Friday, January 4, 2013

Is Judo Just Pretending to Be a Life-long Sport?

While I was swimming this morning, it occurred to me - judo gives a false impression of a sport that is appropriate across all ages.

 The masters divisions - for age 35 and over - at the national championships are a major source of income, often keeping the tournament from losing money. The same can be said of the very young divisions at the junior nationals - in some tournaments, children as young as five years old are competing to be national champion.

I think this is a bad idea on both ends. First of all, I don't think there is any sense at all in spending lots of money and your entire family vacation traipsing around to one tournament after another for a child eight years old or younger.

Spare me the bullshit about "my kid really wants to do it".
  1. Your kid, at a young age,  really wants to make his or her parents proud and happy. If you say the way to do that is to go knock down another kid, your child will do it, or at least try.
  2. As the adult in the picture, you are supposed to decide what is best for your child and you continually refuse to go along with what your kid really wants to do. My youngest daughter really wanted to spend her entire vacation watching vampire shows on TV, occasionally punctuated by snowboarding or hanging out with her friends. We made her study Geometry and socialize with the family, too, because we're mean like that.
Secondly, I think we are fooling ourselves as adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s who really ought to know better pretending that winning the world masters championships is anything remotely similar to winning the actual world championships. Similarly, I have heard people refer to a child who won the 9-10 year-old division in the junior Olympics as "an Olympic champion". Not even close.

Like most people my age, I am kind of beat up. I'm just not in the shape that I used to be as a competitor. I weigh the same and thanks to a $50,000 knee replacement, I can do a lot of things I haven't been able to do, even when I was competing. I swim or bike almost every day. I teach judo once or twice a week. And all of that being said, the judo I can do now is qualitatively different from the judo I did in my twenties, just as much as an eight-year-old child's is. I'm not as fast and no amount of training will change that. I'll never have the strength I did in my twenties.

Anyone who believes that speed and strength don't matter in judo competition is deluded. On top of that, I have a real job and a family. I don't have time to adjust my techniques for the rule changes that seem to come down in judo every six months.

Yes, people my age can do "judo". They can do kata, they can practice throws or arm bars in the dojo. Still, it doesn't seem any more like the sport I did in my twenties than water aerobics old ladies do seems like swimming. That is, it's a perfectly fine thing to do to keep in shape, but it is NOT the same thing. Not accepting this fact is one reason you see so many older judo players end up injured. You're not a 'world champion' or 'national champion'. You're a weekend warrior who went to a tournament. Deal with it.

(The same applies to juniors at the other end of the scale but I wrote about that earlier.)


Lance Wicks said...

Totally agree with you!
I live the element of masters Judo where a bunch of old Judo bums get together, drink, eat, be merry and have some fun battling old foes. But it is not in anyway the same as the 20 year old on the qualification trail. I've met those masters who sell a national or world masters medal like a qualification to tell young players about elite Judo. Utterly stupid and wrong.

Judo for me is in a very odd point. It seems to be teetering between professional sport and re-enactment clubs. By which I mean partially we are growing a competition circuit, some financial rewards, etc. but on the other hand there is a lack of depth to this growth. There are so many clubs where competing is not "in there blood". A vast majority of participants in clubs who do not "play" the sport, just attend practice.

It does not happen that way in football or golf or tennis. If you join a football/squash/racketball club you play games against people. If you get keen you might get some coaching; but generally the focus is on playing the sport. I'd contend this is not the case in many many Judo clubs.

Yet another thought provoking post, thanks!

plam said...

I've done a couple of masters' tournaments when they're close by, but I agree that they're not even close to being the same as seniors. That's why I'd rather fight seniors as long as I can, and I sort of actively avoid masters divisions. Seniors is tough, though.

I do think that it's not necessarily just 20 year olds who can be competitive. A lot of judo Olympic athletes are in their 30s. I suspect that the limiting factor is time, not fitness. As you've written, serious training eats up a lot of time, and it takes a lot of dedication to make that time while being a "Real Person".

Lance: To me, practices at real judo clubs focus primarily on randori with some technique thrown in, so I don't quite agree with your point at the end. I am vaguely aware of some clubs where people just do techniques and not randori, but that's not the thing. If you're doing randori all the time, I feel that's just as real as your average tennis or golf or whatever club.

Sylver said...

There is no such a thing as a sport where one can compete at top level before/past a certain age. Not in judo, not in swimming, not in anything.

Sounds like for you, Judo was all about winning, glory and being the best in the world. Even so, best was relative to a number of things like gender, weight classes and rules. It was never an absolute, was it?

