Sunday, March 10, 2013

Freestyle Judo - Questions and answers from Steve Scott

 I almost never do guest posts but this email I received from Steve Scott of Welcome Mat judo was too good not to share. Thanks very much to Steve (shown below teaching a class) for his permission to post it here.

Learn more about freestyle judo at

The AAU National Freestyle Judo Championships are March 30 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Q-Why do you have numerical scores instead of Waza-ari and Yuko?
A-Two major reasons. First, the general public has a much better understanding of who is winning a judo match if they look at the scoreboard and see that Red has 7 points and that White has 3 points. Freestyle judo retains the Ippon for the purposes of scoring and ends the match much like a knockout is scored in boxing or a fall is scored in wrestling, but the numerical scores provide a clear and simple way to follow who is winning or who is losing in a match. The second reason is that the numerical scores provide a more objective approach to scoring a judo match. One of the major weaknesses in the rules of judo through the years has been that the referee and judges have too much subjective and arbitrary control over the match. In freestyle judo, we provide clear-cut criteria for the scoring of all aspects of judo action that take place in the match. This not only includes scores for throws and for the time in hold-downs but also for what is best described as "effective aggression" in groundfighting where a point is awarded for breaking an opponent down onto his or her back from a stable to an unstable position (breakdowns) and a point for getting past the opponent's leg or legs (guard passes) and a point for turning or rolling the opponent over from the bottom (guard sweeps). By providing a clear and objective point structure for these skills, there is less chance of a match going to a flag decision where the referee and judges may or may not take into account what took place in the match.

Q-Why do I have to throw an opponent so hard to get an Ippon in freestyle judo?
A-When formulating the rules for freestyle judo, one of the major things we wanted to maintain was (and continues to be) the value of an Ippon. An Ippon is scored when the thrower throws his opponent with control and force, landing the opponent on the back or back/side. This is exactly what the criteria for an Ippon has been in Kodokan Judo since its inception and was the case up until about 2000 to 2004. Gradually, the Ippon was reduced to the soft or rolling Ippon that become so prevalent. For those younger judo coaches and athletes, this soft or rolling Ippon is about all that they know since they do not have as much experience as some of the rest of us. However, from what I have seen and from has been told to me by some IJF people, the IJF is again making an effort to get away from their soft and rolling Ippons in the new rules that are out. However, this is one of the few improvements in the new IJF rules and simply is an effort to get back to what we have been doing in AAU Judo and especially freeestyle judo for a long time.

Q-Why can't I wear my rank belt in any of the AAU Judo Nationals?
A-For the purposes of scoring, one athlete wears a white belt corresponding to the white side of the scoreboard and the other athlete wears a red belt to correspond to the red side of the scoreboard. Actually, any two colors may be used as long as they correspond to the colors on the scoreboard. In AAU Judo, we don't care what rank you are or what organization you belong to. There are numerous judo, jujitsu and martial arts organizations issuing belts and rank and AAU Judo does not endorse any group or organization for the purposes of belts or ranks.

Q-If this is freestyle judo, why can't we use wrestling or our BJJ skills?
A-Do not confuse the name "freestyle" to mean that anything goes or everything is legal. Freestyle judo is very much judo. You can use your wrestling, BJJ or any skill that is allowed within the rules of AAU Judo and freestyle judo. We developed the rules of freestyle judo to provide a fair, objective and safe set or criteria for the conduct of a judo match.

Q-Is freestyle judo a "style" of judo? Is it different from Kodokan Judo?
A-The answer is an emphatic no. Freestyle judo is, as said before, very much judo and as my good friend John Saylor said' "Judo the way it ought to be done." In other words, the rules of freestyle judo were written and have developed so that as many technical, tactical and functional skills of judo can be used in a judo match. However, we are finding that the people who are attracted to and engage in freestyle judo are the people who prefer functional, effective, hard-nosed and performance-based judo.
Q-Why don't you award Ippon for Osaekomi?

A-When developing the rules of freestyle judo, we wanted to get to the core of what Osaekomi really is. The concept of "osaekomi" is unique to Japanese grappling and especially to Kodokan Judo. This word translates to mean "applying an immobilization or hold" or to "pin or press the opponent to the ground or mat." Historically, in the early days of Kodokan Judo, an Osaekomi was used to control an opponent on the mat (belly up and not face down) so that a submission technique could be applied to finish off the opponent and secure the win. Sometime in the early part of the 20th century, the rules were developed so that a judoka holding his opponent in Osaekomi for 1 minute scored as Ippon as holding an opponent this long proved superiority. Eventually, in the 1930s, the time was reduced to 30 seconds and remind that way until the 21st century when the time was reduced to 25 seconds for Ippon. Now, in the 2013 rules, the IJF has decreed that an Ippon can be scored with a 20-second Osaekomi. By scoring a maximum of 4 points for an Osaekomi and requiring the athlete holding the pin to attempt to secure an armlock or a choke after gaining the 4 points makes for aggressive and skillful newaza.

