Our organization originally began as an idea.—Small judo clusters of Japanese around the USA thought,  “Why don’t we join forces and think bigger?” “We’ll call ourselves the JBBF!” “What a great idea.” That was in 1952 when we got started as a National organization. That was 65 years ago. So what’s changed, and how do those changes impact our world of judo in 2017? We have gone through 5 or 6 generations of leaders in those years and have had to undergo various changes in order to survive. So what are some of those changes and what did our leaders have to do to adapt? Before we get to that, let’s talk about the idea of ideas.

For us, as an organization, these ideas have been vital to its continued success as the premier organization of the Nation. It was the very first United States National judo organization. It later had an idea to wisely join a national sports organization, The Amateur Athletic Union. This then allowed us, and the worldwide judo community, an entry way into the Olympics The AAU was the then entry way into the Olympics since Avery Brundage was its former president and was now President of the (IOC) International Olympic Committee. While it may have been destined before, through the efforts of Jigoro Kano during the late 1930’s, the death of Dr. Kano in 1939 and World War II closed the door to judo’s efforts to join the Olympic Family. Luckily for judo, Yosh Uchida and Henry Stone, the wrestling coach and friend of Avery Brundage reopened the door of future possibilities for the inclusion of judo at some later point, but it would have to scale up its organizational efforts. 1. It needed a recognized National organization. 2. It had to have a National Championship. And 3. It had to have weight categories. The national organization was the AAU, and the first Championship was held in 1953 at San Jose State University, and it had 4 weight categories to start with; 130, 150, 180, and heavy which was anything over 180 pounds. This too was started by an idea.

These ideas however don’t just pop up out of thin air. They come from individuals who have a love for judo. They are ideas that are brought forward at critical gatherings of like-minded persons trying to advance judo. Usually they are brought up in a formal setting with precise wording and are referred to as motions and end up as rules. These motions, before becoming a rule are subjected to intense discussions by the gathered group and voted on. This is the most common way to decide on a course of action, by majority rule. If more than 50% are in favor of the decision that’s how the rest of the body will follow. This is the usual case but not always the way decisions might be made. They are however originated as ideas.

Some decisions have been paradigm shifts and have irreversibly altered the course of judo, some in a positive way and others in a negative way, depending on your point of view. For a positive example: the Endowment motion in the 90’s was hotly debated at the meeting in Monterey, California. I recall that Mr. Brink made the motion stating that we should place all of the unused funds and donations at the end of the year into a separate corporation and that that corporation would dole back to the main organizations developmental projects, moneys from the accumulated interest only, and that the principal would not be touched. Many were opposed to this motion of giving such funds and power to another fictitious  organization, albeit tied loosely to the USJF. Fears fortunately were allayed and the motion passed. The USJF through the Endowment Motions has grown to over one million dollars, and has benefitted many developmental projects to help our members. Moreover, in the back of a USJF members mind, there is this sense of confidence in a very stable organizational structure. This paradigm shift in how we behave was also begun as an idea.

On a negative note, if we are not cautious and carefully filter   motions through some time consuming committees we can do irreparable damage. The case in point was the USA Judo organization’s vote to downsize from a 120+ member board to a 10 member board in 2006. There were several problems that were not given enough time to digest as the then, US Olympic Committee President’s representative had placed on the agenda and verbally warned, that unless the reduction became a reality there would be less funds for the athletes or USA Judo.

What was not thought about then was how the 10 members were to be selected. What would be their term of office? Who would they be accountable to or represent? What would be their new mission statement? What would constitute whether they were successful or not? How much more money would judo receive over what they were getting now? Who was to be in charge of the money and how would it be dispersed to the eligible point athletes? Most importantly what would happen if this smaller board did not function in a more streamlined fashion as the USOC had predicted? What if we didn’t like what was voted in? Is the 10 member board going to vote to go back to a 120+ member board once they have so much power?

This was truly a negative paradigm shift. Under the smaller ten-  member board many stayed in for more than 8 years and did very little to advance judo in the U.S. Most board members did not have to be accountable to any faction such as the USJF, USJA, or even to State Judo Organizations. They did not have to answer to anyone but their own ten-member board, which to them was working just fine, because they didn’t have measurable goals to assess, besides no one complained anyway. What is most regrettable is that today there are less monies and no plan for becoming the organization that we were working towards during the 1980’s Fullerton years when we were funding even second string teams to represent the United States in International judo competition.