Of course, at some point, running a business, having a family, etc. is bound to become more important than training 3 times a day to put some stranger halfway across the world on his backside.

But if that's what "doing Judo" means, how many people are really "doing Judo" the world over? A couple hundreds?

What are the rest of us doing? Needlework?

You teach Judo to kids. What do you teach them? Judo. What are they doing if not Judo?

And if competition is still the point, you can be better than the guy/gal in front of you on the mat in your category (weight, gender... and age).

I go to Japan and still get my *** kicked by some old fart half my weight over at the newaza kenkuikai, in spite of holding my own against national levels players in their mid-twenties.

If Judo is not a life long sport, what is?

Anonymous said...

I agree that masters/kids divisions do not have the same prestige as the senior divisions. I've never heard anyone claim otherwise.

I completely disagree that Judo is not a lifelong sport. May be in the U.S. its not, but here in Europe, there are lots of players that are over 40 or 50, training pretty hard, doing an occasional tournament, coaching and having fun.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I agree with sylver that we have weight divisions, gender divisions. However, what I am saying is that at 25, I could, for example, do a round off out of a throw, like Ronda did in the Olympics. There is no way I could do that now with any amount of training. I do not have the speed to react that fast and that is something you lose as you get older. The same is true of many counters.

As far as moves I did personally, sometimes they involved physically lifting the person from a position on all fours or prone on the mat and turning her over. I have the strength to do that now - sort of - but not nearly as fast.

I would say swimming IS a life-long sport. I can swim now exactly as I did when I was on the swim team as a kid - just slower. Same with as when I was on the track team in college. I can still run a mile exactly the same way, just slower. I can't do judo the same way.

As far as anonymous - if you have never heard anyone claim that being a junior/ masters champion is the same as the senior divisions then you hang around with a lot of intelligent, unbiased people. Can I come to your next party (-:

dsimon3387 said...

Lol, I thought I was the only one who spent most of my martial arts training getting the kids off the computer during school breaks! Seriously very thoughtful post and true! From the perspective of combat and martial arts the changes I have made involve seeing the relationship between weapons and the body very specifically... making things fluid. Integrating these arts....when I was fighting karate I thought of distance and timing very differently,I mean I could kick someone in the head in a split second before their hand could over, now I think in terms of getting in and out, using movements that can be used with weapons and without.

Ann Marie...I just have to say your parenting approach...its just nice to know we are not alone (Lisa and I).

Unknown said...

RE: "I live the element of masters Judo where a bunch of old Judo bums get together, drink, eat, be merry and have some fun battling old foes."

I just fought in the Masters Worlds in Miami, and ONLY the people from the USA think about Masters Judo this way

Al B Here said...

Dr AnnMaria,

You're absolutely right that Judo is not a life-long sport; however, I think it's reasonable to say that it can be a life-long art or activity. The competitive sport context is only one part of the art--at least that's what I hope, since I started it at the ripe ol' age of 37. From a competitive sport context, I can never be "good" at Judo, but I like to think that I can learn from it, and perhaps get to a point where I can pass it along to a younger generation someday. If that's not a possibility, I might as well just quit now... and I can't do that! I already paid my club dues! ;)

plam said...

Funny you should talk about roundoffs out of throws. I just came from a clinic by Georgii Zantaraia and he was showing us how to do that today. I often spin out onto my front, but I've never countered on a spin out like he does. It's amazing, and yes, I can still do it at 35. I'm also really happy to lift someone off the mat, because usually things are about to go poorly for that person. Unfortunately I don't get the person in that position often enough.

I think that old people can actually still be very competitive at groundwork, but are less willing to do standing work due to injuries. I got armbarred twice by a 62 year old. This never happens to me against domestic senior fighters.

In competitive swimming, though, slower or faster is all there is to it. I'd say that judo has the advantage that you can (and you personally did) use different techniques to get around your weaknesses. I do agree that you'd unlikely to place at nationals should you show up in Virginia this April, but neither would you win an open-division swim meet.

Sylver said...

Not sure what a "round off out of a throw" is (forward roll after a throw?) but I think I get what you mean.

Your reflexes and strength go down, but there is always a new kid on the block whose reflexes haven't gone down yet. The water and the road don't change much on the other hand.

But is is still judo, and there is always something to learn to replace the things you can't do anymore.

"I would say swimming IS a life-long sport. I can swim now exactly as I did when I was on the swim team as a kid - just slower. Same with as when I was on the track team in college. I can still run a mile exactly the same way, just slower. I can't do judo the same way."