Q-Why does the referee have the authority to call Ippon for an armlock or choke if the athlete does not tap out or give up?
A-Simply put; for the safety of the athlete. In the same way a boxing or MMA referee can stop a contest, the referee in a freestyle judo match can call Ippon and stop the match if the armlock or choke is apparent and there is imminent danger to the athlete. As one of our AAU Judo referees, Sandi Harrellson, said to a young man about 5 or 6 years ago when he complained that she called Ippon when his elbow was bent backward in a Juji Gatame; "If you're not smart enough to tap out, I'm going to call Ippon." While no one is implying that by refusing to tap out or submit from an armlock or strangle a person is stupid, the fact remains that the referee's main job on the mat is to ensure the safety of the athletes. In the heat of a contest, an athlete may not tap out or signal surrender from an armlock or a choke.  Not only that, none of us make big money by competing in judo and we all have to go to work Monday morning. I prefer to see to it that our judo athletes in AAU Judo (including freestyle judo) go to work Monday morning without an injured arm from an armlock or loss of brain cells from a strangle. From my personal point of view, I really don't care if someone breaks his arm or passes out. The onus is on him to submit and if he doesn't, tough for him. But, I can't let my personal point of view influence my responsibility as a judo mat official to provide for a safe and fair contest.

Q-Why is freestyle judo part of the AAU? Why don't you work within the major judo organizations?
A-No disrespect intended, but honestly, do you want the people who have gone along with the IJF and have pretty much screwed up the the rules of judo to be the people running freestyle judo? These are the groups that have screwed up judo (here in the United States as well as elsewhere) for a lot of years and it is not a good idea to let them screw up freestyle judo. The AAU is the largest amateur sports organization in the Untied States and has been around since 1885. When some of us appraoched the AAU in 1994 to include judo as one of its recognized national sports, judo was accepted and we have been offering a good develompental judo program through the AAU since that time. (For more history on the AAU and its relationship to judo over the years since 1953, we can do another Q and A session, but for now, let's stick to the recent history.) Now, with freestyle judo, we have the opportunity to make real progress in the further devleopment of judo and provide the judo community with an alternative to what is already out there with the existing judo organizations. The AAU has great insurance coverage for coaches and for athletes and provides a neutral structure for over 35 sports (including judo). Even if you don't want to get involved in the AAU and want to have freestyle judo in your dojo, you can get your own insurance and run your own tournaments.

Q-Why don't the referees and judges wear a suit and tie like they do in other judo organizations?
A-Judo is a competitive activity and the referees should look like referees and not insurance salesmen. Selling insurance is an honorable profession but a judo referee that moves all over the mat, bends over to get a better view of the action and is constantly moving should be dressed in a way that he or she can have freedom of movement and still look prefessional. AAU Judo referees, including the freestyle judo referees, are attired in the same way a wrestling, MMA, football or other sports official is often attired.

Q-Why is the emphasis on groundfighting in freestyle judo?

A-The answer is that there is no emphasis on either groundfighting or standing judo. What has happened in recent years is that the rules of judo as developed by the IJF has severely limited groundfighting. What we now see in IJF judo is a sport that places too great of emphasis on standing and extremely limited emphasis on groundfighting. It is not a balanced approach to judo. When developing the rules for freestyle judo, we purposely gave equal points and equal opportunity for athletes to score and win in both groundfighting and standing judo. As long as there is effective aggression in newaza, we allow it to continue (the same can be said for standing judo).


Sophie.C said...

I like the idea of this! may consider implementing it more in my coaching. Have been thinking for a while of coming up with freestyle judo but it's already been invented!

Jorge Almeida said...

I think that the discussion points that I have about freestyle judo are:
1) If I am going to start my kids in a sport and I need to choose between standard judo that can take them to the olympic games, and freestyle judo that the best that they can be is "Freestyle judo American Champion". Why should I choose to start them in Freestyle judo?
2) Why create something new instead of changing what already exists?

