Matt and Tim recently went to a coaching clinic in Milwaukee and came back with the explicit interpretations of the rules that will be used in USJA and USJI tournaments in Wisconsin. We’ve been discussing the rules and trying to work within their confines, but to be honest, no one likes these new rules. AAU judo and AAU freestyle judo become more appealing every time I learn about something else I can’t do.

I like to joke that judo is heading toward Collar-and-elbow as far as the gripping rules go – you’ll have to start gripped and won’t be allowed to break the standard grip unless your opponent absolutely forces you to in which case you must catch any grip you can and throw from there. What’s pretty cool about that analogy is that the techniques the new rules are pushing to encourage are actually the techniques most common to styles like Gouren and Collar-and-elbow. This brings up a topic that I’ve covered a lot, but is always worth going over again – the rules matter.

Let me spell it out – the rules dictate which techniques are allowed and within the allowed techniques which ones work best. Those techniques which work best will be the ones people continue to learn, teach, and use. The sport will evolve around that set of core techniques and something different will come out of the crucible than what you put in. Probably most interesting is that rules and culture can fuse to create the approach individuals will have. It’s no secret that styles of play in judo are regional and that the leg grab rules were very biased against Eastern European teams who were winning by leg grabs. It’s also no secret that there is an American style of judo, the traditional Japanese style of judo, and a Russian style of judo (among others). Each of them contains slight variations on the same techniques and an individual will be described based on their approach and variations. For example, Mike Swain is often credited as having a very traditional Japanese style of judo compared to other Americans.

Training in different rules will give you different perspectives. It’s not even as cut and dry as the “turtling is okay because the ref will stand me up” stance that leads judoka to have their backs taken when they first get into BJJ. Half-guard gets a little closer – to a judoka it’s a stalling position, but to a jiujitsero it’s a viable attacking position. In judo you’ll learn to pass it, reguard, and even a few submissions from it, but the general stance will be that it’s just a stalling position. It’s certainly allowed in both rule sets, but in BJJ you can spend all day there and in judo you’ll get stood up in 3-5 seconds (if that because the position generally means the ground work is going no where).

Chokes are a great example. Freestyle wrestling doesn’t have them. BJJ does. The result is that a wrestler and a jiujitsero have different approaches to how someone is to be taken down, what should be done once they are on the ground, and how to react when someone has your back. The style of play is completely different. Fundamentally sports are implementations of the use of grappling techniques to gain a superior position and win a match from there. Implementation-wise the introduction of submissions changes everything.

Rules matter. They determine the direction a sport will take and how it will evolve. Viability against other similar sport styles matters. The fact is something won’t always be in vogue and being able to easily adapt to another rule set will mean you can keep playing long after the name of the sport has changed.


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