In a sense, swimming or running are less of a lifelong sport than judo, because learning kind of dies out quickly.

Once you get into a specific way of swimming or running or cycling or... There are different running/swimming techniques but once you develop one and do it for a few years, that's it, muscles adapt to it and it becomes the most efficient way for your body.

The only thing forward is slower speed and less distance.

But not so in judo. There is always something new to learn. You can't rely on speed or power anymore, so you have to learn a different game, kind of the same way you had to change your game when you busted your knee.

For me that's a nice thing about Judo: You can change completely your style of game, start doing things very differently from what you used to and enjoy being a beginner in a brand new area of the sport. And there are always techniques or tricks that make you go "wait a minute..."

I have changed more things about my way to do judo in the last month than I have changed about my way to run in the last decade. And if I keep training for the rest of my life, I don't expect to ever run out of new things to learn.

In Japan, I got to meet one of the oldest French Judoka. A man who played a major role in making French Judo what it is today. He was close to 90 years old and I was looking for someone to throw me so I could practice relaxing and take my ukemi. A couple of folks declined, and he said "I'll do it". And so we went and trained together. He threw me, and threw me, on and on, and we had a great time.

No, I doubt he could have thrown me in randori, let alone Shiai, but there is no question that this 90 years old man was doing Judo and his foot sweeps were pretty darn sharp, I didn't have to jump to take a fall.

If Judo is just pretending to be a lifelong sport, it's doing an heck of a good job at it.

plam said...

Sylver: 22 seconds into

I'd need a lot of practice to do that in tournament. Even in training I was taking the fall about 40% of the time. Obviously he feels much more confident about being able to pull it off.

Dr. Ann Maria has written extensively about adapting her judo to what she's good at, so she's no stranger to what you're saying. I think it's very true, though there are just too many things going against you to compete at the top level when too old. You might still win a match though. There was that 50-year old fencer, former gold medallist, who won a match at the Beijing Olympics.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I think Alan put it perfectly when I did not - judo can be a lifelong ACTIVITY but it is not a life-long sport. Shooting is a life-long sport. Does that mean I want to take up shooting? Heck, no!

While I teach kids (and I enjoy doing it) that is no more doing judo than John Wooden coaching basketball was playing basketball. In judo, more than in other sports, I see people in their 60s trying to pretend they are still competitors.

I always remember Steve Bell telling me, "You don't see Bela Karolyi flipping around on the parallel bars with those little girls." Gymnastics isn't a lifelong sport, either.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Um. Allen Wrench, I think your comment to Lance that ONLY the U.S. thinks that way is really fun because Lance lives in England and (I think) is originally from New Zealand

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I think Alan put it perfectly when I did not - judo can be a lifelong ACTIVITY but it is not a life-long sport. Shooting is a life-long sport. Does that mean I want to take up shooting? Heck, no!

While I teach kids (and I enjoy doing it) that is no more doing judo than John Wooden coaching basketball was playing basketball. In judo, more than in other sports, I see people in their 60s trying to pretend they are still competitors.

I always remember Steve Bell telling me, "You don't see Bela Karolyi flipping around on the parallel bars with those little girls." Gymnastics isn't a lifelong sport, either.

Sylver said...

@Plam: Thanks. I knew what you meant as soon as you mentioned Zantaria. ;)

I wrote a big post and realized it was overkill and boring, and the issue looks like a terminology issue that can be solved easily:

This 86 years old lady will never make the German Olympic team.

In your opinion, is she doing gymnastic as a sport?

I can't do what she does. Most MMA hopefuls I train with can't either.

A couple years ago, Brian Jacks came over for a short seminar at the local university. I wasn't there, but I am reliably told that things didn't go too well: he was too rough and put on a beating on these university kids (you know, the typical fragile 22 years old kids on a sport program).

Brian Jacks was 64 at the time and he was too rough on them, not in "the old guy is still tough" but as in "half of the class had to take a couple weeks off the mat to recover from injuries".

Is he too old to do Judo as a sport? Too mean perhaps, but certainly not too old.

Unknown said...

I think that came across wrong... AT the Masters Worlds, the only people I heard with the "I'll do my best", "Who knows, I might win" and generally 'taking things lightly' mentality, were the USA players. I was amazed at the skill and athletic level of players of all age groups, from all over the world that were there.

I will be one of those guys that's in his 60s... man, I'll probably be one of those guys in their 80s that will still be competing. But I am willing to accept that what I do, isn't truly judo. It's more some kind of sloppy pushing people over type of stuff! hahhahaha

A vocal student said...

