This is a really interesting interview with Isao Okano about the current state of Judo. Atsushi's father translated the original article. Atsushi posted this on Facebook. It's a long read so take your ADD pill prior to reading it.
Article: “Current Judo Will Not Produce Judo Master”
Source: Kindai Judo, Jan. ’09, monthly periodical
Interview with Isao Okano, b 1944
In 1964 at the age of 20, Okano won the Gold at the Tokyo Olympics in the middleweight division. He was called ‘Showa Sanshiro’ after Kano’s favorite student.
1965 – Rio/World Championships – middleweight – Gold
1967 – All Japan – won Open Division (weight less than 80K)
1969 - All Japan – won Open Division
Retired competition at 25
Presently teaches at Ryutsu Economic University
Plea – for judo to survive
Interviewer: The world of judo is more and more moving away from the concept of ‘ju yoku go wo seisu’ (strength can be overcome with flexibility).
Okano: That’s correct. Soon, people will start thinking judo is not fun and that we should get back to the old judo. I wonder whether they would have the energy to do it the old way. One of the bad things about current judo is that it is a suit-style judo; it’s no longer kimono-style, as in Kano’s day, with room in the sleeves. Also, judo should be open division, little guy with the big guy.
Interviewer comment: Kano Jigoro, who designed the kimono style judo gi, designed it with many types of techniques in mind, judo being very dynamic at that time.
Okano: That’s right. If you have the kimono-style gi, you could fight two very different sized opponents, by using different types of gripping. In jiu jitsu time, the jiu jitsu gi was very small, very tight.
Interviewer: That gi had no sleeves.
Okano: That’s right. Jiu jitsu’s main purpose was to put down and defeat by power. Judo is about exchanging techniques. This is the reason why jiu jitsu has no sleeves. The purpose in judo and jiu jitsu is different. When judo started, the larger gi was accepted with no question. Exchanging technique was the goal, not defeat as in jiu jitsu. After the weight categories started, judo became smaller and smaller and has become suit-style now, something more limited.
Recently, a judo-gi distributor told me of being approached by a player who requested a gi made with sleeves shorter and tighter. Of course, the purpose was to make it more difficult for his opponent to grip. He was thinking of his advantage only and about winning.
Interviewer: Have the Japanese Judo Assn somehow rejected this suit-style judo?
Okano: They need to clearly explain why this type of gi is not good. Merely making a statement of opinion is not enough. They need to explain why this sets limits for judo and if they continue down this path, it will no longer be judo.
Interviewer: The idea of ‘ju yoku go wo seisu’ is diminished?
Okano: Yes, you have to grip your opponent to exchange technique, but now players don’t want their opponent to grip at all which is further aggravated by getting penalized for not attacking. That’s why this incomplete timing ends up frustrating the player and results in non-dynamic judo. You are unable to perform any combination. It becomes a one-technique attack. I feel sorry for competitive players today.
Interviewer: Under these conditions, will a lot of technique disappear?
Okano: Yes, that’s right. When I teach judo to newcomers, I teach ‘o-o-goshi’, this technique is holding your opponent at the hip and throwing both their legs over. This will cover leg, hip and hikite. Next step is tsurikomigoshi, then uchimata, then taiotoshi. This kind of teaching is very basic. After you master these, the student will say they want to learn ‘so-and-so’s’ uchimata. Then if they can do right and left technique, this will be a significant improvement. This kind of step, no one is teaching. In my opinion. if we teach this way, much more technique can be presented to the student - this is part of that. Also, they will discover techniques that have no name yet. For example, I am the only one to do my type of ‘osotogaishi’. If we don’t name a technique, then it is only for that one generation and is lost. This is why I’m making a video of this so that others can use it and it is not lost.
Interviewer: I understand. You need to name a technique to keep it. “The time will come when judo needs to look back.” I’d like to ask directly this question of you. In the future, can current judo produce the master of judo?
Okano: No way. Not only can there be no master of judo, but will judo survive is the question.
Interviewer: No more master of judo will come and judo is that much on the edge?
Okano: Good judo is something that even a non-judoka will look at and feel is beautiful.
Currently, the level of judo does not approach that beauty. For example, if you try and teach seioinage, the current judo-gi prevents you turning your wrist, the gi is so tight. Japanese judo players are a little bit better than foreigners whose gis are very tight. It is truly hard to turn your wrist.
Last time there was a championship at Kodokan, they used new rules; these new rules concerned gripping and made it easier to watch. I think this was a good thing.
Interviewer: New rules also included no more koka.
Okano: That’s right. It is very difficult for referees to determine on koka and yuko. If it’s wazaari and ippon, the referee will find it easy to determine, however, only wazaari and ippon means that fighting time is longer and they left out koka which is a good decision for judo rules. Judo rules should be simple to understand for non-judoka. Currently, a referee looks at a rulebook in his pocket - this should not be. If it’s that complicated, they will lose the fans.
Interviewer: How do we get back to original judo?