The reason I point to these two decisions is to emphasize that decisions made in haste or without due process, may backfire. Look at every dark corner and don’t cut corners, especially on what you think are important game changing ideas. Here are a few ideas to think about:

1.Historical changes Japanese > American values, culture, hopes, reasons for doing judo.

  1. How we think of our investment in judo, building kids to send them away to college (USA judo?) vs. having a complete program.
  2. Our infrastructure and goals revisited Vs. USA Judo Infrastructure and goals.
  3. How to view our rank structure.
  4. Building for a better USJF in the future.

Historical Changes in US Judo

This may only be conjecture but here goes. What may be the reason that the early Isseis (first generation) in the late 1800’s early 1900’s, began the practice of judo here in the United States? Something to do? Self defense? Physical culture? Self defense? Self Esteem? Cultural order in a foreign land? Perhaps a little of each of these reasons in varying degrees.

Whatever the reason may have been, one thing is for sure, it was mostly Japanese engaging in judo. Even in the 1950’s if you visited a dojo it was mostly in an area of town were there was a high density of Japanese; Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Chicago. In Los Angeles at a tournament, up until the 1950’s one could look up and down the line of judoka and not find one non-Japanese face. As one Japanese boy in the early 1950’s remarked, “Everyone looks like me.” Oh, and it was mostly a boys game, no girls allowed, at least to compete.

The Great War had barely been over but 7 or 8 years when American G.I.’s were returning from an occupied Japan where some had learned judo and wanted to share their newly acquired magical ability to upend an opponent. Influx of judo into rural States and counties, sometimes through military outposts in rural areas, created differing needs for a different but emerging new population of judoka. This gave rise to the USJA in 1965 led by Major Phil Porter of the Armed Forces Judo Association (AFJA). This too was an idea, albeit, an idea that caused a polarization that came about because of irreconcilable differences in leadership. Namely the issuance of rank was supposedly at issue, but it was also a myriad of issues including cultural differences, personal issues, finances, funding and reallocation of resources, and an unwillingness to make the necessary adjustments to maintain harmony.

Another area where judo was changing was in education; as Yoshiro Uchida pushed for judo at San Jose State University in California before and the after the war, where he produced many National and International champions. This again originated as an idea, an idea that altered the landscape of American judo. Other colleges soon followed suite, either as clubs or part of the curriculum. The idea was now open to the public, through a large recognized institution and not just a cultural activity practiced in an exclusively Japanese environment.

As the American judo population increased and the older Japanese sensei’s began to fade away, old ideas that Americans just can’t do good judo began to give way to athleticism and the idea that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This led to the struggle between dual goals of developing athletic judo excellence vs. developing a better citizen through the sport and cultural activity of judo. As the 1960’s faded into the 70’s and 80’s judo had changed greatly and our U.S. Judo teams reflected American society. We had finally morphed into a multicultural membership. In the face of these social and political changes, the USJF held on tightly to the belief that in addition to being technically strong in judo, character counted.

While character counted for some, other ideas were in the works. In 2006, what was once hallowed neutral ground, (USA Judo), where all factions could come and discuss and decide on a democratic choice of action, now USA Judo instead of acting as a mediator, became our competitor. By the act of some heavy arm twisting the US Olympic Committee instructed, the then 120+ member board, that they would have to vote to cut down to a 10 member board or funding would be reduced. On the other hand if it did cut down it would be increased. What was thought to be a “no brainer” for some, including the athletes, really became one.

Here is what we have lost in that one vote to cut down our erstwhile board: We lost the ability to voice our concerns, we lost our ability to be represented in OUR erstwhile organization, we lost our ability to vote, we lost our umbrella organization where different factions could come and iron out differences, we lost almost a million dollars in reserved funds that was spent by a CEO who we couldn’t even vote out of office because we no longer could vote, we lost an organization that formerly sent even our second string teams to international events, we lost a lot of volunteers who believed in our US team building efforts, we lost a lot of valuable time that cannot be retrieved, we lost the ability to truly come together to all build for a better American judo presence.

