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Judo/Sambo UnderGround >> For Judom: Why Japan struggled this Olympics....


8/2/12 10:03 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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Judom (and others) asked my opinion about this on the Day 6 thread, but I felt it would best go here. Obviously, this is just my opinion, a guy who lives here in Japan, but is nowhere near connected to the elite level of players and coaches.

My observations are based off of seeing local level university and club players, some of whom are/were teammates with some of the elites, but none are or were at the International level of play. It is also based off of my (admittedly) poor translation of Japanese, especially TV announcers who tend to mumble and babble as fast as any Mexican soccer announcer.

So, this Olympics, even worse than Beijing, for Japanese judo. Why?

Well, let me give my opinion, broken down into bullet points. Others opinions are also welcome of course.

1. Coaching. After the 2008 Olympics, Shinichi Shinohara stepped up as the "head coach" of the Japanese Men's National Team heading into the 2010 World Championships. And, Japan did quite well at those Tokyo Championships.

After Beijing, the Japanese were (silently) very pleased about the changes that the IJF made to the rules of judo. The banning of direct leg attacks, and then later the rules on body locks, etc, really seemed to favor the "classical" or "Japanese" style of judo. You could see the glee in some of the older men here in my local town as now the "big strong gaijin" (me) had to stop fighting his "wrestling style" and do "true judo."

It is my opinion that this mindset carried up as well, onto the national level. Japanese at all levels felt the rule changes would force foreign players to play to the Japanese strengths. Namely, that judo matches would become much more contests settled by seio nages, harai goshis, and uchi matas.

And for two years, the Japanese were able to take advantage. Foreign players were forced to adapt their grips and setups to the new rules and changes, and Japanese won many of the matches.

But, this led to the Japanese coaches and players becoming complacent. They didn't make changes, they got overly cocky. Meanwhile, the foreigners (especially the Russians, it seems, as well as the Koreans) were experimenting, making the changes, and perfecting their style to to new rules.

This complacency affected both men and women's teams, but has been more pronounced on the men's side because the gap between Japan and the foreign countries is less on the men's side than the women's. Although, countries like Brazil, Cuba, the US, and Eastern Europe made big strides the past 4 years as well.

2. Japanese Arrogance. Don't get me wrong, I love living in Japan. Its better for my family, better for my son (today he's 1 year, 8 months old. Amazing, honestly), better in many ways, then when my wife and I lived in the USA. But, one of the most glaring weaknesses of Japan, even more than the USA, is the pig-headed arrogance of the entrenched powers that be, especially if it is in a field that Japan has either a long tradition or feels that they are unique in. So, just try, and I mean try, to get a Japanese "old man" to listen to outside ideas in the fields of A) how to run a Japanese company, B) Japanese politics, and C) judo.

You won't get anywhere. Trust me, I've tried. I've beat my fucking head against a wall for the past 5 years as I watched high school kids with all the heart in the fucking world train stupidly and dangerously, wrecking their bodies and spirits, in following out of date, bullshit training ideas. Kids who go into high school perfectly healthy walking out with shoulder, hip and knee problems because of training schedules that involve 50 weeks a year of training, multiple hours a day, 6 days a week. Overuse injuries that make no damned sense considering that there isn't another shiai for 4 months, but the coach won't give the kids time off to heal. Kids whose bones and joints are inflamed and fucked up because the coaches have no concept of how to properly diet to make weight for a tournament (No, asshole, daikon and rice with no meat is not the way to cut 5 kilograms and leave the player energized and strong).

When a problem jumps up and slaps them in the face, the standard Japanese reaction is to find a scapegoat, have said scapegoat bow deeply in front of the press, quit their position, and then everyone else forms a committee wherein nothing is decided on how to change, since nobody wants to either offend another party, or to look stupid in front of their peers.

Another reaction, and this is shared by most cultures, is to find an excuse. For Japan and judo, the excuse is to blame the foreigners and their style. In Beijing, the famous way to put it was "We play judo (imagine kanji) and they play J-U-D-O." The Japanese talking heads and coaches would call it "wrestling style" or such, with a tone of voice that made it quite clear that such style was only somewhat higher than boogers and dog shit in their minds.

This cycle of Olympic failure, the talking heads are trotting out the old salt "foreigners play for points, we play for the beautiful ippon," again with the tone of voice that says that playing for the win is somehow lower than whale shit.

To Be Continued.
8/2/12 10:43 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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3) Rise of other sports. 20 or 30 years ago, the "glory sports" that were internationally competed in Japan were very limited. For boys, you could play baseball (honorable), judo (honorable), gymnastics (if you had access), or run (specifically the Japanese specific relay marathon called eikeden).

