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Principals / Philosophy
Is the Sport of Judo killing itself and the Art?
October 10, 2011


Since I started learning Judo from Sensei Zdenek Matl, I have been in awe of it's true power and versatility. I was getting back in to a striking art and was determined to "get my Black Belt", not having a clue as to what having a "Black Belt" really means.

Shortly after getting in to a new Dojo, I found Sensei Matl throwing around, pinning, and submitting guys twice his size and almost half his age. He was barely breaking a sweat and they were working so hard fighting with him and getting no where. When one guy just could not continue, he would just move on to the next guy. It was simply amazing to watch.

One afternoon, while I was stretching for class, he said “Come. Practice with us. Learn something useful in stead of sitting there.”. After watching him teach and work with guys over a period of a few months, the decision was an easy one. From that first class, I was sold. This Judo stuff was simply beautiful.

After a few months of training, I had decided to attend my first tournament, which was the 1993 Aquafest Judo Tournament put on by Frankie Tubbs. I took 3rd place. It was awesome.

During this time a Judo match could last up to 5 minutes. You win by scoring one full point before your opponent. This is done by throwing from standing, pinning on the ground, submission in either standing or on the ground, or if the other fighter was disqualified. Fractional points were 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2 point. The only thing that could add to the next level would be the 1/2 point, so two 1/2 points would equal 1 full point, but two 1/8 points would NOT add to equal 1/4 point. If someone had a 1/4 point and their opponent had five 1/8 points, the fighter with the 1/4 point would win.

To win 1 full point by throwing you had to throw your partner, WITH CONTROL, from their feet to their back. This is called an Ippon and could happen within the first few seconds of the match. If you threw your partner and completely lost your balance and were also thrown as a result of your own technique, you WOULD NOT be awarded Ippon, but a lesser point at best.

To win 1 full point by pinning, you had to have full body control over your opponent for 30 consecutive seconds. This is not just having shoulders pinned to the floor, but if your partner had some movement available, they could not escape your pinning and positioning. You could even transition from pin to pin and if you did not lose control, your time would not be broken. As the seconds count, you are awarded points as you would if there was a throw.

To win 1 full point by submission, you could attack a joint in the body or the blood supply to the brain. A joint in the body would be attacked in a manner that if you opponent did not tap out, you could apply pressure until the joint would break or the Referee would step in and stop the fight. The blood supply could be attacked by shutting off the arteries in the neck supplying blood to the brain. This causes your opponent to temporarily lose consciousness if they did not tap out. Either of these could be done while standing and fighting or while fighting on the ground.

All fighting that takes place on the ground in Judo is called Ne-Waza.

During this time period, the ONLY way you were stopped during ground fighting was by winning from a pin, winning by submission, if you and your opponent went totally out of bounds, if there was a clear stalemate where neither party could improve position, or if the 5 minute time limit for the match was up. As an example, you could both fall to the mat in a failed attempt at a throw in the first 30 seconds of the match and spend the remainder of the time on the mat ground fighting.

Over the next 2 or 3 years after my first tournament, the Judo powers that made the rules, started to minimize and shorten the time allowed for continuous ground fighting. At the time the reason given was to move the fights along faster for the viewing public. People didn't understand what was taking place when the fight was on the ground unless they were practitioners themselves. It was too slow, visually. Seeing someone flying through the air was more stimulating than an intricate choke or arm lock that you can't see from the stands.

From the time of the very first UFC to today, Judo competition had restricted ground fighting so much that if you don't have a submission or a pin within the first 3 to 5 seconds of hitting the ground, they will stop the match and stand you back up and continue the fight from the feet. Most fighters will not event attempt to continue on the ground if the opponent shows the slightest sign of defense.

As a result of these rule changes over the years, Judo schools and competitors all over the world reduced the amount of practice Ne-Waza (ground fighting) to almost none. Since most schools are competition oriented and the rules of competition don't really allow time for any meaningful Ne-Waza, there really isn't any reason for coaches and instructors to teach it. The focus is throwing from standing positions.

The rule changes for Ne-Waza and the subsequent changes as to how and what coaches and instructors are teaching students and competitors has essentially aided in killing off half the Art of Judo. This has also provided a gap and given rise to other grappling arts, such as Sambo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and other grappling arts. These off-shoot arts have either specialized in ground fighting (BJJ) or never took it out of their system (Sambo and others).

The current perceptions are that Judoka don't have any ground fighting skills and that you have to look to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to cover that aspect from grappling. Competition oriented Judoka have in fact lost most of that skill or was never really taught it. This is a shame because most of the techniques and movements taught in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are Judo techniques with different names. Triangle choke = Sankaku-Juji-Jime, rear naked choke = Hadaka-Jime, straight arm bar = Juji-Gatame, pillow choke = Kata-Gatame, Kimura (actually the last name of a Judoka who beat a bunch of Gracies with Ude-Garami) = Ude-Garami, just to name a few.

Judo is all about grappling. It doesn't matter if you are standing on your feet or on the ground. Judo is the art the other grappling arts are based off of.

Another very recent rule change that has been also been coming for a good number of years was the banning of directly attacking the legs. This was recently done because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners and Wrestlers were coming in to Judo tournaments and throwing Judokas by grabbing the legs. These rules were added by the Judo organizations as an attempt to prevent the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners and Wrestlers from coming in to the tournaments and just getting people down by grabbing the legs.

This rule is completely RIDICULOUS and is another step in the killing of the Art of Judo. There are a number of good Judo techniques, that are very safe, and require you to directly grab and attack the legs. Making a rule that blocks competing arts from participating in Judo competition with legitimate Judo techniques is not only WRONG, but is IS NOT the Martial Way.

By using this same logic and train of thought, there are a lot of Judoka all over the world in every school and tournament anywhere that are thrown with Seoi-Nage, Uchi-Mata, Osoto-Gari, Seoi-Maki-Komi, Tomoe-Nage, Tai-Otoshi, and so on. Why aren't those techniques banned along with a Morote-Gari (double-leg), Sukui-nage (double-leg), Kuchiki-Taoshi (single-leg), Kibisu-Gaeshi (single-leg), and so on, which are all legitimate safe Judo techniques not allowed as an initial attack?

The path that we, as Martial Artists and ambassadors of Judo, should take is one of open arms and an open mind. If someone comes in and is throwing or submitting Judokas with a safe technique, then it is our duty as practitioners and students of the art to study what is happening and how it's happening. Then, analyze it and learn or discover how to prevent it from happening again or how to counter it and use it to our advantage. Isn't that what Judo is really all about? To go with, give way, redirect, and turn a negative in to a positive.

As a grappling art, Judo is a complete art. Get away from most of the silly rules of competition and look at the art for what it was intended, you will find it covers everything. Throwing from standing, pinning on the ground, submission by joint lock or blood choke from standing or on the ground, multiple attackers, self-defense against an opponent with a weapon or hand-to-hand. Sure, some rules are necessary for the safety of competitors, but what we currently have is NOT a good representation of the art and what Judo is truly all about. Sport and competition has it's place until it abandons it's roots to take form as something else.

Judo, the Gentle Way, is a Martial Art that focuses on using the size, strength, speed, and mind of an opponent against them. Look at what is happening in the Judo community and ask the question, “Is this really Judo?”.



Chad Haas, Head Instructor