7:54 31 mai

"Japan, at the edge of explosion"

Kaori Yamaguchi « They forgot Kano’s principle »

In L'Esprit du Judo n°43, we look at, in depth, the crisis that has engulfed Japanese judo, here are the main articles translated in English.


Kaori Yamaguchi (c) E. Charlot/L'Esprit du Judo

The 48 year old 1984 world champion and gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics in 1988 at –52kg, has been a trainer at the Tsukuba university, where she studied, for years now. She has been saying out loud, for a long time now, what the Japanese experts were thinking privately. She launched « thinking about Judo », a blog, in 2009. Brilliant as trenchant, she has long been engaged in promoting womens’ judo. She wrote a book about it. She will probably be the next, and first woman, president of the Japanese federation.

Why is the rebellion taking place now ?

Because neither the federation nor the coaches have any respect for the athletes. Nobody knew about the situation when the girls went to see the Federation officers. Sonoa got a warning, but he did not react andwas kept in post. The girls couldn’t take it anymore and decided to talk to the Japanese Olympic Commitee.

What part did you take in this demand ?

As a woman judo sempai, I have always tried to be a counseor to the athletes. When the girls came to talk about the situation with me, I advised them on what they could do. It was in September that I first heard about Ryuji Sonoda’s abuse of them. I personally talked to the athletes and verified what they had said then I informed the board and asked them to investigate and meet the athletes. No one listened to them and I didn’t want the situation to become more complicated than it already was. So I told the athletes to get together and follow it through to the end. It’s a matter of awareness. I couldn’t do it for them. But as soon as the fifteen girls went public and started the procedure, we had to support them.

Do you think that the failure at the OG had an impact on this situation?

I don’t think so. I want to believe that the charges they pressed was a desire to seek a positive way of changing thing and not bitterness.

Kaori, what doesn’t work in judo ?

In Japanese sports, the relationship is more that of the teacher / student which led to a strong master-servant relationship rather than of coach / athlete, which means the respective responsibility. The result is very clear in this type of environment, even if the athletes are unhappy, they are unable to express it. As for the explanation of this underperformance during the Olympics, I think it fits in the ranking list set up after the Beijing Games. Therefore, the objective of the All Japan Judo Federation was to have many of athletes at the top of the rankings, even if it meant doing too many competitions. We lost sight of the purpose of this preparation. Result: the athletes were exhausted before arriving in London.

Why has Japanese judo such a bad image?

I do not think it’s the case. But serious and fatal accidents, as well as the harsh training methods used during judo lessons in Japan have added to the criticism of judo and tarnished its image.

You talk about teaching methods. Has Japanese judo forgotten some things?

Judo was designed to fight and defeat an opponent. Is was called ju-jutsu. Then, Jigoro Kano, questioned this approach. He created a systematic method of teaching, in order to make learning less risky. The jutsu is important to become strong, but it is not the purpose of the teaching. What should be important is to improve yourself as a person by learning a technique. This is why Master Kano changed the ju-jutsu into ju-do. People like Sonoda are under pressure. The important thing for them is to win gold medals, so they go back to jutsu. They lost sight of the educational aspect of the discipline. When Jigoro Kano died, I think the instructors began to freely interpret his philosophy. Many Japanese judokas say important things were lost when judo began to internationalize itself. I think they are wrong. Master Kano listed four ways to train in judo ; kata (that is to say, structured practice), randori (free practice), the Kogi (readings) and mondo (Dialogue). Some Japanese have forgotten Kogi and mondo and that is why judo began to change.

Now, are you an angry woman?

No, I'm not angry. I just want our leaders to respect and listen to the veterans and to the judo world more carefully.

However, are you worried about Japanese judo?

As I said, judo developed by Jigoro Kano was about education, but Japanese judo has forgotten the educational aspects, focusing solely on the goal of becoming the strongest and win medals. This has resulted in an incorrect view where the end justifies the means. The leaders of the Federation want to make strong judokas rather than judokas and better men, why not. But the Kodokan was responsible for ensuring the educational values of judo. The problem is the conflict of interests with Haruki Uemura at the head of both institutions. But I’m confident. In the long history and tradition of Japanese judo, wrong paths were taken but have ultimately seen our discipline evolve. Consider this incident, important as it is, as an opportunity to get back on the right path. If the situation itself is negative, a good response could lead to a positive result.

What will happen in the coming weeks?

The reason for our problem is the vision of some narrow-minded ex-champions. We must begin with: reforming our institutions, openinf the federation to men and women who were not great competitors, but who will bring experience, expertise and an international perspective. As a pioneer of women's judo in Japan, even without becoming chairman of the Federation, I am able to express an opinion that people are willing to listen to. There are some things that are more apparent from outside the organization and I want to bring that perspective. Japanese judo has a long tradition and history. It is necessary to consider what should be protected and what needs to be replaced. If we only defend the past, we will be outrun by the rest of the world. If we do, we must clearly state why. At times, Japan was opposed to foreign proposals without even bothering to discuss them. It would be good to live in our times whilst at the same time respecting Jigoro Kano’s principles...

If you want to read more about this case, follow this link

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