Nowadays, there are more sports for Japanese to go into. Soccer has grown by leaps and bounds in this country, to the point where now, in sporting goods stores, the section devoted to soccer gear is probably just as big as that devoted to baseball gear.

There are others. This Olympics, when you look at the "famous" sponsored Olympic athletes in commercials for everything from beer (this is okay in Japan) to cooking oil to car wax, you find soccer players, wrestlers, swimmers, hammer throwers, volleyball players, etc. But no judo players. Since the retirement of Yawara-chan, judo has lost it's "face" in Japan.

This has reduced the population of kids going into judo in Japan. Some of the kids that would have made good grapplers in judo have gone into wrestling (in fact, one of the best commercials this Olympic cycle involves a little boy whose Olympic hero is Saori Yoshida, a freestule wrestler. The little boy proceeds around his town trying to shoot single legs on everything from his father to phone poles to playground equipment). Others have done into other physical sports.

Even with the new rule by the government that ALL junior high school kids do one of three "Japanese" sports in PE class (the choices being kendo, sumo, and judo, with 85% of schools choosing to teach judo), the popularity of judo at the younger ages is just smaller.

4. Changing Japanese culture. You can read about it on the internet, and while what is posted on the OG or in some English language sites is hyperbole, there is a seed of truth. You probably know the words. So-sho-ku-kei (vegetable eating boys). Hikikomori. Otaku.

No matter the word used, the common thread amongst them all is a recent trend in Japanese youth, especially young men, to avoid sports and activities that create a "macho" or "brutish" physique or persona. So, non-contact sports that emphasize thin bodies have become more popular. You have junior high school, high school, and university boys who think that if they are over 50 or 55 kilograms that they are "fat." They spend more money on beauty and hair products than many Western women (in fact, in one recent study, a certain sub-population known as "ki-rei-o" will spend more money on beauty products and treatments than the average Japanese woman).

My job, as much as some OGers will knock it, is a teacher. My wife and I are starting an International school here (not eikeiwa, although I have done that work), and while we build our student base, she's the teacher there, and I work in public elementary schools teaching English to 5th and 6th grade students.

The average boy I encounter is small and weak, to put it bluntly. Many cannot do 3 proper pushups, and I can count on one hand the number who can do a pullup. Even in areas like leg and abdominal strength, they are lacking. Recently, during a gap in my teaching schedule, I took part in a PE class with a group of 6th graders. The teacher wanted to do stomach training, so he had the students do leg lifts. Most of the boys quit and were whining after 10. Meanwhile, nobody, including the teacher, believed me that I would do 50 or more when I was in the Army, until I sat back and busted out 40 just to prove a point.

The current Japanese popular culture stresses appearance over function. So you have a generation of young people growing up without the athletic ability to perform at the international level in sports like judo.

With the Japanese trend of forced similarity, even those boys who would have the strength to do so are "encouraged" (read bullied) by their teachers and peers not to develop that strength to an overt amount, lest they hurt the feelings of their peers and start to stick out (a famous Japanese saying is "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down" or an older version "the grass that sticks up gets cut.").


5. Aging of Japanese culture. With the rapid graying of Japanese culture, Japan has developed a sense of fatalistic defeat. No longer do I hear "when Japan can become the best," but rather "back in the old days," or "well, if we can just slow the decline."

This is pervasive in many areas of culture. As an English teacher, I despair because the Japanese have merely accepted defeat by the English language. They'll give it the old "college try" (read, surface attention with no intention of excelling) and then write it off because, after all, they're only Japanese, and Japanese can't learn English well.

In politics, everyone will admit that the government is broken, that the politicians in Nagatacho (their national legislature) are a bunch of old boys who cannot decide on the color of shit and couldn't lead a troop of Boy Scouts, let alone a country, but many will also say "there's nothing we can do about it."

Everyone knows that society is broken, that bullying and overwork are causing over 30,000 suicides a year, yet again, there is nothing that can be done.

When this attitude of defeat is so pervasive, it seeps into areas not intended originally, and I think it has seeped into sports as well. Most Japanese are now happy if an Olympian gets a bronze or silver in a sport. Swimmers get huge accolades for getting bronze. Nadeshiko Japan, the women's team, isn't expected by many Japanese to actually win the Olympic tournament, since the pressure of winning the Women's World Cup and the Olympics back to back is "too hard."

