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.")