Judo as a martial art is especially effective. It is though especially brutal on the body and one of the slowest in terms of promotion. Judo is often considered to be a young man’s martial art in that there is considerable wear and tear on the body. Younger individuals tend to have a shorter recovery time, thus can train more, and have a quicker learning curve. Older individuals tend to have a slower recovery time, and often train less; thus they progress far slower. Individuals with bad backs, torn knee ligaments, shoulder injuries, hip replacements, etc. is not unheard of within Judo. Those who do manage to stay in Judo tend to LOVE the martial art. I have spoken to wrestlers who have said that Judo is considerably tougher on the body than wrestling. I have also spoken to individuals who have stated that the sight of Judo simply scares them. They think that they might break a back, a neck or simply die from the practice of Judo.
To emphasize the point, Judo can and is especially hard on the body (almost to the point of American Football or Rugby). This can be a major contributing factor as to the high turnover rate within Judo. Softer martial arts such as Tai Chi, Aikido, and Taekwondo do have injuries but not to the point of Judo. Thus they experience far less turnover. So how do we deal with the issues that plagues Judo? Issues such as student turnover or the fear to participate in Judo or even to the wear and tear on the body? Why is it so tough in places like the United States for Judo to grow?
Well understand that success rate in Judo isn’t measured by money. This differentiates itself from Taekwondo which is built upon a business model to ensure profitability not only for a school owner but money going back to Korea from black belt fees. Success rate in Judo is based upon individuals becoming better people. Individuals who try, fail, and succeed. The success rate for Judo is built upon the building of a better person within society. With that in many places which have successful Judo programs, the facilities are far better in other nations. Within many nations, especially the United States many judo dojos are a gym floor with a wrestling mat placed on top of it or cement floor with puzzle mats on top of it. This simply doesn’t help the situation as many Judo throws are high impact. In many dojos in Japan, spring floors are used along with tatami. This allows for the impact of the throws to be easier on the body. As a result, more people stay in Judo and with quantity you will get quality. Many Judoka in America who continue to train become mat snobs (they will only train on certain types of mats). Meaning they will not take fall on mats that do not offer adequate protection to the body. They would rather NOT train than risk getting injured. One bad throw can cause pain from days, to weeks, to months. As a youth recovery is quick and this can be tolerated. As an adult, recovery is slow and this can interfere with work, family, and life in general. Thus adults simply cannot tolerate this within Judo. Thus many people become mat snobs.
Let’s say a dojo has neither the money nor the ability to acquire spring floors and tatami (which can costs thousands of dollars). Another good option is the use of crash pads. Crash pads are especially effective at learning new versions of a throw or a new throw period. Uke (person being thrown) won’t fall painfully to the mat during the learning stages of a throw. This allows tori (person throwing) to make mistakes, perform more repetitions and consequently improve quicker.
You can take 150 falls in practice and come back at almost 100% the very next day. Tori might get sore from the lifting and Uke may be dizzy but overall both will be fine.
There is a large school of individuals who believe that the use of crash pads is the “anti-Christ.” They believe that all you need is ukemi (break falling). There is though a school of thought popularized by Gerald Lafon, who utilize turnouts as opposed to Ukemi (http://betterjudo.com/articles/turnouts-unorthodox-ukemi/). Most people do not understand that Ukemi wasn’t designed to eliminate pain; it was to lessen the prospect of a person dying from being thrown.
Other problems of Ukemi exist including:
1) It requires that Uke relaxes and Tori have strong control (or else one can get injured).
2) Floor might not be conducive to break falls.
3) Limited amount of full throws can be done.
High Level Judoka, especially Olympic Level Judoka has long known that crash pads, landing pads, or spring floors are beneficial to training. They realize that it is essential for
1) Full committed throws (speed, power, and technique)
2) High repetition
3) Ability to train every day (not wake up the next day super stiff or sore)
4) Elimination of fear of being thrown.
5) Throwing someone into the right place or location on the floor (build control).
Through this there is a faster building of technique. Technique beats strength though it won’t beat strength in technique. Remember the more you prepare the better you become. Victory loves preparation. If you want to win in Judo and life, you must prepare.
There are some cons to the use of crash pads. They include
1) A smaller fall since mat is above your feet. This modifies the motion of the throw for both Uke and tori
2) No need to break fall from Uke
3) Risk of landing halfway on the mat
4) End result being sloppy technique or poor break falls on normal tatami.
There are traditionalists who will continue to argue about not needing crash pads in Judo. They might be right, you might not need them. In the same way that you don’t need automatic transmission (as opposed to stick shift), or you might not need a smart phone (as opposed to a flip phone), but the convenience, safety, and productivity cannot be denied. In the end, you can take some of the fear out of Judo, make it easier to train, eliminate some mat snobs, increase the learning curve and make Judo more fun. This can increase student retention and grow Judo overall. As the old saying goes, the more the merrier.