I've used this mental weakness to my advantage, I will admit. In many matches, I will spend the first minute basically manhandling an opponent, jerking them around, "bullying" them, basically imposing my will upon the match. And it works. If the local players cannot get a quick easy win, they crumble in a dog fight. You can see it in their postures, as their shoulders slump, as their hands pull less powerfully, as they flop into their drop seio nages more and more weakly. I've beaten more players in the last two minutes of many matches than I have in the first two minutes (local contests are often 4 minutes).
8/2/12 11:01 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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5. Tactics. Tying back into previous comments on coaching and arrogance, what many Japanese players and coaches fail to recognize is the holes in the classic Japanese game. The two biggest are range and rear.

Range: I like to define range into 4 levels. At the farthest level (let's call it 1), no one is in danger in judo, especially under the new rules of not allowing anyone to shoot in for a single or double leg. This range is outside grasping range, and is used by most players for rest, for movement, and to set up mat positioning for other ranges.

Level 2 range is at one arms grip, usually on the sleeve. Depending on the player, there could be some danger, but really most players have few dangers here (usually a few funky foot sweeps and such, and the occasional make komi). This range is usually used to set up the more dangerous Level 3 grip.

Level 3 is the most dangerous range against a Japanese player. It's about the range of your classic collar and sleeve grip, with the elbows slightly bent. Here is where Japanese players spend more time than any other. They are at home here, especially if they can maintain a relatively erect posture. You ever face a good Japanese at this range with an upright posture, you are most likely in trouble. If he can get you to chase him you're toast.

Level 4 is tight. It's over the back grips. It's chest to chest, a dog fight, "ugly" judo. It's bent over postures. It's where the Russians and many Europeans love to get to. It is where the Japanese do not do well at all. And, the coaches are not making their players either get comfortable at this range, or learn how to get out of this range and back out to Level 3.

Finally, the classic and popular Japanese throws of seio nage, harai goshi and uchi mata all have the same weakness. My teacher in America taught it to me, and you could see the North Korean girl use it this Olympics as well. Namely, if a player is turning in for such a throw, there is a time, usually when the player has completed their turn but before their weight has been redirected forward fully, that their balance is off. All their momentum is actually going backwards (it's basic geometry, think tangents).

At that moment, if you turn your body into a dead weight more or less, and apply your force along that tangent, you can slam a player very easily. What techniques do this? For me, the one I like most is Tani Otoshi, but many of the sacrafice techniques employ the same concept, and I've used Yoko Gake, or even ko-soto-gari and ko-soto-gake to similar success.

The foreign players have recognized this. The Japanese players either haven't, or are unwilling to modify their style to give their opponents fewer opportunities to take advantage of this gap.


Summary: There is no one reason Japan has struggled so much this Olympics. And I again admit, that I am not an observer of the elite programs and their training. I can only see the lower levels and make assumptions from there.

I do hope that this tournament will serve as the proverbial "slap in the face" to Japan and their judo culture. Its a dangerous gamble, honestly. If the pride of Japanese judo is enflamed to the level of wanting to strike back, and they apply themselves with a wake-up call, you could see the Japanese storming back come Rio or the 2020 games.

On the other hand, if this slap acts more toward the defeatist attitude that has grown in so many other areas of Japan, you might just see a continuing decline. Japan will continue to be good at the Japanese style, but that's it. Anyone who can take advantage of the gaps and holes in their style will continue to do so, and all the Japanese will do is make excuses, complain, and state "it cannot be helped."

I don't at this time know which will happen.
8/2/12 11:01 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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Oh, and sorry for the HOLY FUCKING FRAT!
8/2/12 11:30 AM
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judoblackbelt
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How about 1 judoka per country this year? There were countries that had judokas I have never seen or heard of. Are the best judo players at the Olympics? No.
8/2/12 11:35 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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jbb, the one player per country per weight class has been the same for all the Olympics. You are confusing the World Championships (which does allow 2 per country for those who qualify) with the Olympics.
8/2/12 2:31 PM
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TBoy2
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Interesting. Thanks for the post
8/2/12 6:38 PM
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judoblackbelt
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CS- I think you are correct. My bad. The Japanese player I have been the most disapointed in is Anai. Looked like he had the potential to be a star like Innue. But 2 players per country does favor the Japanese more so.
8/2/12 9:54 PM
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Chocolate Shatner
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While the two players per country in some ways would give the Japanese additional chances at medaling (especially in the women's field, where the Japanese have a much deeper field than other countries), the Olympics also has its advantages.

Like you said, there were players from countries we've never heard of. There was a player I saw yesterday from American Samoa. Now, while I am sure the guy could kick my ass in judo, I'm also quite sure that there are 10 guys in Japan who could kick his ass, if not more.

