Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Future of Judo Matwork May not be Judo

Sometimes, when I think of the future of judo in the U.S., I feel a bit like the t-shirt my husband was wearing the other day.

My "day job" is as president of a consulting company, a large part of our business being statistics. I get paid to tell people what the data show, not what they, or even I, would like it to show. A while back, I did  a post showing the downward trend in judo in the United States. It looked like this:


The above is a plot of the number of male competitors in the Olympic weight divisions. The plot for females from 2002 to 2011 is even more sharply negative. 

My youngest daughter did judo from age four until she was 11 years old. Then she switched to soccer. We were talking about this tonight and she said she never felt about judo the way she does about soccer. In soccer, she is never looking at the time to see if practice is over yet. She loves practice.

I felt that way about training in judo. I still do.  When we were at the Black Belt studio doing the photo shoot for our book, Winning on the Ground, Alex (he's the guy in the picture in that link with the cool hat - OBVIOUSLY the art director), said I was like a 14-year-old kid every time something came up about how to do an arm bar, or a choke or a turnover, I would get all excited and jump on the mat and demonstrate.


Sadly, judo isn't nearly as fun for as many people now as when I was younger. That is a fact.  When you attend national championships in the U.S., there are only a handful of clubs with competitors who place.  In fact, we only qualified five people to compete in 14 Olympic weight divisions. We can debate all night the reasons why this is true, but there is no question that it IS true - judo in the United States is dying out.

People tell me that is not the case around the world, but, you know, I've been around the world both as a competitor and a spectator. The only country where I have been that judo is huge and regularly in the newspapers is in Japan.  I've been to three Olympics and I have yet to see a sold-out stadium. You'd think if judo was so immensely popular world wide every seat in the Olympic stadium would be filled. 
As I said, my day job is looking at data in an objective manner, and outside of people who are involved in judo, I have never met a single person who takes seriously the claim that judo is the second-most practiced sport in the world. Maybe Teddy Riner makes a ton of money. So does Apollo Johnston Ono and no one claims speed skating is hugely popular.

Regardless, I live in America and no one with a straight face has ever claimed that judo is popular in the United States.

This would make me sad except for the fact that I am seeing judo -particularly judo mat work - everywhere. We just don't call it that. When I watch mixed martial arts, I see juji gatame and ude garami - they call them an arm bar and a kimura. I see a juji gatame in grappling and some people call it a cross body arm lock - in fact, Steve Scott wrote a whole book by that name - "Secrets of the Cross-Body Arm Lock" - and he has been doing judo longer than me. (Yes, and he's still alive. Amazing but true.)

That is why we called the book "Winning on the Ground" instead of "Judo Matwork" because it' s not just for judo. 

You can call it mixed martial arts, or judo, or mat work.

We call it winning.

(I really wanted to call the book Winning on the Mat but that name was already taken for another book, written by Steve Scott, who said, with all his usual grace and charm , "Yeah, I thought of it first, so suck it.")


16 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a 20 yr old male Judoka, I find it sad that Judo isn't as popular as it used to be. I began my practice well after the decline your chart shows obviously, but can completely identify with your giddy excitement over doing techniques without checking the time. It is true that Judo is everywhere in MMA. Morote gari is probably one of my favorite examples. As for your book, I loved the pics and videos from the shoot. Your genuine love for Judo is always apparent (just ask Bas Rutten lol) I am very excited for the book's release and will definitely be picking up a copy or 12.

Anonymous said...

I have been in Judo since 1953. It is sad to see the lack of participation but I feel it is the lack of quality instruction that is the culprit. Judo remains one of the few traditional martial Arts. Young people today lose interest fast and feel Judo is hard. Being committed and practicing to be as good as you can be relies heavily on the instruction and commitment of the sensei. MIA is appealing because of the money not the dedication I once knew. My knees, thumbs, and shoulders are arthritic. But I would do it all over again!

Anonymous said...

I don't think that there ever was judo in US as a country. Even 60 000 judokas in a country of 300 million is too little to actually build a working sport. Look at the natural competitors of US. Germany has over 200 000 players in far smaller country. Russia has god knows how many players.

It's obvious that judo can not be like soccer. There is always an element of pain and suffering in judo, but judo can live as good sized sport.

If I understood correctly wrestling is also slowly diminishing in US. I would guess that MMA and BJJ will (after it's not new anymore) also . As nowadays there are almost 50% of population overweight I think these hard sports will have to draw from smaller and smaller population in future.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if there was less emphasis on competition as well as how to enjoy randori (standup), adults might be interested in playing judo more. Even our own judo program loses people to our traditional jujitsu program (not BJJ). We take a lot more falls in our jujitsu program, but it's just not the same as being tossed during a randori session.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I'm not sure it is the element of pain and suffering that keeps judo from being more popular. Football, wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts all have their share of pain and suffering and all are more popular in the US than judo - by far

Tom Callos said...

