This is the Judo blog of Lance Wicks. In this blog I cover mainly Judo and related topics. My Personal blog is over at where I cover more geeky topics. Please do leave comments on what you read or use the Contact Me form to send me an email with your thoughts and ideas.

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Judo refereeing, why is it as it is? 

Judo is (in art at least) a sport. We have referees and they affect the result of competitions. In fact, I would argue that the referees are the single most influential element in Judo today. Personally I think that this is wrong and would like to see Judo experiment with new concepts in refereeing

Explains A Lot
The problem
In Judo, there are 5 people on the mat, 6 or 7 people involved in the "game" if you include the scoreboard and clock officials. So of these only two are players. That's less than 30% of the people involved are actually playing the "game"!

Lets compare that to Rugby Union. 30 players on the field, 1 referee, 2 linesmen and a video ref. 4 officials to 30 players. In Rugby a cast majority of the people involved in the game are playing the game.

So, the basic argument is this, each person involved influences the outcome of the game. Do you want a sport that the outcome is influenced mainly by referees (as in Judo) or by the players (as in Rugby)?

Sure, the referees/table officials are not as important as the players and in ways serve teh players, but the fact remains that there are more of them than players and that seems wrong.

One mistake by any one of those officials can change the result of the match, potentially changing the result from if just the players were involved.

What I am talking about here is Risk Management. The risk of an official changing the result of a Judo match is considerably higher than that same risk in other sports like Rugby.

So what to do?
If you/we accept the idea that officials are a risk to the true outcome of a match being lost, then we must change the shape of Judo to remove the influence that officials have on matches.

To do this, we need to change the rules of the game to remove the officials from the equation.

Ideas for new Judo refereeing.
The following are a number of ideas on how we might change Judo competition to address the idea that officials have too greater influence in the final result and should have this infleunce curtailed. These ideas are also ideas that might just change the sport of Judo to make it more interesting or increase Ippons, etc.

Finally, none of these ideas are well thought out proposals, they are the mad ramblings of a Judo coach with a blog. :-)

. 1 referee, 3 scorers/judges
Borrowing from boxing, we could remove the job of scoring points from the referee. Make their job simpler, make it solely to control the match and ensure a safe match.
Scoring would be done by judges off the mat, possibly 3 keeping score independantly with the final result being decided at the end of the match by averaging the scoresheets.
Alternatively all three must call every score and a recorder writes down the averaged score.
Penalties perhaps are given in scores only, without Matte.

This approach does two things, it simplifies the role of the referee. It also balances the scoring across three poeple and by having them all score all throws perhaps it ensures that a more consistent scoring is given.

. Seismic scoring
Again we take the socring job away from the referee. This tijme we give it to a machine. We place sensors under the mat and then record the shock of impact of throws to score them.
Would take calibration and might not work at all, but a scoring system based on impact force is appealing.
This would potentially mean that Ippon becomes a objective measurement finally. You slam someone hard you get the score you deserve.
This might encourage bigger throws and the visuals would be appealing for TV too.
Of course, it might not work and the costs might be prohibitive, but given my laptop can act as a seismograph device, it is not "that" crazy this idea.

. Playing "advantage"
Taken direct from Rugby Union this one, when a player breaks a rule in Rugby, the referee can call "advantage" and indicates which team has was penalised against. The play continues and the referee makes a decision at some stage as to if the team penalised against has gain and advantage. If so, play continues. If not, the whistle is blown and the team gets a free kick, to ensure a tactical advantage is given.

Rather than give a score, in rugby they give a tactical advantage.

In Judo we could try this approach, you take a illegal grip perhaps. rather than Matte and a shido, the referee simply shouts "ADVANTAGE".
At this point you lose the ability to score, so your opponent can attack without fear of counters. Also you can't take a attacking position on the floor perhaps. So in effect, your opponent gets a free attack.
The referee perhaps lets play continue for a few seconds and then calls "ADVANTAGE OVER" if your oppoenent makes that attack or if things have returned to a equal state. (Of course you'd have had to stop penalising).

This approach could decrease the number of Matte calls and also give a tactical advantage to the player offended against. I think this is better than dishing out result changing points to players. The referee goes from changing the score directly to simply giving a player an advantage (after we should add, they have lost the advantage due to illegal methods from their opponent). This balances the match and leaves the actual scoring in the control of the players not the coach.

