In fact, there is considerable evidence to suggest that judo is NOT the second-biggest sport in the world, if one defines "biggest" as the one with the most spectators or the most participants or the most competitors, but that is a myth to be busted another day. Let's take our myths one at a time, shall we?
Three new sports have become extremely popular in the U.S. - grappling, mixed martial arts and Brazilian jiujitsu. While jiujitsu has been around for a long time, the particular style that has given rise to all the new schools is relatively new. If the soft, wienie theory were true, it is hard to understand why a sport that allows you to slam people on really thin mats (grappling) or punch people in the face AND armbar them, is gaining players by the day.
Let's look at the four P's they teach you in marketing - price, product, promotion and place. Of those four, the one we are the worst on is product.
I can hear the screams of outrage already - judo is a wonderful sport! We love it! If people only knew …
I believe we have at least two major problems with judo as a product. The first is the lack of respect we give to our consumers / students.
Look how judo is taught in many clubs (not all clubs, but too many). Some old men tell a lot of young people to do exercises. They get to do this because they have a higher rank. If anyone complains that practice is the same every day or asks why they are doing a certain drill, it is pointed out that the instructor is a volunteer. I have been in judo classes many times in many places where the instructor will yell at students,
"You're not here to have fun!"Well, what are they here for, then? Personally, I had a great time when I trained and I won a lot. I did it because it was fun. I've heard instructors say,
"They'll have fun when they win."Yes, winning is an awesome amount of fun, but someone who is a really good athlete can probably win at something besides judo, too, and maybe that thing will be more fun. You see, most people think the whole point of recreational activities is, well, recreation. Sports are SUPPOSED to be fun.
Contrast this with grappling or MMA. People come in and work out. The person running the class does some demonstration of techniques. Since they have no belt to validate their qualifications, people make a judgement as to whether this person knows what he or she is talking about or not. No one yells at them to tie their belt, their uniform is not tucked in, or they forgot to bow.
Some might argue that judo teaches you respect. This is true, in some schools, but respect is not how you dress, it is how you behave and it is mutual.
I meet people who are in grappling, MMA and jiujitsu all of the time. Some of them are complete jerks - just like some people in judo. Most of them are extremely polite, just like people in judo. I'm not stupid. I realize that part of that politeness is because I'm an older woman and people are raised to be polite to older women, and most especially to mothers, because being impolite to someone's mother may earn you a kick in the teeth. The fact that I'm the mother of four beautiful daughters is not lost on me and no doubt adds to the politeness factor.
My point - and you may by now have despaired of me having one - is that I haven't seen any evidence that yelling at people to tie their belts, tuck in their judo gis, and bow properly has caused a drastically higher level of politeness.
This may seem to contradict the experience of some older instructors at tournaments, who will tell me that they have been extremely rudely spoken to by young people from MMA clubs. I believe respect is mutual. If you walk up to a person you don't know and berate him for the way he's dressed, bowing, shoes, etc. you see it as your right because you are a higher rank. He just sees it as a stranger yelling at him about something trivial that's none of his business. Seriously, what gives you that right?
This isn't to say I haven't made some young people unhappy. For example, I've told 18- 20 year old men at tournaments that they can't be drinking beer in the lobby because they are under age, it's illegal, they were being bad role models to younger children, people who provide funds to our organization could see them and it could hurt our chances for additional funding, and a lot of other reasons. They were NOT happy, but they quit drinking in public when I was around. What I did NOT say was because I said so, I am a sixth-degree black belt, I am a referee. What I hope they understood (and I think they did) is that I talked to them because I care about them, our younger players, and any players who might lose out on funding due to their bad behavior. What gives me the right is I'm a person in the judo community, with no or more less rights than them or their parents.
The second area where we have failed as a product is the arbitrary and capricious rules. Rules change at random with no input from the coaches or players and no apparent rhyme or reason. I've been in judo 40 years and I have a Ph.D. and I can't figure out why one year a certain throw will be legal and the next year not or why a certain grip is illegal. Judo matches are determined by the referees' intervention FAR more than other contact sports I have watched (and I'm not counting tae kwon do and other striking sports in here because I don't know much about them and I think maybe they attract a different clientele).
Read this next paragraph slowly because I think it is key --
When someone trains even moderately hard, he or she will be unhappy to go into an event, wait around for hours to compete, only to lose a match due to holding the uniform in an unacceptable manner or touching the leg, or anyone of a great number of other infractions which make no sense. The number of judo matches in the U.S. decided by penalties far exceeds anything I have ever seen in any other contact sport.
The attitude toward coaches and players for years has been
"Screw 'em, what are they going to do? Not compete?"
In fact, it appears that what they are going to do is not compete in judo, but rather, compete in something very like judo. We're not the only game in town any more.
One explanation I have heard for the rule changes is to differentiate judo more from wrestling and grappling. Let me get this right, someone thought it was a good idea to change to be LESS like the sports that were more popular? Sure, that'll work. (Sarcasm alert!)