Dr. AnnaMaria, first I have to tell you I've only recently discovered your writing/blog --and I'm now a big fan. I appreciate the work you do. Second, I've some opinions about judo, its decline in popularity, and how the judo world might turn that around.

Judo, in my opinion, is just as viable a martial art, from a school / marketability standpoint, as any other style (MMA, Karate, TKD, Krav., etc.).

The product is, again in my opinion, superb. There are two things that have to happen to create an environment for judo to blossom, in the US at least:

1. Instructor education and training. Judo practice, like all MA practice, offers solutions (or some contribution to solutions) to many troubling issues, especially with young people, with attitude, weight and fitness, teamwork, too much time on-screen, bully prevention, etc. However, instructors have to be educated about --and trained to engage in --the issues, how to talk about them, and how address them.

2. Community outreach and education: You can have the greatest curriculum in the world, but if you don't know how to talk about it and promote it within a community, well...

Marketing/promotion, systems a teacher can use to limit attrition, and all sorts of other simple management skills would/could greatly enhance participation in judo.

And like you mentioned in your piece, learning to introduce and/or talk about judo from different angles, too, might open doors not currently even being knocked on.

I was recently in San Jose with Mike Swain and there were 100 people on the mat doing judo at the San Jose Buddhist church --and that was on Spring Break (so class was small, said Swain).

It's not a decline in the popularity of judo that's the issue, but the need for teacher /business / management education that's on the table.

i'd like to be a part of the solution, if you ever care to discuss how that might come about.

Your new fan,

Tom Callos

drewbrunning said...

I have a lot to say on the matter as someone who cross-trains judo and BJJ. The long and short is that I know many a judoka who sees the value in cross-training and has a BJJ rank, but I know far too few BJJ players who see the value in the throw and cross-train in judo. The best remedy in my mind is judo demonstrating why it is still relevant to the American grappling community. I have never seen jiujitseros so impressed as when they watch a judo black belt land throws effortlessly and win from the top without ever being in their opponents guard or having to use their own. There are some throws in the BJJ cirricula I have been exposed to, but judo would fair much better if more judoka were to compete in BJJ, grappling, and wrestling tournaments more often. As I see it, there is a strong base of grappling in the United States, but it's fragmented across rule sets and styles. Building judo back up is something that needs a grassroots approach.

jcp said...

For me, Judo stand-up just takes more time and effort to do well than groundwork. Both have a lot of value. As MMA/BJJ evolves I'm seeing Judo throws used more effectively. If anything Judo groundwork is thriving and it is the stand-up that is truly in danger. Hopefully there are enough dedicated people to carry on learning the minutia of the art so that it is not completely lost or diluted to an unrecognizable state.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Jcp -
I agree with you that judo matwork is thriving - as I said, it's just not thriving in classes or clubs with the word "judo" in the title.

And Tom, I think to some extent, the instructor IS the product. I'd like to think when I teach a statistics class, for example, it is somewhat better than Random Joe teaching a statistics class and so worth more money and attended by more people. The same goes for judo.

Just because Mike Swain, who is not only a world champion but also a very good teacher, in an area that is the second or third highest in the US in the number of judo players, in one of the oldest schools in the US can draw 100 people to a practice doesn't mean that judo in the US is not in decline nor that judo as a whole is superb.

I certainly agree that judo could grow and improve greatly with better instructors.

jcp said...

Perhaps it is possible that Judo mat work may revive some under the Judo banner as martial arts clubs hold multiple disciplines under one roof. The judo players I know are cross training in BJJ more and more. As such perhaps the next generation of American judo instructors may be even more well versed in mat work than the average is instructor now. Of course they would be most equipped to re-adapt the bjj game into the judo competition constraints and in the end ironically rediscover the things you already know. Of course now I'm just ruminating. :)

Anonymous said...

Is there a slight inverse correlation in the increasing number of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, competitions, and thus competitors in this timeframe? Some say that BJJ is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and it appears to be growing more popular on the cusp of Rio de Janiero getting it's spot in the Olympics in 4 years.

Judo is a beautiful martial art, and I'm amazed, as a longtime, avid BJJ practitioner, the level of detail Judo emphasizes in the 'stand-up'. It's intricacies match those of BJJ, who emphasize that level of detail on the ground, and I think the sport of Judo (ie, competitive Judo) is quite different than what we as practitioners learn as the 'art'. Same with BJJ. Sport grappling (judo, wrestling, BJJ) tests what you are good at versus what others at your 'level' are good at. The 'art' and essence of these and the vast knowledge you can gain should be emphasized more, or somehow, we need to reach out and show how that beauty can 'click' with someone. That's just my opinion. The sport is great, and a good testing ground for what you know, but the longer-term journey, beauty, and really infinite level of understanding of how bodies work against and with leverage is what seems to be missing as a key element in many dojos, BJJ or Judo, otherwise.

