In case you live in a cave, here’s a news flash: 2016 is an Olympic year. The 31st Summer Games are scheduled to take place August 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro. Whenever the world’s premier sporting event rolls around, we find ourselves reflecting on how the Olympics have affected the martial arts.
Part 1 of this article examines whether the Games have been good for judo. For input, we interrogated Gary Goltz and Hayward Nishioka, prompting them with questions and hoping they’d offer opinions on other topics that are of concern to them and practitioners of their martial art.
QUESTION: Is pre-1964 judo different from post-1964 judo?
GARY GOLTZ: Actually, a lot has changed since then. This started after World War II, when judo’s focus became much more on the sport aspect rather than the martial arts aspect. It had a lot to do with the occupation of Japan and Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s ban on the practice of all martial arts. The Kodokan set out to impress the American officers by showing that judo was a sport and a peaceful activity. When the Olympics came to Japan in 1964, they introduced it as an exhibition event. Back then, there were no weight divisions and no females. The only scores were the wazari (half point) and the ippon (full point). Matches lasted up to 20 minutes.
QUESTION: Did the imposition of rules for the Olympics change judo from a martial art to a martial sport?
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GARY GOLTZ: Olympic judo today is more driven by rules than ever before. Wrestling-type moves such as kata guruma (shoulder wheel) and morote gari (two-hand leg reap) are now illegal. This was to force players to use more standing techniques such as uchimata (inner-thigh throw), harai gosh (hip sweep), seionage (shoulder throw) and ashi waza (foot techniques). The goal was to look good on TV and differentiate judo from wrestling.
QUESTION: Has Olympic inclusion boosted the popularity of judo overall?
GARY GOLTZ: Judo’s popularity soared in most countries with the exception of the U.S. This was due to the national judo organizations’ insistence on maintaining their members’ amateur status to meet Olympic requirements at the time. Here, other martial arts — karate in the 1960s, kung fu in the ’70s, and then Brazilian jiu-jitsu and krav maga now — flourished in part because of the entertainment industry and successful commercialization methods.
QUESTION: Does being an Olympic sport help judo create stars?
GARY GOLTZ: Absolutely. There are many such examples in Japan, Korea, France, Brazil, Holland, England and even Cuba. The best example in the U.S. is Ronda Rousey, who took a bronze medal in Beijing and then left the sport to become the biggest female star of the UFC.
Kayla Harrison (left), on the other hand, is the only American Olympic judo athlete to take a gold but is far less well-known because she’s chosen to stay focused on judo and enter the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. This illustrates the dilemma faced by those who devote themselves to becoming Olympic champions. They may find that they have limited career options upon retirement.
QUESTION: Did judo lose anything of value when one portion of the martial art — competition — was added to the Olympic Games while other parts of it — such as kata and self-defense — were not?
GARY GOLTZ: When judo became an official Olympic event, competition became the priority. Kata have been made much more consistent over the last five years by the International Judo Federation, perhaps in an effort to eventually make it part of judo in the Olympics, too.
EXPERT: Hayward Nishioka, 1967 Pan-American Games gold medalist, Black Belt’s 1968 Judo Player of the Year and 1977 Judo Instructor of the Year
QUESTION: How has judo changed since it was added to the Games?
HAYWARD NISHIOKA: Judo today is stronger, faster and tactically different due to the influence of the Olympics. The Olympic motto of Altius, Citius, Fortius (Higher, Faster, Stronger) seems to hold true for Olympic sport judo. One need only look at YouTube submissions to compare the old with the new. Where once weight, height, strength, cardio fitness, nutrition and specialized tactics took a back seat to waza, or techniques, they are now integral pieces of a total package. If you’re missing any one part of the equation, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Now, …