The underlying point is if everyone that has a problem with the rules of a sport start a branch of that sport for the players that are sad about those particular rules, then there is a fragmentation and a lower number of potential competitors in any of those branches. Sure, everyone can be World Champion of "Rules made up by me" Judo, but then what would be the prestige to be World Champion of a sport that only has 1 competitor.
I think that it makes more sense to advocate inside the IJF for the change of rules that we support than split with the world organization. If everyone that disagrees leaves, then the only people that are left are the ones that think that the actual rules are correct and there is no change. Scott in this way is not part of the solution.

This is the conversation that I would like to see about freestyle judo. The reasons why it is different and all the minimal rule differences are not the problem for me. If IJF judo had the rules of freestyle judo, it would also be fine. Even the current rule changes are only minimally annoying because Ippon is still an Ippon and if you are better, you will continue to win. Splitting a sport on these minor issues is where I disagree.

I am not telling Scott that he should stop what he is doing. For all means, everyone should be free to start and practice any kind of sport that they feel like. Judo is still judo and Scott is allowing people that want to practice it, to be able to do it and that can only be positive.

Thank you for starting this discussion.

robthornton72 said...

Jorge, a couple of rebuttals to your points.

1. Rethink your #1 point. Does anyone start their child in martial arts with the hope of being an Olympic champion? I don't recall this being a reason for TKD's success. How about BJJ? Competition success is not the reaosn the vast majority of parents start a child in martial arts. Marketing research backs this up.

2. Freestyle Judo exists because there's no vehicle for a rule change in the IJF. The rule changes are popular in Europe and places where they make money off Judo. Here, with wrestling, BJJ and other grappling arts, not so much. I'd argue that Steve Scott (and myself) place more value on the self-defense capabilities (in the context of sport, of course) of Judo than its marketability. Grappling arts, outside of the UFC and smash-mouth action, have never gained much traction as ratings fodder.

Jorge Almeida said...

Would it be accurate to say that you think that Freestyle judo exists because:
1. There is no vehicle for rule change in the IFJ.
2. Places more value on self-defense

Do you think that these 2 advantages offset the loss of all the athletes that could practice and compete together?

(I think that this goes very well with the question of why there are 3 judo associations in the USA. Is usatkj freestyle judo?)

robthornton72 said...

Jorge, do you feel that something prevents people from working and practicing together now? Clubs can still come together and randori or intra-club shiai. Rules get modified on local levels all the time. It's not uncommon for local and regional level tournaments to have novice restrictions on armbars and srop-knee seoi. Sorry, but I think you grossly over-estimate the importance of "the rules."

The politics of USJF-JA-JI. Goes back a long way and was never about the rules of competition - more about who controlled rank and a (little bit) anti-gaijin attitude from what I have read, long in the past.

USA-TKJ is its own little critter, less i'll say on it, the better. I don't take it very seriously.

Jorge Almeida said...

I do not feel like the rules are that important. If the rules difference are not important. Then why create a different organization with events that are not sanctioned by IJF?
Why do people participate in competitions?
1. Get points for the next belt
2. Claim the title of the champion of the club/neighborhood/district/state/country/world
3. Test themselves against people with similar skill level.
I do not see how having another association of judo can improve any of this. But that is also why, although being tempted in staying with the "old rules" and go to freestyle judo competitions, I decided to move on and accept the "new rules" and be able to stay with the rest of the world and participate in IJF competitions.
This said, if any one wants to do it differently, they are in their right.
I thank you Rob for your comments.

Al B Here said...

From my understanding, freestyle judo is meant to provide an outlet for people who want to compete in tournaments that are more faithful to Kano's vision of judo than the current IJF model. Some may think the rule changes are minor, but I would respectfully disagree. The elimination of leg attacks (which are legal in freestyle judo, for instance) weakens the art as a whole. Judo is a martial art, first and foremost. Eliminating an entire category of attacks and defenses in the name of "more dynamic" judo is ridiculous. I'm sure Teddy Riner was thrilled to death when leg attacks were first taken out. After all, now he doesn't have to worry as much about his legs (which would be a major concern for someone 6'8).

I think Freestyle Judo is a great idea. I love that those who are successful need a more complete "judo toolbox" to win. I hope they continue to grow and succeed.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I think the attraction of freestyle judo has been that many people (including me) teach students who have NO aspirations of competing in the Olympics. They are too old, have other interests, don't have the money or support to make it. However, they'd like to compete and they'd like rules that are less restrictive and make a little more sense than the current IJF ones. Most people aren't competing with "the rest of the world". They are competing with the 16 people about their age and weight in the surrounding area.

Sylver said...

