This past week was the Judo world championships in Astana, Kazakhstan. I loved it when IJF tournaments are in Asia (and streamed) because it means I get to watch them at normal times of the day opposed to having to stay awake until 2am to watch the competitions like I usually do when they are in Europe.
Over the week I have watched a lot of Judo and even had a few mates come over for dinner and watch the Judo with me. Like most things, when you have friends over that aren’t as informed as you, you tend to be a lot more critical of the things you take for granted. After the week of watching here are six things I want to see changed before the next Olympic Games or world championships. Many of these I have been feeling for a long time while others are new.
So without further ado here are the things I want to voice to the Judo world. These are by all means not a dig at the IJF or anyone involved in the organisation or running of the World Championship sand other IJF circuit tournaments, these are just things I believe can help our sport connect with it’s audience and in doing so will help it grow its spectatorship.
If anything the IJF and staff should be commended on the changes they have done. The sport is way more professional with the circuit, live streaming, IJF academy as well as the work the put in on Facebook and Instagram.
1- Less penalties
Referees please, please, please stop giving out so many penalties, it is so annoying. In nearly every match at the world championships there were at least 3-5 penalties on the board, and the first penalty is almost always given in the first 40 seconds of the match.
I don’t know about you but I hate seeing fights that get stopped every 20 seconds just to award a penalty. If you have a look at the Judo stats at the moment ippon scores are probably through the roof only because the person being thrown for ippon has 3 penalties and has been painted into a corner and all they can do is run forwards and hope for the best.
My friends watching with me mentioned that there were an awful lot of penalities, “more than any other sport,’ they said.
What WE can do about it:
We can sit and complain all day long for a change but it probably won’t change so this means as competitive judoka we need to use this penalty mindset to our benefit. You do this by controlling the center of the mat, pushing your opponent out as well as making your opponent look more defensive than they really are. This way referees (or the commission) are more likely to penalize your opponent and not you.
This brings me to a second point, referees very rarely penalize in such a way to make the score even- so don’t count on this as a means to catch up points. If you have two shidos and your opponent has one shido, very rarely will a referee penalize your opponent to make the score even and have the fight go to golden score – it very rarely happens so don’t count on it. Referees don’t want golden score fights.
2- Penalize drop techniques
I probably saw about 150+ terrible sumi gaeshi and Tomoe nage attempts that were not penalized. I don’t know why this occurs but please start penalizing them as they stop the flow of the entire fight and gives the fighter a get out of jail free card.
I really like the sambo rules of giving an ippon. In Sambo (I think) to score an ippon score the attacker must remain standing – this means that throws where you roll over your opponent to finish as well as drop seoi, drop kata guruma, tomoe nage etc all only score a yuko. To score ippon you must stay standing, everything else is yuko or wazari. I like this because fighters will start concentrating on ways to throw and remain standing at the completion of the throw.
3- Interview athletes after they win
What the UFC, boxing and other sports do really well is interview athletes on the sporting field directly after they fought, because this is where all the passion is. In Judo we see someone like Teddy Riner win his 8th World title only to be rushed off the mat, away from the 10,000 strong crowd and be interviewed elsewhere. Why not interview him then and there, this is what the crowd wants, this is what the people watching on the live stream want, yet all we see after a great moment is two more fighters walk out to fight their bronze medal matches.
I believe fighters in the UFC are popular because they get interviewed a lot and we, as spectators, get to see their personality and identify with them. We tend to follow judoka, not because they are judoka, but because we find a personal connection with each of them.
For example I like Petrikov from Czech because he is a teacher and I’m a teacher, I like Elio Verde because he is a tough dude that hangs in there and I can identify with that and I like Rok Draksic because I lived with him for a while and he is a nice guy. I like Kayla Harrison because she has been through a lot and is an inspiration to thousands of women, I like Kim Polling because she is always super happy when she wins and I like Marti Malloy because she was who I interviewed for the first Love Judo Magazine and she is a nice girl. I like these Judoka not because of their judo, but because I have a unique connection point with them- and most of these connection points come from an interview I have read about them or a video I have seen, but this connection point doesn’t come from their Judo alone. Because at the worlds everyone can do Judo – but what makes me watch is the personalities behind the fighters.
