early days of judo, there was an aversion to anyone trying to do it professionally or trying to make money.  Some great players like Gene LeBell were ostracized and banned from tournaments.
Karate schools on the other hand spread like wild flowers into the strip malls and many successful businesses were born. Stars like Chuck Norris and the striking arts got more popular while judo moved to the back-burner.
Since we never got connected to high schools like wrestling, we really had nowhere to go. Judo wasn't expanding commercially or non-commercially.

CM:  It's true... there are a ton of clubs - I'll even include myself in this - that just aren't trying to make any money.  You don't seem to see that in other arts.  Where did this sentiment come from?
GG:  The old AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) as I understand it was based on the notion that only amateurs could compete in events like the Olympics.  And they used to govern judo along with the JBBF (now the USJF).

CM: Do you have any sense for what is going on with Judo in other countries... France, Japan, Brazil?  Have they been growing, shrinking, or holding steady?
GG:  I'd say that judo is still growing. It's very popular in those countries, and in the former Soviet Republics - Russia, Georgia, etc., it's obviously popular in Asian as well as Central and South America, even in Africa judo is gaining ground.

CM:  So why is judo growing in these places and shrinking here?
GG:  I think we may have bottomed out and are starting to come back. One of the things that we're seeing is mixed martial arts schools and Brazilian jiu jitsu academies have begun embracing judo. In the USJA, we're trying to broaden our appeal too promoting judo as a great way to stay in shape while and learning self-defense skills.

CM:  So why do you think that Judo is so much more popular in France (and most of the rest of the world) than it is here?  Can it all be explained by cultural factors, or are there things that we should learn from their Judo community to apply here in the States?  And if so, what?
GG:  There are several reasons: They have national organizations that are supported by their governments in terms of money and authority. They have a single national standard (the judo that you learn over there is much more consistent). Their tournaments are televised and they've had a lot of success at the Olympics. Another thing that the French and the British did was from the beginning they took what they learned from the Japanese and interpreted in a manner oriented towards Westerners. For something to succeed in America, it has to be American... we have to make it a part of the American culture. If you look at Karate, they have done a great job of that. Also in other countries competition is geared towards teenagers and young adults. Here in the states we tend to push judo like a Pop Warner football league on kids. We need to be smarter in our marketing approach understanding that people come to judo for different reasons and that not everyone wants to be an Olympic champion.

CM:  Changing gears a bit - or maybe not - what is your personal opinion of the IJF rules, particularly the latest leg-grab changes? 
GG:  After these rules went into effect, I became much more serious about refereeing. I didn't want to be teaching my students something that would get them disqualified in a tournament. I have mixed feelings about the new rules. I like them in some ways - the quality of judo that you see in tournaments is better overall. You really are seeing more quality throws. On the other hand, I think that leg grabs are important. When I started judo, I did it for self-defense. Well, people grab your legs in a fight and you need to know how to handle that situation. There has to be some moderation where you encourage good stand-up judo, but you don't take so much out of it that it becomes unrealistic. Another thing for people to realize is that there are now many grappling and no gi tournaments outside of the main stream of judo which provide opportunities to still use these leg grabs, pick-ups, and even some striking techniques.
CM:  That's true, but like you said, people are going to end up teaching what is legal in a tournament, and most coaches are only sending people to IJF-rules judo tournaments.  So tournament-legal judo is all they are being taught, and that, then, doesn't work well in these other competitions...
GG:  You can always teach your students based on what tournament they are going to. Versatile instructors should be able to make the adjustments to fit each situation.

CM:  So if you could design the rules, how would you do it?  What would the Gary Goltz judo rules be?
GG:  Instead of hansokumake [immediate disqualification] for the leg grabs, I'd make it a shido [a lesser penalty]. It’s pretty devastating to hansokumake somebody because they got excited and grabbed a leg. It's too extreme and shido should be used as a warning to put the rule back in their head and let them continue with the match.

CM:  Does the USJA sanction tournaments that don't use IJF rules?
GG:  It depends on the situation. If they just want to use just ippon and wazari like in the olden days sure, we'll sanction it. However, if somebody wants to allow kawazu gake [leg entanglement, a dangerous banned technique] then we won't sanction it. It really depends on whether we can in good consciousness support it and provide liability insurance.
CM:  But it's not a matter of "If it's not IJF, we won't sanction it"...  But if it's safe and reasonable...
GG:  Almost all tournaments deviate from the IJF standards in one way or another. For example, the IJF requires a huge mat area for the Olympics, but at most local events they use smaller mat areas. So there are almost always some modifications.  Bottom-line is if it's dangerous regardless of the IJF rules, we won't sanction it.

CM:  What is the significance of IJF rules to most US Judoka?  That is, should we pay any attention to them, given that most of us will never compete in an international tournament? 
GG:  Well, they are relevant because most tournaments in the US use those rules. But like we said most competitors don’t think about competing in the Olympics and world championships. They compete within their local area and that's it. These are the people the USJA needs to focus on. To this end, the USJA and USJF formed its Grassroots Judo alliance with the goal of fostering participation in all aspects of judo. 