Don't quite agree with Jorge on this one. Judo is Judo, and this is not a "different" judo. It's just Judo played with different rules. A kid learning Judo and competing in freestyle isn't doing a different sport.

It does not prevent anyone from also competing under the IJF rule set either. Sure, one could argue that you have to get familiar with different rules and that this can upset your game, but the official IJF rules change all the time anyway, so everyone has to adapt his game to the new rules, and by the time you reach the level where the difference really matters, you are in the same boat as everyone else:

No one magically qualifies for the OG out of the blue, so the rare few who have a slight chance of making it in the OG can concentrate on IJF rules 2-3 years in advance. And if they get lucky, the next rule change might work in their favor. That's not far fetched: The trend is now to allow more time in newaza and allow osaekomi to continue outside the bounds. No one playing under freestyle rules can afford to have weak newaza, but some IJF players have neglected that area for the last few years. It's going to be a lot easier for a freestyler to learn not to grab the legs than it is for an IJF player to get up to speed in newaza.

Anonymous said...

I too like the rules of freestyle judo. I certainly hope they might have an impact to IJF but I doubt it.

However I must say I don't wish success for any alternative judo contest format because I'm afraid of losing one of the greatest strenghts of judo. Size.

Nobody wants to compete with the same five opponents shiai after shiai. Being one single big judo actually means variety. As there's more fighters there's more styles you'll face in shiai. Whether its randori practise or regional shiai, having variety of challange is one of the most important motivational aspects that makes judo better and keeps it fresh.

Another greatness of judo that we might lose by splitting to separate organisations is the skill level. Having players with olympic aspirations and hobbyists in the same club means that even the hoby judo must have some relevance. I watched some freestyle judo in youtube and while I wasn't expecting everyone to be "Kosei Inoue and Flavio Canto combined", I'm sorry to say the level of players left me disappointed.

The current rules are less than perfect. The ones we had last year were good and if they had combined them with the new video referee system we would have been allright. And I'm sure these are not the last rules anyway.

Steve Scott said...

Many thanks to AnnMaria for posting my Q and A about freestyle judo. Here are some further comments in response to the readers of the blog. Hope they help clarify any questions.

What we are doing in freestyle judo is not creating something new or another "style" of judo. There is only one judo and that is the Kodokan Judo founded by Prof. Jigoro Kano. I tried to make it as clear as possible in my Q and A article that this is simply another rule set and not anything else. In exactly the same way that there are different rules for freestyle, folkstyle and greco-roman wrestling or different rules for Pop Warner football and football in the NFL, judo (as a sport and method of physical education)certainly has the capacity to withstand having more than only one set of rules as a sporting event.

In regard to starting a child in judo with the intention of getting him or her into the Olympic Games, some points to consider.

As to Jorge's point about choosing between freestyle judo and regular judo when he starts a child in the sport. Why is there a need to make a choice? Can't he do both? Judo is judo. In wrestling here in the USA, kids regulary compete under the folkstyle wrestling rules which are different than the Olympic rules. Kids also compete in freestyle and greco-roman rules in wrestling which are in the olympics. Wrestling in high school and college in the U.S. use the folkstyle rules, yet the USA consistently produces world-class and Olympic level wrestlers. Clearly, people in wrestling compete in different rule sets and it hasn't hurt the sport in any way.
As a judo coach, my goal is to teach good skill and sportsmanship; providing as many opportunities as possible for my students and athletes and doing what I can to raise their level of expectation so that, maybe, some day, they can fulfill their potential. So, to me, there is no choice to be made; judo is judo. By developing the rules of freestyle judo, we are offering another opportunity for athletes to participate in judo.

If doing judo with the intention of competing in the Olympic Games is the major motivating force, then good for the person doing it. However, judo has more to offer than simply being a vehicle to make it to the Olympics. As I said before, judo has a lot mroe to offer than merely being a vehicle to compete in the Olympics. Again, my point is that by participating in freestyle judo, a person can also freely participate in judo using the IJF rules, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or anything else he or she wishes. Why simply confine oneself to only doing judo under the limitations of the IJF?

As for the anonymous poster's comments that the level of competition in freestyle judo tournaments left him disappointed; we welcome everyone to enter, including this person. We would love to have world-class judo athletes enter our freestyle judo tournaments. Disparaging the judoka competing in freestyle judo was a low blow and not germaine to the discussion of the rules of freestyle judo. However, in regard to this specific point; freestyle judo is useful in the ongoing development of any judo athlete who participates. As AnnMaira said; "However, they'd (judo students) like to compete and they'd like rules that are less restrictive and make a little more sense than the current IJF ones."
Rob Thornton's comments are totally accurate. Rules are modified all of the time and are done so to fit the needs of the people participating. Competing in a judo tournament using the freestyle rules, using the traditional rules (Ippon and Waza-ari only; no Yuko) or any set of rules is still judo. As Sylver said; "Judo is judo. A kid learning judo and competing in freestyle judo isn't doing a different sport."