Ze Grappler said...

i recently competed at an in house tournament, and afterward, even jiu-jitsu players were amazed at how different the rule sets for the two sports are.

but they did note, that the aggressiveness and approach to mat work had a more spectator friendly appeal, and had its merits.
the top control, pressure, athletic conditioning, and the ability to dictate top position are all merits of judo that have their place in grappling.

i long for the day when perhaps each sport has a bit more cross pollination and in the end, better grapplers result from that intermingling.

Kevin McNeely said...

Mixed martial art consumers are actually pretty smart and they are looking for the best combinations of striking, takedowns and ground fighting. Judo has very strict and limited rules for standing techniques that are not as effective for street, MMA or BJJ so it is not that efficient to learn. Think about it - a beautiful uchi mata that takes 500 hours to learn at the risk of rolling through so that the other person ends up in control. Compare that to learning an effective leg tackle in 10 hours and working on ground submissions for the remaining 490 hours. In order to make the uchi mata a worthwhile technique to employ, you need a rule set that penalizes non-traditional techniques and grips. For example, a BJJ player can learn an unorthodox grip in 10 hours that will shut down the ability to throw with uchi mata. The judo player will not know what to do and has never had to adapt because the grip would be illegal in judo so he has never had to deal with it before. Now, you could call the unorthodox grip as stalling for defensive tactics but the BJJ player can jump into an unorthodx submission (which would also be declared illegal). So in a less rule oriented situation where there is no referee giving out penalties in 50% of the matches, 10 hours of gripping practice negates 500 hours of uchi mata uchikomi. The problem is that life does not come with a set of IJF referees in MMA and self defense situations. Same problem occurred in tae kwon do - kicks must be delivered above the belt giving boxers a big advantage since high kicks take more time and boxers defend the body and head very well. So they pass rules to limit the ability to box in TKD matches. Now, interest in tae kwon do is declining and muay thai participation is skyrocketing.

I think that the lesson is that the rules are killing the sport. The IJF thinks that martial arts consumers are basically simpletons who will see big and exciting throws and will want to participate. In business, this happens all the time when a company thinks that their product is more important than what consumers want. Think of the Sony Betamax - consumers wanted to watch movies and Sony wanted to own its own standard. The Betamax ends up on the trash heap because consumers are not getting what they want.

As far as judo and BJJ ground work goes, they come from the same basic fundamentals but that is where the similarity stops. I went to a BJJ seminar for three hours on the kimura (udi garame with the wrist toward the waste). There was not enough time to cover the americano (udi garame with the wrist toward the head). When was the last time you went to a judo newaza seminar to study one armlock for three hours? Or, how about triangle chokes (sankaku)? See if you can imitate an advanced version of a BJJ triangle such as a rear triangle executed from an inverted X guard position. This is a completely new and innovative attack sequence. This comes from the Apple model which has revolutinized entire industries by making technology cool and by creating a platform in which consumers can create their own apps. On the other hand, judo is more like the old Motorala - they insist that consumers must use analog phone sets when everyone is moving to digital. A lot of random thoughts to fit into a very small comment box!

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Kevin -
I love your thoughts and I completely agree. The judo rules have gotten ridiculous. When players have a choice between competing in something where the referees continually interject themselves to determine the course of a match and other sports where the players are allowed to fight it out, of course more people are going to go into the sports where they can be left alone to determine the winner on their own

I think this explains the growing popularity of freestyle judo as well.

Poki said...

Man, those stats you did on US judo really bum me out. However, it does make me feel good that Judo at least became an actual high school sport in my home state of Hawaii (RAWR!) within the last 10 years. I don't know how many other states are doing that, but even with rule changes it seems like it would be tough for Judo to become more popular in the long run unless there is easier access to it in school. When people like your daughter come into the public eye, I'm sure there's an uptick of interest while they are active, but individual sports careers in judo or mma don't last 50 years like golf. Maybe US judo should concentrate on trying to get big MMA and/or grappling states on the west coast or in the mid-west to adopt judo as interscholastic sport...

Anonymous said...

I was a judo FIGHTER in the late 60's, all thru the 70's and retired in 1981. I was once told by a sports editor that judo was a "3rd rate sport"---he was a complete jerk because he continued to post our results from competitions every weekend in the sports section of the local paper. I started fighting in the nationals at age 12(female lightweight) in Denver, CO. And I NEVER failed to qualify for any national competition after that and won 7 national titles and 2nd in the wo's U.S. Open in Brockton, MA in 1981. I was in college at that point and trying to juggle it all...was advised by my coach in NY to take 1 month off//I had NEVER taken any time off in 12 yrs...then, I started to see the "political" side of the sport and it was not a pretty picture. I did go back to judo 2 x's after that about 5 yrs later...but wo's judo was only going to be an EXHIBITION sport at the Seoul Olympics...no medals to be awarded which SUCKED. I am proud that I helped pave the way for wo's judo to become an OFFICIAL Olympic sport at the next games, but by then I would be too "old" to keep up w/the say 22-25 yr olds. And it is sad to see the pathetic turn the sport has taken because it has become knowing the right coaches and them liking you to get on the various international teams. Jodi