Dear Judo, quit killing yourself


Any judoka classified in the « IJF ranking list » is not authorized to take part in an international competition of any combat sport, other than judo, unless specific authorization by the IJF.

In view of the IJF authorization request deadlines, this rule shall apply starting from the 1stof January 2015.

That was the message I got from USA Judo last night. As of January 1, 2015, any judo competitor who competes on the international level (such that they are on the IJF ranking list) needs specific authorization by the IJF to compete in any other combat sport at the international level. My understanding of this is that it would prevent judoka from competing in Sambo, wrestling, BJJ, or MMA.

GracieMag ran a brief article on this. It will be interesting to see what happens with Travis Stevens. He’s pretty much the poster boy for cross training as he’s so accomplished in both. Likewise, I’m sure Gokor is not the only grappler to have achieved status in both judo and Sambo.

Let’s discuss some possible reasons and impacts from the decision:

MMA

The first reason which comes to mind may be the IJF not wanting its athletes associated with promotions like the UFC. I get it. I mean, when the UFC started John McCain described it as “human cockfighting”. MMA and cage fighting in general kind of has a certain reputation about it (in case the link breaks, this is a Manto t-shirt that literally says “SKULLS | WINGS | AND OTHER SHIT” with prototypical MMA iconography). Any sport that views itself as highly reputable doesn’t necessarily want attention to come from this kind of a promotion. MMA as an unfortunate side job for wrestlers was even brought up in Palahniuk’s “Where Meat Comes From”. They may not want there to be more athletes like Ronda Rousey and Manny Gamburyan representing judo in that way, and I can respect that (even if I fundamentally disagree with it).

Wrestling

The second reason that comes to mind is differentiating itself with it’s cousin Olympic sport. The way judo works, to get a spot in the Olympics you need to compete on the world-level in IJF tournaments. The way wrestling works, you need to show up to a qualifying tournament and win. There are stories of when women’s wrestling was still new to the Olympics that female judoka would simply show up for the qualifying tournament and have that be their shot at the Olympics. Again, I think it should be permissible, but I do understand that if you have athletes who are able to do the cross-over thing too easily we run the risk of the IOC deciding the sports are too similar and that only one needs to remain. This one I get more than any other reason. We’re seen a lot of effort to be different from wrestling, and this definitely is a step in that direction whether intentional or not.

BJJ and Sambo

This is where I start having a legitimate problem, and really hope that the IJF simply gives anyone who applies a pass. Competitions like the ADCC allow people of all backgrounds, and if judo is holding its weight as a grappling sport, then the judoka should be a welcome addition as they provide a unique view on the game.

BJJ and Sambo are both really decedents of judo, and as such equate to judo done with different rule sets. As I’ve said before, the IJF does not dictate what judo is, just how it’s played on their mats. What I’m about to say is just a suspicion. Don’t take it as the actual reason the IJF is doing this. I think the IJF may be using this to try to limit how judo is played on mats that are not their own. They could enforce this by removing individuals from the IJF rankings when they compete elsewhere or in other sports. Essentially they can give individuals the choice between just playing judo by their rules, or losing their chance at competing in the Olympics. After all, if you’re a jiujitsero, your best shot at competing in the Olympics is to also do IJF tournaments and go to the Olympics for judo.

If this is the reason, then I’d expect them to not give passes for guys like Travis Stevens, and I’d really hope that those guys would boycott the IJF rather than giving up on BJJ. I’m really hoping this isn’t the case. It would either weaken judo or the other sports depending on the direction the top guys who cross-train take.

Enforcement

As you can probably guess, this hasn’t been really popular on the internet (at least not the corners of it that I visit regularly these days). Most of the responses are along the lines of it being over stepping their reach or that it won’t be easily enforceable. Unfortunately, they can dictate who’s aloud on their mats and since the limitation is at the international level, it’s not that hard to see who competed in IBJJF Worlds, Copa Podio, Pan Ams, etc. This is something that the IJF will be able to enforce. I don’t disagree that it feels like it’s crossing some lines though. It’s definitely something I don’t feel they should be doing.

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