This means, with the easy first rounds and the byes that you see in the draws, that a player gets a much easier path to the medals than in the World Championships, where after perhaps the first round you do face serious competition.
8/2/12 10:03 PM
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naqis
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Excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to share all of that. You should think about starting a blog (if you aren't already). Phone Post
8/3/12 2:59 AM
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Seong gyeong
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Well-written post, thanks for sharing.
8/3/12 3:44 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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naquis, I'd start a blog, but honestly I'm kinda past the point where I think just talking (although I do my fair share here and other places) is going to be effective.

I personally am planning on effecting change by "force" and action. As noted above, I'm starting an International School here in Japan, starting at the preschool level. My son (and others, I've had offers) will start training when they are of appropriate age (I have a few years still), and we're going to do it right.

Basically, when my son and his teammates are slamming people left and right, either I will force acceptance by shoving the results down people's throats, or they'll continue to lose.
8/3/12 8:31 AM
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judoblackbelt
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CS is as good as a contributor you will find on this forum.
8/3/12 10:46 AM
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dynamo
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I concur, CS excellent post.

Having trained in Japan once and Russia, Ukraine and Belarus extensively I'd like to add my own observations.

I'm probably going to get in trouble for this but here goes.
In the former Soviet Republics judo is widely regarded as a "wrestling style", in fact it is often called judo wrestling by the coaches and athletes and in the media.

The Soviets applied science to their training at all levels. When I trained at the Lenin Institute of Physical Culture and Sport (now called the Academy of Sport and Exercise)the mornings were devoted to classroom lectures and the afternoon and early evenings were on the mat. The Institute was a very large university in Moscow devoted to all Summer Olympic Sports and several non Olympic sports (i.e. Sambo).


IMO the Japanese force a technique to the body whereas the Soviets would adapt or modify the technique to the particular somatotype of the athlete. Speaking of somatotypes they would evaluate every athlete to determine which sports they would have the highest probability of success, mine were judo/sambo, wrestling or gymnastics (me a gymnast lol). One other example is how they would analyze and breakdown a typical match for referee interference/stoppages and how long a typical attack sequence would last.

They also paid a lot of attention to sports psychology.

I could go on with other examples but I just wanted to add my $.02.
8/3/12 2:45 PM
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FlyingKnee_bar
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wow great post man...as a huge grappling fan and a casual observer/practitioner of judo i was wondering why the japanese were failing so much this year, but what you have said was actually quite shocking bc i didnt know any of this was going on...

and just outta curiosity after watchign judo for years when did the rules change to not allow shots and what not, bc i mentioned that to my friend why we we weren't seeing certain high percentage attacks that i have learned over the years from american/russian judokas (i practiced a lot of judo in the offseasons to better my wrestling in hs and college, also funny to note i never had a full understanding of the rules since i was practicing for wrestling so i lost a lot by penalties when i competed)
8/3/12 4:21 PM
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judom
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CS,

Thanks..that makes sense...I am not sure this is how things are at the elite levels.

I had a Japanese coach for a while and dude was a total bad ass.

I remember a friend also told me they took kids to Japan to train. He said, the kids, aged 10-13 or so, nearly died in Japan. That the kid training was far harder than anything they had experienced at home. So, hardcore training for kids.
8/3/12 5:39 PM
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Wasa-B
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First time the guys didnt win gold but as far as medal standings go, is it really the worst?

They won 4 medals out of 7 classes.

That said, Russia killed it this time. This has to be their best showing ever?

French women too.
8/3/12 5:46 PM
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Wasa-B
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Also, while a super interesting read, CB, will have to dig more into it later, look at the 2011 world results:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_World_Judo_Championships

Perhaps the results here are being more pronounced on a historical level since its the Olympics. Japan ruled just a year ago.
8/3/12 9:03 PM
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Chocolate Shatner
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Wasa-B,

In judo, for Japan, there is only one acceptable result. Gold. It's like saying in basketball the US men would be OK with silver or bronze.

dynamo: your idea makes a lot of sense, and yeah I can see that whole Japanese idea of "making all fit one pattern."

The coaches here want everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, to focus first on o-soto-gari, then harai goshi/uchi mata/seio nage, with other throws being used more as fillers or combination throws. So, o-uchi, de ashi, etc, etc are used as fillers or off balancers to set up the turning throws.