. No referees at all.
Do we need them? Maybe we should scrap them, maybe other players in the event should score the fights? Maybe the players on the mat decide when they have had enough?
In some "Extreme Sports", the scoring is done by the other competitors; in golf players score for themselves.

. Rounds
Rather than one fight, make players fight one another 3,4,5...8 times in a row. This decreases the risk of a "fluke" deciding the result or of course the referee. This would average out the result over several rounds.
Multiple rounds might also mean more strategic Judo, conditioning becomes more of a factor. Equally, it allows for "come backs" in the later rounds. Imagine Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle if it was all decided in the first round?

It may also be an opportunity to alter the format of Judo competition. Three rounds perhaps, one tachi waza, one ne waza, one with both? that would give "specialists a better chance to shine". Maybe bring in a Kata round (somehow?).

This also raises the idea of cummulative scoring, which people have discussed in the past.

If we agree with the idea that referees have too much of an influence on the outcome of a Judo competition/match then the ideas presented here may be ways of decreasing this influence and returning the control over who wins and loses to the players in the event.

Of course those are some big "ifs" and "buts", all the above needs exploring more fully and testing in experiemental conditions. The results of those tests needs discussing and a rational discussion had based on the ideas and evidence from tests.

So for now, these are just ideas to spark more thought, enjoy!


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See... I'm not crazy! technology is affecting performance in sport! 

Marc, over at let me know about something that happened in Football (soccer) over the weekend.

Basically, a goalie (Ben Foster) attributed looking at images of opposition players on an iPod as helping him make a crucial save.

Foster is quoted as saying " Just before the shoot-out I was looking at an iPod with goalkeeping coach Eric Steele and it contained images of Tottenham’s players taking penalties. ". (Daily Mail)

For me this is great validation for some of the ideas I have been promoting via this blog and more so via my "Coaching Digital Natives" talks and webinar.

Technology IS changing the way sport is coached. You as a coach need to get "onboard" and start learning how technology can help your players.

Videos on an iPod is one easy way. here in the UK Judo scene there have been efforts made to use Archos media players to show players video footage. In Germany, DVDs are made for each weight category showing the German players what their opponents techniques are.

The interesting thing about Ben Foster's story in part for me is also that he received coaching just prior to the shots being made. Sounds like the goal keeping coach came on the field and showed Foster stuff on the iPod.

This is entirely opposite to the trend in Judo, to remove coaches from matside. In Foster's case, he is a fulltime professional elite athlete.

He received coaching and information during the game and it affected the result of the match. For me, Judo is the same. One word from a coach matside might be enough to change the way the player performs.

If, and to some degree this is a big IF, Judo is a sport, and performance is the goal, then allowing coaching and technology to advance and improve performance is what we need to do. Not remove coaches and technology from the sport.

It will be interesting to see how Judo progresses with coaches removed from matside. More importantly it will be interesting to see how matside coaching changes.

Of course... seeing as coaches are now being removed from matside, we shouldn't expect any innovation in coaching matside in Judo... shame.

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Balance development Judo. 

Get the Balance Right
I recently read an old paper on balance development in children ( ASSAIANTE, C. Development of locomotor balance control in healthy children. NEUROSCI BIOBEHAV REV 22(4) 527 – 532, 1998.) which got me thinking about how childrens balance develops during the time they are involved in Judo and how as coaches we must be aware of this and adjust how and what we teach accordingly.

The general message is that the way children maintain balance transitions around 6-7 years. They go from a method where the head and body are moved as one unit, to a state where the head and body move independantly. It also describes how EMG activity moves down the legs as children mature. So balance increasingly becomes ankle related.

This maters to us coaching Judo as we need to ensure that if working with young children we are not trying to get them to maintain balance whilst trying to get them to move their head independantly from their body.

We also need to ensure that we help them develop the strength, range of movement and proprioception to be able to execute throws that need good balance, for example Uchi Mata.

You could argue that for younger (and less experienced) Judo players, throws where both feet are on the floor and in stable positions should be taught. One footed throws being delayed until balance has developed further. This would rule out Uchi Mata, Osoto gari, tsuri komi ashi, etc.

When teaching techniques to young children, you may also modify your coaching methods to teach Judo throws in ways that allow the head to move as a unit with the body.