Your daughter acts embarrassing, Dr.
I'm shock at how fine you are with this.

Sure, put those beliefs on the backburner and never criticize what she does.

There's a term for you: caffeteria ______.... Fill in the blank.

Pick and choose what beliefs you think are right.

Unknown said...

Also, I'm under no misconception the the Masters Worlds is ANYWHERE near the real Judo Worlds. But it's a real objective to us 3rd string (or worse) guys that got into the sport late.

Congrats on Rhonda, she's kicking ass!

Unknown said...

This comment WAS NOT from me:
"A vocal student said...
Your daughter acts embarrassing, Dr.
I'm shock at how fine you are with this..."

AnnMaria, you have a very nice family and have plenty to be very proud of.

Pay no attention to retard fuck heads that don't understand the entertainment biz

Anonymous said...

what is being said here is true for any sport, not just judo. it is too general of an argument. its clear that past certain age, say 35, it is very hard to compete at the world-class level.

there are many layers of competitions in judo: if you are not competing at the worlds, it does not mean that you are not doing judo. you can still be competing locally, regionally, etc.

also btw, note that many players from abroad who do not compete internationally or are not active competitors are sometimes much better than other players who do compete and would beat them in competition.

suppose they took the top 20 ranked players in the world (where and they could compete in each tournament to win points).

you would hardly see competitors from usa/canada then. It would be japan, russia, france, brazil, georgia, etc.. where there is massive depth.

i wonder...does this mean players from north america are just pretending to be doing judo ? (as many would not even place at the nationals of those countries...)

Unknown said...

Hello, I'm here again, seeing updates. Excellent post, congratulations.
Greetings from:

Anonymous said...

If someone want's to do judo, why not? No offence meant, but you winning a competition makes not difference at all, in time everyone moves on and it's all forgotten, 100,000+ years from now, it may not even matter.

What matters is the personal achievement and it makes them happy. In my opinion, the main reason for sport, is that you enjoy it, as soon as you stop enjoying it, at that point, you maybe wasting your time with it.

Sport is probably an entertainment based activity and as long as people enjoy it (at any level), that's what really matters.

Anonymous said...

I am 50 and practice with my son who is 19. We compete at state tournaments and have great times.
Judo is a journey for me, and all the better that I can practice and compete with my son. I will go as long as I can, I am not fooling anyone - just love judo.

Anonymous said...

I'm 32 I started Judo 2 year's ago and I love it . I had to stop do to work . But making a comeback lol . Will I compete ? Yes , can't wait . Now would I consider myself to be on a elite level , no ! Might not never make it but I'll train and compete . But I won't be discourage from training . I understand what you talking about . I come from a boxing background . I'm a coach I see guys come in at a late age wanting to compete . I never discourage them . Will they ever be a senior National champ or Olympian ? maybe not . But they can reach a personal goal . I knew of 1 guy who turned pro at 27 and finish with a 7 - 4 record . Matter of fact my father got his pro license at 35 and had 1 fight . Just to fulfill his dream . So my point is everyone is on there own journey .

Unknown said...

I agree. The current Judo sport does not lead to a long and healthy life - after a point. Watch the YouTube videos of the champions and how many will purposely land on top of their head, neck or shoulder tip to avoid taking a fall I retired from Judo and jujitsu competition at 4th dan. Why? I was the only one I knew that did not have a major permanent injury. 20 years is long enough to play judo and jujitsu without life changing damage. Going on 43 years now of continuous mat classes and still injury free.

stephen said...

The ONLY reason I study Judo in my 60's, truly, is so that I can think of myself as a physically competent adult, who could respond to impending danger or threat, with some degree of confidence or skill. That is all. Like Dr. Ann, I know who I was in my 20's, and He ain't Me, baby.

Pedro Castro said...

This is a really good discussion about Judo or any other martial art after our prime years. When my son turned 6 years old I started looking for some martial art classes for him. In one occasion tumble into a Judo class. One year Later I was 40 and I join the adult class. It has been four years and we have been practicing on and off, but because of Judo I keep in good phisical shape. It feels good to be able to throw a bigger opponent during randori. I get it now. The reward of the sport is to be able to defend or protect yourself on the streets . that is one olimpic medal. Without the training one becomes an old couch potato.

Anonymous said...

Great conversation. I have been struggling with the idea of quitting Judo for a few years now. I am 46 and my neck, shoulders, and ankles are beginning to have an active role in the conversation.