To paraphrase someone else from several years ago; "Jigoro Kano invented judo. He didn't invent the IJF." Limiting oneself to only do what the IJF mandates in their contest rules is to limit what judo has to offer.

Anonymous said...

Good points Mr Scott.

Some things still leave me confused. If you don't want to separate the judo commynity, why do you call it "judo the way it ought to be". If it's just judo with different contest rules, why not say "judo shiai the way it ought to be" or "judo rules the way they ought to be"? I understood that the idea was not to have a new judo but to keep practising judo like before and to have an opportunity to participate in a shiai with different rules.

Also, why don't you use regular tatami in shiai so that you could organize contests with the same mats everyone else is using? That way a two day contest might have both IJF and freestyle rulesets used.

In general, your website seems to be opposing the current judo contest format instead of offering something more to competitive judoka. You might win more friends if you gave the impression of giving something instead of being against something.

The Judokai said...

@Anonymous & all,

I do not believe Steve Scott and Freestyle Judo has any intention of splitting the Judo community. Rather, he is addressing a pre-existing audience. The quote "Judo the way it ought to be" describes a very common sentiment when an "old timer" sees Freestyle Judo for the first time. It's just Judo the way we used to play. We liked the quote so much, we use it on our web-site. (Thanks Steve Scott & John Saylor!)

In regards to a split in Judo, I believe this has been a long time coming. I believe the split is not so much between organizations, but between ideologies. There are those who will follow the instructor/organization without question because that is what we are taught in traditional martial arts. Then, there are those who recognize that the audience, at least here in the US, has changed. People WANT to grapple and fight on the ground. Give the students what they want, or they will go down the street and find a dojo that does. This has been happening consistently since UFC #1.

I asked Steve Scott a while back about mat requirements for FSJ competition. The answer I received was either a Tatami or a Wrestling mat was fine. That made perfect sense. Why restrict a club from having a tournament if all they have access to is a circular wrestling mat--if wrestlers use them every day, then it is certainly safe enough for Judo.

I think the moral of the story is to listen to what your customers/students want and not put artificial impediments in the way of good safe training and competition.

Thanks to Steve Scott and Dr. AnnMaria De Mars for being voices of reason in the evolution of Judo.

-Vincente D'Ingianni

Alex Kim said...

What the state of judo needs to do is be more marketable in the states and not be bound by so much tradition. There needs to be a pro leauge of judo just like jiujitsu has(abu dhabi combat leauge where the sheikh is just throwin money at athletes). Seriously look at bjj they are BOOMING. Hows that's possible when its only been around in the states In the advent of the ufc. But some reason judo has been in the states since the 50s and its still fumbling. Come on whats going on here?! I respect what the man is doing for judo. Hes trying to make it more pure in a sense than what it is now. Well you know what 4 things can happen to save judo. a)have itself burn it to the ground. Seriously if the community doesnt speak against what IJF is doing then nothin is going to happen. If the US federation doesnt speak against it then judo doesnt need to exist. Might as well start over. B) there needs to be a union of key federations to splinter from the ijf and make an entirely new organization. A leauge where people have a CHOICE to where they want compete. You can either do the Ijf tourney or Global judo tourney. Basically you need to give people choices so then it will force other organizations to compete, evolve and market. Also the olympic commitee can choose which organization can has the most people and popularity so they can pick which judokas or rules to have not just IJF. c) only have ippon as the only way to win within a certain time frame. Where if theres a draw then both competitors get eliminated. Simple as that it will force aggression from both competitors. Lastly reinstate some band techniques where only black belts can do, keep all the grip breaks and allow grabbing the legs legal. the last thing a competitor needs is rembering what he or she can do that is legal. Thats my long rant hoped you enjoyed. :D said...

Vincente did a great job answering Anonymous' most recent post. Our goal in freestyle judo is to include more people in judo, provide more opportunities for them competitively and technically and use freestyle judo (and AAU Judo) as a tool for development. Freestyle judo is one of the many things people are doing to not only keep judo alive but also to do something to help it thrive (in spite of the IJF). If Anonymous (or anyone else) doesn't want to get involved, that's up to them. Those of us who do will be better off for the experience.