Okano: In Japan, judo is in decline; even new coaches such as Mr. Shinohara and Mr. Sonoda are not going to change things. The entire foundation needs to be changed.
365 days camp will change judo.
Okano: For example, to change the foundation, I’ve been doing ‘sho-ki-jiku’ style. Currently we have five or six camps in one year; this is not enough, it should be 365.
Interviewer: Is that the 365 day camp?
Okano: Good coaching and choosing judo players who stay in the same place, live together, and do judo – this is a 365 day camp. We used to do this way. If they do so, they will be able to fight at one more weight level. After Beijing Olympics, Ishii left judo and became an MMA fighter. The ones left were very weak I think. Straight talk, these people could not keep winning in world championship levels. Most people belong to a company/they are working – the company is not going to pay to improve their ability so they only do All-Japan’s camp or they go back to their old college and practice. This kind of limited practice will not make them strong.
Interviewer: In what way exactly do you feel they are weak?
Okano: They have no power in their technique and they don’t have stamina. If somebody tries to fight up a weight level, how many judoka could fight up one category?
Everybody is going their own weight level. I’m not saying you should do open division, but in practice they should be thinking of open division. They will develop stamina and get power in their technique. If they keep up like this, they could fight up three levels. Then they would be able to compete on world level. The idea is a 365 day camp, like sumo beya. There should be maybe 4 or 5 clubs like this, training together, staying together, eating together, then you can send the strongest players to the Worlds.
Judo – please survive.
Okano: I don’t like the relaxed feeling we have in the dojo – they practice in a very relaxed environment. They need tension to practice over and over. It’s good-friend judo practice. Each university has a program but they don’t visit each other. Between players and coaches, there is not a tense relationship. They practice what they like to practice – they don’t prepare for stronger than you or bigger than you or they avoid who has an unusual style. In Japan, one of the reasons for judo’s weakness may be the rules or judo gi, but this is the biggest reason. I visit SJSU every summer in America and sometimes I look at the Japanese students who visit San Jose – most people are wearing t-shirts under their gi. American judo players don’t wear a t-shirt unless they are catching cold – usually they don’t wear that. They shouldn’t be wearing t-shirts under gi, but Japanese students wear them. What are they doing judo for? Judo is training in sometime winter or summer training – this has meaning. Most people bring a water bottle in the dojo and they drink when they want to drink. There is no set-tone. France has tougher rules and are more like the original protocol.
(Weight categories should go back to light, middle, heavy and open. Then open division idea will remain.)
Interviewer: First, coaches should change their idea. In Okano’s time, everyone thought about open division, now it is different.
Okano: When we were doing judo, basic thinking was open division. Then, Tokyo Olympics started it – light, medium, heavy and open division. I think they should bring back light, middle, heavy and open divisions. Right now, there are seven categories, so everybody thinks only of their own category. Nobody thinks about open division. The purpose of seven divisions was to develop judo for different countries; there could be more medals. Judo is now all over the world, this has been accomplished.
Interviewer: That’s right.
Okano: Judo is now all over the world, however, the quality is down,. How are we going to bring back the quality? At this point, bringing back light, middle, heavy and open is the best idea and quality will go up. If you can’t fight off 15K, that is not judo. When I was doing judo, I won middle weight then and as soon as I graduated college, I tried the open division. One problem was, I was too light. If I didn’t gain weight, they will put me in middle division -I didn’t like that so before the tournament I ate so many riceballs and in the middle of night I ate, I ate in the morning and I didn’t go to the bathroom until weigh-ins were over. Sometimes I had 2.5 K dumbbells in my underwear before I weighed in.
Even lightweights should go up a weight if they want.
Interviewer: Is that right? That much you wanted to go to open division?
Okano: Even now, some smaller person want to beat a larger person so even a smaller person should be able to go up a division. They can easily change this in the rulebook if they wish. That way, even the open division idea will come back.
Interviewer: Surely that’s right. That’s not a difficult thing to do. If you don’t do that, the idea of ‘ju yoku go wo sei su’ is not going to develop. In order to bring back original judo, it’s going to be very important to do judo education and also to teach young kids how to teach young kids. That’s the question. How do you teach the young kids.
Okano: Currently, there are too many judo tournaments. If they have too many, the kind of technique used will be limited. Judo players want to win, so they will use what has worked before. This is not a good thing for judo. Tournaments should be only twice a year. My basis thinking is, do good judo.
Interviewer: Good judo?
Okano: Good judo is first good standing technique. There are five points to do this:
1) Keep good posture
2) Learn how to use ‘tsuritei’ (wrist and elbow) when you are a beginner, you must learn this.
3) You learn movement including ashi waza.
4) You find out your own best technique
5) Do good ukemi.
There is a lot of meaning to do a lot of ukemi.
Interviewer: Good ‘ukemi’?
Okano: You will improve if you do more and more ‘ukemi’. You cannot cheat. If you do more and more ‘ukemi’, your body will become more relaxed and you’ll be able to adjust. The person who doesn’t like ‘ukemi’, their body movement is not flexible. The reason to take a lot of ukemi is so that you’ll not worry about getting thrown and you will attack again. If you keep doing that, your judo quality will go up. That’s why it is very important to teach kids how important ukemi is.
