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In another 20 years what will the current generation of upcoming JF judo leaders be speaking of when they refer to the “Good Old Days?” It may go something like this, ” Back in the day I had a really tough match at the 2012 Junior Nationals. Conversations like this will probably be our plight. This is because at the present time we have no higher aspirations for our judoka other than junior judo.

Ever since 2006 when USA Judo cut down to a 10 man board and began exclusively to run things on their own, both the USJF and the USJA have slowly but surely been cut out of any involvement in a senior program. Where as USA Judo once acted as the middle ground on which all judo organizations in the US could come to reach an agreement now the judge suddenly turned ruler and competitor. Originally our national judo championship was under the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union. Then in 1980 with the National Sports Act judo along with all other Olympic sports was to control their own fate.

During the 1980’s judo created a model United States Judo Inc. ( USA Judo) hoping to include all possible factions of judo, be they organizations or States. All who joined were to have a voice and vote according to their participation level. Added to the mix was the mandated 20% athletes representation. We all had a say in how our champions were trained and selected. There was a sense of ownership and pride for all as our elite athletes went forward into international competition. This all faded into the mist of time with the coming of the new USA judo10-member board in 2006.

Whereas the former USA Judo board consisted of 120+ members and was cumbersome it at least allowed the judo community a voice and a vote to determine the course of judo in the United States. And whereas, it did vote to downsize to a 10-member board it did so on the promise of more financial support for athletes and officials from the Olympic Committee. Thus far as a result of our decision to downsize we have seen less financial support to athletes who now even after qualifying to make a US Team must pay their own way or not go. The vacant spot is usually filled by the next, less capable, but willing candidate who is able to pay his or her own way. Referees and coaches are subject to the same treatment. Pay or don’t play. Other make shift restrictive rules include that participants must stay at a specified hotel. (the hotel with the meaningless discount) Another is that you must have your coach at the draws or your athlete will not be allowed to compete. As for those who bid for and are awarded a National point tournament it no longer is financially advantages since the monetary advantages of putting on a USA Judo tournament to help the local area are just not there.

Probably more than anything else that has hurt US judo is that now that we can see that the move was a mistake is the fact that we cannot vote to go back to what we had. We are left with no avenue of voicing our displeasure and voting to make things better.

One of the invisible scars left by this schism is that it has left the two larger organizations without a senior program. Both organizations have relegated themselves to the position that they should be the junior developing organization and that it is the domain of USA Judo to develop senior elites. On the other hand it may be that USA Judo is the organization that is supposed to develop elite players for international competition but it really is not set up for the job. There are less than a half dozen viable truly USA Judo centers. Many are really USJA or USJF clubs that sign on for the name, USA Judo Training Center. There really is no real training plan or model for success. Most USA Training Centers consist of a banner that you pay for that says USA Judo Training Center. Much of what USA Judo does in the name of development is to run a system of elimination tournaments to decide a USA Judo team. These tournaments force JF and JA members to join USA Judo in order to qualify for a spot on an international team.

Thus USA Judo relies on the JF, the JA, and a few State organizations to give them their best seniors to compete at International events where other countries do have a plan and do support their elite athletes and officials. We merely stand still, stunned by our USA Judo leaders who think that running tournaments will produce stellar champions. The rest of the judo community while it has one of the finest junior programs possibly in the world has given up on building senior champions. Unfortunately this is when they are in a better structural position to do so than USA Judo who have little infrastructure to do so.

First of all both the JA and the JF have to understand that we need a senior program and not only because USA Judo is not doing a good job at it. Here are a few good reasons why we need a senior program.

  1. The quality and intensity of a senior program provides a greater understanding of judo than does just a junior program alone. If we aspire to excellence we must know that just a junior program is not a complete program. The lessons learned in senior endeavors are crucial to the next generation of leaders.
  2. A senior program provides program continuity. It seems wasteful to invest time, money and effort only for our juniors to have no where to go when they grow up. If we had our own Senior Championship our juniors would then have a place to go and have a higher aspiration level. Is being a junior champion the highest level that we offer our membership. Roughly 1/3 of our membership are seniors who have no chance at becoming a National Champion just because we don’t offer one.
  3. Our Senior Championships will provide an avenue for our better seniors to become hero’s and role models for the next generation. Who will be our next Kevin Asano? We had them in the past, but not today. Johnny Osako, Gene LeBell, Tosh Seino, George Harris, Ben Campbell, Jimmy Bregman. Paul Maruyama. These are names we don’t readily forget. Do you remember any of the names of our Junior champions from two or three years ago? Have our junior champions stayed on to help build our future generations?
  4. A senior program provides learning opportunities for athletes, coaches and administrators. The issues encountered at the senior level require more information and experience beyond junior level issues. Are we just hoping to train athletes, coaches, and administrators to carry on as Junior leaders? Do we have any prospects in our ranks to make the next US Team as a coach or as an athlete? What senior programs and opportunities do we offer for our members to gain the experience to succeed?
  5. For those wishing to expand their resume for promotion purposes it is essential that one have had experience at the senior level yet without a senior program we cannot encourage and aid in the competition route for promotion if our organization has only a junior program. Who will be able to put on their form 20 in the future that they were on the World or Olympic teams when we don’t even afford an opportunity to get there through the USJF?
  6. The plain truth is we really don’t have a USJF National Senior Program because we quietly lost it along the way and never bothered to pick it up again. We need to bend our knees, lower our center of gravity, get under the problem, and pick it up again. We need a senior program.