The 2013 IJF Rules: A Sport On Its Death Bed

The IJF has released new rules to be experimented with in 2013. Yes, they are “trial rules”, no that doesn’t change the fact that they will in fact be in effect in competition starting with the Paris Grand Slam on February 9, 2013. They will remain in effect through the trials for the Rio Olympics (2016). What experimentation means is we’re the trial group to see if these rules are suitable for the 2016 summer games and beyond.

Let’s take a look at some of the new rules and discuss what this means for judo.

  • Shido for breaking the grip with two hands.
    It will be interesting to see how this gets interpreted. To be honest, it’s going to make breaking the grip nearly impossible, but maybe that’s the point.
  • Shido if you don’t immediately attack with non-standard grips.
    This one is huge. The goal seems to be to force people into kumikata and only allow the other grips when necessary for the attack. That may sound reasonable at first, but consider that it means you’re telegraphing your attack every time you take anything but the standard grip. The rules also state that judges should crack down on people stopping kumikata.
  • Hansoku-make for any leg grab/block done with the hands/arms below the belt.
    If you’ve been paying attention to judo, back in 2010 they banned leg-grabs as a direct attack. It was a heavy blow to the sport largely attributed to wanting to differentiate from wrestling to sate the IOC. The disclaimer is that I can’t confirm that, but it’s the widely accepted explanation.
    This new rule goes one step further and not only disallows those techniques as direct attacks, but as follow-ups and counters as well. The wording to include blocking also gets rid of some of the loop holes people have been abusing such as blocking instead of grabbing for things like kata guruma.
  • Kansetsu-waza allowed for Cadets.
    I’ve never been a Cadet. If I remember correctly it’s the awkward age between 15 and 17 where you couldn’t yet do arm locks, but chokes were permitted. The new rules now allow kids to do arm bars. What’s interesting about this rule is that if a child can do arm bars, there is no longer a case to disallow belts of lighter colors from doing them. Unfortunately there’s no explicit ban on arm bars for yonkyu and below, it’s a regional thing that can be enforced or not at the will of the referees in the area.
  • Ne-waza can continue outside the contest area.
    In judo, if you leave the contest area on the ground you don’t get reset in the center in the same position, you used to get stood up and you’re restart from standing in the center. The IBJJF solution to an individual trying to weasel out of the contest area to get reset is a penalty. This is the IJF solution – let them continue. To be honest, this one sounds big, but given how quickly judo referees will stand you up anyway, it’s a trivial rule that probably won’t make that much difference.

There are other changes. The one referee with required video and radio is going to be an interesting one for local and regional tournaments. To me though, the new penalties truly define judo as a sport in its death throes. BJJ, Sambo, and submission wrestling remain relatively open about how an individual can grip, which submissions are legal, and what throws can be done. They all remain valid for the evolving MMA community and more or less true to their original inceptions as combat sports. Judo, on the other hand, has been consistently cutting away techniques since 1899 – before BJJ or Sambo were even conceived.

It’s important to differentiate between the rules for sport matches and what people learn in class though. When we practice we pretty much ignore the IJF unless we’re getting ready for a tournament. The IJF doesn’t dictate what judo is, just how it’s played on their mats. Unfortunately I do know a lot of people who train to the rules. I think the latest rule changes are a kiss of death as far as judo’s viability in MMA or against other styles. That might sound petty, but given that MMA has been a huge spring board for BJJ, muay thai, and even Sambo, I think it’s something the judo community should be concerned about. Ronda Rousey, Manny Gamburyan, and Karo Parisyan might all still be big names, but I don’t think people will flock to judo because of them. It’s no secret that they don’t train like other competition judoka.


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