In the UFC the biggest fight this year was between Kimbo SLice and SHamrock, two people way past their prime but what people wanted to see was their personalities go head to head, not their skill sets.
This is one reason why we need more interviews, more podcasts and more short docos on fighters because it is through these that personality is seen, and then a unique connection point with the audience and spectators of the sport.
If we only identify with the athletes who win then we simply set them aside when they start losing. As a Judo community promoting judo we need to promote personality and people to the audience not Judo skill sets. I believe the best way this can be done at the World Championships is through post match interviews where we see the passion of the fighter who just won a title they have dreamt about for decades.
I first noticed this a few years ago when I competed at the Paris Worlds. I think Iliadis had won his third World title only to be told by the referee to STOP celebrating. He was then rushed off the mat and interview elsewhere. Then the first interview posted online about his win was about three weeks after that day, when everyone has forgotten. We need to directly after the match to highlight the passion and pain in their victories and defeats.
4- Commentators on each mat
Why can’t we have commentators on each mat? There were three mats and only three commentators. This is the biggest and best Judo tournament of the years and we only have a handful of commentators.? Enough to only cover two mats ? We should have a least 8 people ready to commentate (I’d be one of them). Surely there are some coaches at the World Championships who would be more than happy to get up in the box and commentate. This would be cool as well because these coaches (if they are good coaches) should know about each fighter, their strengths, their weaknesses, and in doing so can be really interesting for those listening in.
5- In between fight interviews.
It would be cool if in between fights we could interview Judoka about a range of different things. Questions like:
How did you feel after your first match? You are facing XXXX next what is your plan? etc etc
Imagine hearing how Teddy was feeling having to face the Shinischoe after his semi final win. Would you be interested in hearing how Teddy felt going into the fight??? I sure would! And so would most of the Judo world.
Would you like to hear about how Zantaraya, Harrison, Malloy, Ebinuma, Gerbi and all the other top ranked Judoka felt after not placing??
Would you like to hear how they are feeling and what are their next steps on the way to Rio? I sure would, and so would plenty of other Judoka around the world AND it is this stuff that people connect with. Not the wins, but the heart, the warriors spirit.
The IJF posted a post fight interview (90 seconds worth) of Teddy Riner and through that interview I got so much out of him and how he is feeling. He is already feeling the pressure of Rio, he said that the Japanese was feeling strong. Now (because of that interview) when I watch Teddy fighting Shinichone I will know that Teddy thinks that the Japanese is strong and is feeling the pressure. I am now more keen to watch Teddy than ever before.
6- In depth breakdowns on website
If you head into the IJF website you will see a 400 word post about the day’s competition and it is more of an information report than an actual blog post.
I hate to use the UFC again but they have independent websites such as bloody elbow who do play by plays of each and every fight. I know the UFC only have 10-15 fights at 3 rounds each so they only have to write-up 45 summaries (3 rounds by 15 fights) whereas Judo has about 150 fighters per weight division so I know judo cannot do that. But what I am trying to get across is that the ijf should an in-depth overview of each and every weight division so that a reader (who missed the day’s action) can read up on the highlights of the entire weight division, not just on the quarters, semis and finals, because a lot of good stuff happens in the first and second rounds. I would like to see some more in-depth competition breakdowns on the IJF website.
The image below is the post of Day 6 of the world Championships. The entire blog post is on a separate website all together.
So there you have it, there are the things I want to see changed before the Olympic Games or World Championships.
What do you want to see added into before the next World Championships or Olympics? Please let me know by posting below. I know many of you will say to bring back leg grabs but besides that, what else can be done?