When I was a kid, I started doing ukemi and did only that for three months. I understand if you try and get the kids today to do like that, they won’t consider it “fun” and they will quit. That’s why you must make sure that while you’re concentrating on ukemi, you teach some ne-waza so they don’t get bored. Maybe instead of a tournament, you have a ukemi exhibition where the best demonstrate and the students can see how it looks.
Jiu jitsu overcomes judo ‘newaza’.
Interviewer: If you keep doing good judo, its future will become brighter. You mentioned that judoka need their own special technique
Okano: There are not many people, even among coaches, who have their own special technique. A player with his own special technique is fun to watch out for (when will he use it?) but nowadays there are few like that, so it’s very disappointing.
Very few, even coaches, can do newaza. Recntly, jiu jitsu is very popular in U.S., and I was wondering what is jiu jitsu because what they’re doing is judo’s newaza. Jiu jitsu is largely an imitation of judo and they bring sambo technique like a knee-lock or leg-lock. The level was lower than judo’s newaza, but they are practicing only newaza and become better. Even imitation becomes better which grows confidence.
I have a friend who has a dojo in Brasil and some Japanese judoka went and my friend said to me: “My dojo is not high level jiu jitsu but my students beat Japanese judoka easily.” I was so surprised that Japanese judoka were so weak in newaza. I believe it is so because the coach doesn’t teach newaza in Japan. In America, judoka say that in order to win over Japanese judoka, you should go to newaza.
Interviewer: Is that so? As soon as possible, they have to make an effort to do newaza. Is there a good training way to become strong?
Okano: In order to make a srong newaza, why doesn’t Japan put on an All-Japan Newaza tournament? You have to do that, or Japan’s newaza will get weaker and weaker. In other words, the player who doesn’t have confidence in newaza will have less chance to win. If in gripping time an opponent puts their knee on the mat, the player with good newaza will always have an advantage. Currently the problems with gi or rules it is hard get your grip for tachiwaza. Most people can be very competent newaza in two years. However, if you start newaza before tachiwaza, then your tachiwaza will not get strong and you will not have confidence in tachiwaza. This is why when you have some confidence in tachiwaza, you should then start newaza. Some people say in order to develop good newaza, one idea is to do newaza match. You start tachiwaza, but even the person who throws, there is no point until newaza starts. I think this is a good idea for practice to develop newaza.
Ishii (Olympic champion) moved to Kakutongi (like MMA) in Japan.
If he hadn’t done this, with effort, he would have made another level in judo.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. I think to reinforce newaza is very necessary. Before Beijing Olympics, Ishii judoka visited Okano-sensei. Did you give him some advice on newaza?
Okano: No, I didn’t give him any advice. Especially because this was just before the Olympics. If I advised about technique, it would have confused him, so I did not mention anything about technical matters.
Interviewer: Is that right? What do you think of Ihii’s judo?
Okano: His judo is getting more stronger. Even he has become champion at this point, he is not complete in his judo. His judo is only ‘attack’ so opponents can easily study his judo. Someday he might hit the wall. The next step is to let his opponent attack him and have counter. If he does this his judo will become complete.
Interviewer: Is that right/? But Ishii moved to (MMA in Japan).
Okano: That’s right. So quickly he decided to go to (MMA).
Ishii judoka, please do not wear judo gi in the ring.
Interviewer: If Mr. Ishii loses after moving to MMA, will that be shame for Japanese judo?
Okano: I don’t think so. This was his decision and he’s not fighting as a representative of Japanese judo. What I want to say is personally, please don’t wear the judo gi in the ring.
In the past, some people have worn judo gi in a ring – every time I’ve seen this, I do not like it. To clarify, I’m not disapproving of Mr. Ishii of going to MMA, I just don’t want him to wear a judo-gi .
Interviewer: The judo gi for a judoka is a pure thing?
Okano: That’s right. The judo gi is designed and made to do judo in. If someone decides to do some sort of MMA, then just wear shorts, but not a gi which represents Japanese judo. Why doesn’t the judo association make a rule about this? If they make a rule, martial artists will understand so it will be clear.
Interviewer: By the way, currently, Okano Sensei is teaching at Ryutsu Keizai University. I don’t mean to be forward, but what are you thinking of after you retire?
Okano: I’m thinking about a lot of things. I’m thinking about opening a dojo or maybe go abroad and help support judo but I haven’t decided yet.
Interviewer: One more thing, I’d like to have your opinion on.
Okano: Over and over I mention about world judo hitting a wall. When they think about judo at the time, I’d like to leave some technical info in a book or tape to help judo. I believe I should do this. What if there is no document there, then judo can’t go back to its roots.
Interviewer: This interview is very hard for a coach or judo player to hear. If it bothers the reader, that is because they love judo and it disturbs their thinking so I hope this interview will find those that love judo.