You may also want to incorprate drills/exercises/games that help children develop their balance, especially at the transitive stage (6-7 years of age).

Of course developing balance is always a good idea, especially after an injury such as an ankle sprain, where the ability of players to maintain balance will be degraded.

With this in mind here are two short videos showing balance development methods you can use in your Judo club.

The first is from the EXCELLENT website, which all Judo coaches should bookmark. This video shows some simple Judo specific balance games:

The second is from YouTube and is actually a Soccer/Football strength and balance development exercise done in a gym environment:

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Thoughts on voice for Judo coaches. 

One of the surprising things in Judo coaching is the lack of emphasis put on the basic coaching tools that allow you to run a class day in, day out.

106/365 Stop Whispering, Start Shouting

As a Judo coach, your voice is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal. Yet how many of us have had any training in how to use it effectively?

In this post I'll share some tricks I have picked up along the way, both from Judo and from elsewhere on how to use your voice effectively.

1. Stand in one sport for your Hajime/Matte.
When you call Matte or Hajime, do it from the same position on the mat each time. Say under the picture of Jigoro Kano for example.
People get used to you doing this so become very aware of commands coming from there. So much so that you can often save some volume as people become used to you calling from there.

2. Use that beer belly!
Use your diaphram when you speak and shout commands.In other words, take a deep breath before you speak, push that belly out and get all the air down there.

3. Talk to the person furthest away from you.
In drama circles this bit of advice is pretty common, they talk about "projection"and speaking to the exit sign at the end of the theatre.
In Judo, you can apply the same principle, whenever you speak, talk to the person furthest away from you, that way you will be helping ensure that those closer can hear you.

4. Open your mouth
Obvious, but often forgotten. Get used to opening your mouth more than you are used to. It'll help with the enunciation of words and also the projection of the sound.

5. Study up on pronounciation
This is a personal quirk, I hate the people how shout "Jimmy" to get a randori started. Learn the words properly.
Often much of the muffling in Judo I think is related to coaches who are not confident about the Japanese terminology they are using. This is a problem that is easy to solve. FInd a Japanese Judoka to ask about pronounciation and as a barre minimum, visit and listen to Paul Nogaki pronounce the common Japanese terms.

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Big vs. Little. How coaching players of different sizes changes what you must coach. 

Projection 2I am, or should I saw “was” a lightweight Judoka, I trained with a variety of coaches some dealt well with my size, some less so. Part of this had/has to do with coaches not changing what they taught to match me as a player. If you are coaching any group, you will have players of different sizes and will need to change the way you teach techniques.

A study published in 2007 identified the speed differences between heavy and light weight players (R. Almansba, 2007) and is a good example of how the dynamics of throwing alter based on size.
You might be not be surprised to find that they found that the light weights had more speed than the heavier players when using Seoi-nage, while the heavier Judoka have more speed when doing Uchi-mata. Basically they showed that throwing speed is related to the type of technique used and not weight category.

As a coach you need to be able to adjust the way you teach to match the player AND the techniques.

A common error is to adjust techniques to match big against small or vice versa. This is a bad idea as a heavyweight player is not going to meet a lightweight in competition. Ditto for coaching lightweights how to big the big boys. In running you sessions you will need to keep the weights apart, so that the players do not start adjusting/practising their techniques incorrectly for actual application against people of the right weight.

Size is also a key factor in deciding techniques your players should develop. As a young man I loved Uchi-Mata (and I still do), but sensible coaches made me focus on developing my Seoi Nage as I was very light and very short.

You must develop players carefully as a coach. Players may not wish to work on the throws that suite them according to the statistics and common sense. Players may wish to try different throws, especially if they are purely recreational players.

If you are coaching young people, you need to consider their eventual size and weight. You will want to meet Mum and Dad,brothers and sisters, etc. This will give you an idea of what size the child in your care is likely to become over time. You want to develop throws for this player for their future, not just for their short-term size and weight.

A comparative study of speed expressed by the number of throws between heavier and lighter categories in judo
Science & Sports, Volume 23, Issues 3-4, June-August 2008, Pages 186-188
R. Almansba, E. Franchini, S. Sterkowicz, R.T. Imamura, M. Calmet, S. Ahmaidi⁠
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