CM:  When I started Judo in the 90s, it seemed that the 3 big Judo organizations were constantly competing with one another, likely to the detriment of Judo.  I know nowadays, I can at least compete in a USJF-sanctioned tournament with my USJA membership, so it seems that there is at least some level of cooperation.  Are the other examples of such cooperation?  What, if anything, should we expect in the future?
GG:  Absolutely. The USJA and USJF the Grassroots Judo alliance now encompasses our joint Junior Nationals, Winter Nationals, and several other events. Another thing we’re doing is the USJA, USJF, along with USA Judo are communicating regularly to improve the brand of judo and we're working on a joint marketing initiative. The best part is that now if we have a problem with each other we feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling one of our counterparts to work it out.
CM:  That's great.  Are there any other examples?
GG:  Yes. Last year we issued a Triad Positioning Statement, where we said that our goal was to grow judo in the US. We no longer see pilfering members from each other’s organizations as a real growth strategy. We now defined "growing judo" as getting more (new) feet on the mat.

CM:  Is there a need for 3(+) organizations?  Do any of them serve a unique role, other than USA Judo and it's affiliation with the Olympics?  Is it better for the US to have many organizations tocan compete and hopefully innovate, or do you feel that we could get more done under one big umbrella?
GG:  The American Way is that we American's like choices. When you go to buy a car, you can look at Ford, at a Chevy, and many others. The USJA and USJF are working well together now and learning from each other. We each have different areas of expertise. I think that having the USJA and the USJF focused on growing Grassroots Judo™ with USA Judo focused on taking our best athletes to prepare them for the Olympics and the world championships as a viable plan. It would probably be cheaper if there was a single organization as there would be less overhead. But we're only going to get there by taking baby steps, building trust and letting nature take its course.

CM:  Thanks a ton for your time, Gary.  I really appreciate it.



Patrick Parker said...

Excellent interview, Chad! Good job!
I think you ought to set your sights on interviewing Ben night horse Campbell next, followed by vladmir Putin and. Angela merckel.

Chad Morrison said...

Hmmm... Senator Campbell is a definite maybe. Merkel has terrible ashi waza, though, so I am not sure about her...

kodokanjudo said...

Chad, I think that the only iterview Putin might do is with you in a specially made KGB chair.
Met Ben Campbell many years ago, good man and good judoka.

kodokanjudo said...

I can say that Black Belt mags from the mid 60's calculated somewhere between 40 to 60 thousand judo practitiners in the USA at the time. During the early to mid 70's, the number was given at about 70,000.

ward said...

No doubt Judo could do a better job of marketing itself but it is also more difficult than marching a bunch of kids in, teaching them some dance steps and how to break a little board.

kodokanjudo said...

Good point Ward. Karate-do and TKD are basically watered down here unlike as in Japan or Korea, besides that they are both practically taught for nothing more than for monetary profit.
Kano's judo has the opposite philosophy: Kano never made money with judo, as a fact, he lost money doing it. "Mutual benefit" pretty much says that one is not to profit greatly from it or he/she would be in violation of Kano's "do".

Chad Morrison said...

I have never seen "mutual benefit" as an injunction against profit - where did Kano mention that?

kodokanjudo said...

Kano never directly say that judo was not for profit, as a fact that he encouraged regional dojo(s) in Japan to find a way to make sure that instructors were taken care of financially, but he never would have been in favor of the huge profits that modern "McDojos" make today. As a fact that whenever the Kodokan had any extra funds, he would donate it to other educational institutions that catered to low income individuals or bring low income students to train for free. This was part of his "Mutual benefit" ideal.

kodokanjudo said...

Mifune was a perfect example: After graduating with a degree, he started a newspaper and made it very profitable. In time he sold it and purchased a property to build his residence and a very large dojo for his "uchi-deshi" (live-in-students) to reside and train in judo.

Chad Morrison said...

Well, I won't claim to know what Kano would have thought, but my own opinion is that making profit - even significant profit - is not against the spirit of mutual benefit and welfare... I think the issue with the McDojos is not that they are profitable, but that their customers aren't getting real benefit, unless you count the self-esteem from buying a green belt and a membership in the "Black Belt Spirit Club" as a legitimate benefit.

Profit isn't a bad thing. Judo instructors need to learn how to market and how to price, and just need to avoid the temptation of "selling out".

kodokanjudo said...

Oh yes, I agree that profit is not bad thing in judo, Kano made sure that judo instructors made a good living teaching judo. The question here is when does the sensei make so much profit that it throws the "mutual benefit" concept off the tracks? That would certainly be up to us as individuals but it would tell much about where we are within the "spirit of judo".

kodokanjudo said...

I certainly would not look down on an individual that earns an honest living teaching judo to support his/her family, but in reality, how many people have we ever met that actually do this? Even in Europe, judo is subsidized by the individual governments, and in Japan, the sensei gets a salary much like a school teacher to teach judo.
Dont forget that even the biggest judo money scandal we ever had here in the US was never about personal profit, it was about getting money any witch way (promotions and certifications) in order to put more money back into judo!