Of course, if you come into judo like I did, at 22 with previous injuries and movement limitations (I just cannot get my right shoulder to accept the twisting and torquing of morote seio nage), you're pretty much fucked.
8/4/12 3:15 AM
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Wasa-B
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CS, yes, aware of the japanese expectation. Its just that we know there is a fine line between placings at the worlds and olympics in judo. No champs is a let down for them but i dont think its that they've fallen so behind really...
8/4/12 4:09 AM
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JoshuaResnick
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it is really hard to say that the japanese had a problem other than one glaring issue.. they have not adapted their judo to what is happening worldwide. they are not improving their use of counters or their overall gymnastic abilities.
8/4/12 7:50 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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Wasa-B - CS, yes, aware of the japanese expectation. Its just that we know there is a fine line between placings at the worlds and olympics in judo. No champs is a let down for them but i dont think its that they've fallen so behind really...



When the government (which has seriously boosted funding to sports over the past 4 years) puts out a prediction of Japan getting more than 8 golds this Olympics (with 5-6 of them expected to come from judo), and they walk away with 1, it's a huge let down.

And Josh, I agree that their glaring issue is very large, they inability to see the counters to their favorite techniques. And their lack of gymnastic ability is kinda linked to an overall lack of physical ability, which I outlined above.

Put it this way, in 5 years, even with competing against former (less than 1 year out) university players, and even after an ACL reconstruction that put me on the shelf for a year at the age of 32, I still cannot say that I have met my equal in pure strength and power in judo around my city. While I'm not in a big city like Tokyo or Osaka, a city of 250,000 and I'm the strongest? WTF? I'm no muscle head, my squat and deadlift are just now exceeding the 200 kilo mark.
8/5/12 6:38 AM
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TEOMOFE
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Put it this way, in 5 years, even with competing against former (less than 1 year out) university players, and even after an ACL reconstruction that put me on the shelf for a year at the age of 32, I still cannot say that I have met my equal in pure strength and power in judo around my city. While I'm not in a big city like Tokyo or Osaka, a city of 250,000 and I'm the strongest? WTF? I'm no muscle head, my squat and deadlift are just now exceeding the 200 kilo mark.


Heh, I bet you hear that lovely backhanded Japanese compliment "Wow, you're very strong!" all the time :/

Kidding aside, 200+kg (440+lbs) squat is not exactly weaksauce. I was in a squat-jump study with a bunch of rugby players etc. One of the guys had a 220kg squat...and he bent the friggen bar. I think his 40 yard dash was something like 3.96.

8/5/12 11:08 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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TEOMOFE,

I agree, 200 kilos isn't weaksauce, but I'm also a big guy (110 kilos). To get from "average" to "strong", I use the benchmark of 2x BW, and I'm still 10 kilos away (I'm actually a 210 squat).

And while I'm larger than the average player here, I'm not the largest. In my dojo alone there are two others larger than me, and in the two big judo high schools, each has 3 players at least bigger than me. I know because I've randori'd with all of them. I shouldn't be the strongest MFer around, especially when you consider that my squat is built off of a reconstructed ACL and rehabilitated MCL.

If I'm a high school kid, who's into judo, and wants to be serious about it (which many of these kids are), I know I'm gonna be busting my ass to become not only the most skilled, but the strongest and fittest player I can be. It was how I was with football in high school. And with the hormones of a teenager running through me, I should be able to be damned strong. Just check YouTube, and you'll see plenty of larger (200+ lb) kids doing bigger numbers than me. Kids getting ready for wrestling, for football, for rugby. Yet, judo players can't? Pleease.
8/9/12 3:10 AM
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Chocolate Shatner
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UPDATE:

Seems like my fears are being justified. After the defeat, many journalists/pundits/sports writers are getting their few yen in, getting an article out of dissecting why the Japanese men did so poorly.

And, what reasons did they come up with?

The point system. Specifically, the IJF competition point schedule, which the journalists and some of the players blamed for them being tired come the Olympics.

However, the Daily Yomiuri (the English version of the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun) had a clue that I think is being lost in the whole hubub. Mika Sugimoto, the women's over 78 kilo player, lamented the strength (another excuse tossed out with regularity) and preparation of other countries' players. "We practiced hard," she said. "I didn't think anyone practiced harder than us."

Mika-chan, it wasn't that you practiced less or that they practiced harder. The problem lies in that you practiced the same thing, over and over, and your coaches never made you adjust your game (I'm not meaning just you, but the entire Olympic team) to what you would see.

It would be similar to in the NFL, if a team decides that they will practice the same defense and offense used by the Philadelphia Eagles of the 1950's. It doesn't matter if the players are practicing harder than any other team in the NFL, the schemes and strategies used in the 1950's are not going to win in the modern NFL.

Using the same exact judo game that was used in the 1990's is not going to win consistently today. Not being strong enough because your coaches don't train you correctly is not going to help you win consistently.

But, it looks like at least in the short term, Japan is going to make excuses instead of actually making changes.

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