To make matters worse USA Judo’s 10-member board has been flexing its muscle and not allowing our coaches and players to enter National events without having their membership and their certifications. For a while players were not even allowed to compete unless they stayed in their selected hotels. The main reason that USJA and USJF coaches and athletes complied was because USA Judo is the only U.S. judo organization that is recognized by the US Olympic committee and the International Judo Federation. Anyone wanting to compete for the United States in the Sport of Judo has to go through USA Judo.

Here is the rub. If we compare the numbers here is what you will find. USJF is the largest of three organizations. USJA is a close second with USA Judo a distant third. In fact if you were to study the make up of USA Judo you would find that the majority of its members are ours. That is because USA Judo doesn’t have a sufficient infrastructure to build their organization. They just don’t have enough good people that understand what is needed to scale up an organization much less run one correctly. They have to leech off of our best athletic members.

  1. A partial Vs. a Complete Program.  For some time after the 2006 detrimental reduction vote the USJF and USJA decided just to concentrate mainly on juniors. There are several things wrong with this idea. 1. We invest a lot of our time, effort and money to develop our young kids only to hand them off to another organization to take the credit for developing them as seniors.
  2. Without teaching or coaching seniors our teachers and coaches lose touch with how to help seniors. Even now, our dojos have fewer and fewer seniors to interact with and learn from and with. 3. With less seniors, comes less senior competition and points to reach black belt sooner. Some “Old Timers” can remember when there were 20, 30, and sometimes even 40 contestants in a weight division at National Championships. Now at National tournaments you sometimes find as few as 10 to a division. At local tournaments you are lucky to find 3 or 4 black belts in a division, some times even 3 or 4 black belts total, and hardly a sandan amongst them. What happened? So wouldn’t you think that our promotion system is out of sync with recent social changes? Also, in the future, who are we going to look to for our future teachers? Certainly not the juniors, certainly not the ones who have no knowledge of how to coach or teach seniors. Or are we?

This is why our organization, although the largest of the three organizations has been at 10 thousand members for the past 30 years while the population of the US has increased by 30 million. What to do? What to do? If we continue to do nothing, we will get nothing but another 10 years of 10 thousand members. Is that what we really want for American judo? If so maybe 10 thousand members is not so bad. At least it’s easy and we are used to having 10 thousand members. Maybe that’s all we are able to sustain.

If we really want to grow, we can’t keep doing the same thing we have been doing. Same practice = same result! The Nobel laureate who studies human behavior, Daniel Kahneman, said that people are “risk averse,” they would rather hold on to what they have, rather than to take a chance at something, even if it is absolutely better. In judo if you don’t attempt a throw you will never throw the opponent for an ippon. I wonder if we, as “judo leaders,” are afraid to take a simple chance at ending up better?


If we do nothing, we will get nothing!  We need to change up and be proactive. The mantra at Facebook is “Don’t be afraid to break something.” We can learn a lot from the broken pieces, and what to do and what not to do the next time. For example lets take the idea of allowing the certified coach or head instructors, who best know their students, to be allowed to promote to shodan. They would still submit the individual application to their promotion committee for ratification and processing. This is a small change in procedure but would have enormous benefits that include:

  1. More black belts than the 135 or so that we promoted in 2016 out of a membership of 10,000.
  2. Increase commitment of our 14 to 15 year olds to continue their judo progress. This is the age that most of our junior becoming seniors begin to quit judo. Oh, and by the way, quitting as brown belts he or she is less likely to talk up about judo to friends and relatives,– but as a black belt he will be our USJF advocate for life.
  3. Since 2006 we have had a drop in senior division judo. Less seniors means less ability to gain points to rise in rank. One need only look at local tournaments and find but a hand full of black belts. Sometimes not even enough to fill the divisions for a round robin.
  4. Less black belts means a smaller pool to select our future teachers, coaches and yudanshakai leaders from.
  5. Although we never want to have a watered down shodan program this will allow us to be somewhat competitive with our competitive US judo organizations who have the ability as head instructors of their dojos to promote to shodan, even nidan provided they are two ranks above. Even in Nanka, because of this disparity we have lost three or four dojos with large membership to competing organizations.