I think it is also just as much mental as physical. About 5 years ago, I started to develop a bit of fear sometimes before fighting with some of the high level players in our club. This was new to me, as in my 20's and 30's I would fight with anyone without hesitation. If I couldn’t beat a particular player it would only drive me to try harder and train more. Now it seems to me that there is a real possibility of getting injured. When I was younger, I got a broken ankle in randori and I’ve had both shoulders separated - and all I could think about was how long until I could get back on the mat. Now the idea of getting injured scares me.

Another problem is that I watch yotube videos of world championships. Because the players in these competitions are so good – agile, explosive, flexible, and lightning fast – it makes me think “why do I even bother?” I know there is zero possibility of surviving even for a full minute on the mat in a real match with a high level player.

Sure, there is the Masters – I did one masters tournament about 8 years ago. It was fun, but was mostly a social thing for the purpose of traveling and drinking with friends. If I went to another masters tournament now, my biggest concern would not be winning. The important thing to me would be that neither my opponents nor I got injured. How competitive can you be with that mindset? One good thing about most good Judo clubs is that you can do your own Judo. If you want to only do randori with other older players, or not all, you can do it. You could do only uchikomi if you like. But my problem is that I know I am foolish enough to get carried away in choosing randori partners and wouldn’t be able to help myself. I do have a good disability plan through work though.

I think that fighting is for the young. Guitar and running will both occupy my time as I continue to age. Although, it worries me that if I quit Judo, the skills I have developed over the years are going to start to slip away; but age would make sure of that anyway, even if I carried on with Judo.

Unknown said...

You can't lump everything into one category and deny the rest. European, american, or japanese, or whatever . everything is in the mind. Maybe you aren't as fast because you want to perceive it to be that way
Stop giving up on yourselves. You guys give me strength. Especially the oldtimers
Stop talking about drinking and hanging out. Make us all look like we don't take it seriously. Even though I fail in judo more times then not, I still take it very seriously.

Anonymous said...

Am 43 and just about to start again after smashing my knee and shoulder up 16 years ago finally built back up and ready for another shot. No I won't make the Olympics I got smashed up badly after getting my first Dan. However with training almost every day I run a mile and a half in 8 mins 45. Can lump out pull up and press up no issue. Ok may not be as fast as when I was 20 but still able to hold my own. Guess working in the judicial system helps somewhat

Anonymous said...

I started judo at the age of 42, I was coming from striking styles. I am now 53. I competed for some of my belts but then started getting injured and did a technical grading for my first dan. Of course my judo will never be great, so what? I am fit and just signed up for a competition. I think it is important to understand that in every sport we see people with very high skills competing at top level, however these people are always a minority of the people practicing that specific sport. For many young judoka at my club I am an inspiring person and so are other older judoka. Kano did not develop judo only for competing. Everybody may have a different reason to be in judo, competition is definitely for young athletes, but once again they are a small minority of the judoka around the world. Enjoy judo!!

Unknown said...

I am a judoka in my 40'I compete seniors and master. YOU better believe masters fight just as hard and I am an elite judoka from GA training under Leo white I have 37 yeArs in judo and I also do mma. It's the person not the sport.

Richard Riehle, PhD said...

Judo, when I was young was largely about contest. I was never a champion level contestant— lost more matches than I won, but each loss was a learning experience.

Now, at age 84, my last contest was ten years ago when I used to sometimes paeticipate in the World Masters. Even so, I still enjoy my life in Judo, keeping fit, learning new things (including waza I would never attempt in contest), and sharing my knowledge with others.

Until a few years ago, I was still able to do Randori and take falls. I still visit the Kodokan each year and participate in training in the main dojo, as well as in the kata sessions.

Becoming an “elite” player has never been my goal. However, incorporating Judo principles into my life, for all my years of life, has been important to me.

I can still dembstrate many of my favorite waza (e.g., harai-tsurikomi-ashi) and move briskly on the mat with young novices, showing them the value of kuzushi.

A few years ago, I invented an entirely new technique with which I sometimes drop young black-belt level players unexpectedly to the mat. I sometimes teach this technique when I visit some dojo.

I also teach a variety of kuzushi methods that are often overlooked in standard practice.

In an earlier time, I also trained in Aikido. The principles of Aikido have been valuable in Judo training as well as in daily life.

I expect to continue my Judo training for many more years. One important lesson we learn about our training as elderly people is the importance of daily stretching excercises. Nothing slows down an older Judoka more than the risk of pulling a hamstring or over-extending a tendon somewhere in the body.

Judo competition may not be appropriate for us old guys, but Judo training helps us stay more fit than we might be without that continued training.

Richard Riehle, PhD