Mick’s Judo Blog

Random (& Reckless) Thoughts on Judo Coaching

Friday 11th February: Are we being honest with our judo players?

An email exchange with a judo colleague this week prompted me to think about the sort of life that high performance judo players in Japan have, their career experiences and the sort of expectations that are set for/by them.  I selected one of the senior students from Sagami HS as a mini case study.

The Sagami HS judoka in the picture is Naohisa Takato – he started his judo in a machi (community) dojo and continued doing judo in Sagami HS as a junior and a senior.  Last year he was the All Japan Senior HS Champion and entered only 2 events outside Japan – the Bremen u20 and World Junior Championships  in 2009 (u60kg) winning gold both times. He currently trains in the Sagami and Tokai University dojos for 25+ hours per week plus fitness training (runs everyday and weights). Takato is a product of the Japanese Judo Development System.

Tokai’s recent results are outstanding – no 1 in the All Japan University and High School Championships and they won the Kanagawa Junior HS Team Championships last weekend (49 five boys per team – straight knockout) – losing only one individual contest on the day. This is the strongest region in Japan so this result bodes well for the 2010 champs.  For those interested, there were also 32 Junior HS Girls Teams (3 girls per team) – a state funded school team won the comp.

In reviewing Takato’s judo career to date and his current training regime, I have been wrestling with a question that we rarely think about in the UK – how honest are we with our competition players when we help them set their judo aspirations? Three schools of thought spring to mind in response to this question:

1. We ask them to do their best and see how far they can go.
2. We tell them that they can go a long way and give them all of the support that we can.
3. We be honest with them and tell them about the training regimes/support in place in countries such as Japan and see how they react before asking them to commit to a judo career of a decade or more of serious training.

There are probably more options – these are the first 3 I thought of!

There are a number of factors at play here:

  • Self development – are we encouraging players to compete for self-improvement, developing confidence, for fame and fortune (not!), keeping fit, other purposes?
  • Financial – should we be financing some of these players (in any way) without them understanding what they are getting into/up against and committing for the long term?
  • Ethical – is it right for us to encourage players to go for a full competitive judo career if they have little chance of winning medals on the world stage (as the odds of them doing so are slim when you consider the judo development system in the UK compared with that in Japan)?

I favour the “being honest” approach.  Lets tell, show and help our players understand (at an early stage) what the competition is doing in terms of how and now much they train, what is expected of them (by coaches, peers, the organisation helping them) and how they are being supported.  Lets show them videos of the competition (major nations) training and competing.  Lets show them videos of the All Japn High School Championships.  Lets help them manage and set their own expectations – and understand what it takes to become a champion in this sport.

For those kids that are still keen having been shown this startk reality, it is then down to us – and here I am talking about governing bodies, schools, coaches of all levels, performance analysts, sports scientists – to put the right judo development system (funding, coaches, facilities, programmes, school/club/university links) in place that gives them a fighting chance of being successful.

At the moment, in my view, a few areas that we need to improve upon in the UK include:

  • Helping all judoka better master the fundamental principles of our sport I am not just talking about using the right terminology here) – better grassroots coach education in this area is critical.  See uchi-komi video clip below.
  • Talent ID – we need to improve these processes to include an assessment of the fundamental principles and characters of potential GB squad/supported candidates.
  • Providing more “on the mat” and”off the mat” training time – in my view the only way to do this in the UK is to have 5-10 regional secondary schools around the UK providing an integrated judo and education programme (a bit like the French judo development system) – they should be running a judo coaching programme set by the BJA National Coach and should undertake regular assessments of players.  These schools could also be delivering judo classes to local secondary and primary school students and have links with regional squads/local clubs.
  • Scholarships – why are we not offering scholarships for judoka with the most potential to attend (part-board at) the secondary schools mentioned above?

From what I see at the moment we are just tinkering with the current GB – largely club-led – judo development system.  Should we really leave the fate of our olympic/world medal record to volunteer coaches running (competitive) community clubs (don’t get me wrong here – I am one of these coaches and we do sterling work!)? Maybe the time has come to adopt a different approach that embraces the value of being honest with ourselves and our players and the obvious need for our judo development system to be overhauled by working closely with the UK’s education system.

Comments welcome.



  Nikki wrote @

I don’t know a huge amount about the UK elite training system but it seems like we are up against insurmountable odds from the start when there are ‘factory’ systems like Japan churning out superbly trained players. UK sport generally seems to focus on amateur clubs in the hope that the cream will rise to the top, by that stage I think we are already behind the curve. Where would the initiative need to come from to initiate a different process?

  judomike wrote @

Good question – one that I shall discuss with you in the VJC dojo next week!

  Ian wrote @

Thing is, despite the seemingly impossible odds, there will only be one Japanese player per weight at the Olympics and they are by no means infallible – the Japanese men’s team at the moment is nowhere near as successful as the women’s team. Also even such ‘disadvantaged’ nations as GB, without the integrated judo education system espoused, can and do upset the apple-cart from time to time. Ask James Millar who he beat first fight in Tokyo and look what Euan Burton did before Xmas in Tokyo itself.
Imagine what could be done with a much improved development and training regime.

  lance wrote @

Hi Buddy,
awesome post!

Can’t agree more on most of what you are saying. I tend to agree with the idea that we are not being honest with players in the UK. Certainly within the mainstream. I suspect the story is different in Edinburgh where Billy is regularly producing international level players at present (Randall, Burton, Clark, Millar, etc etc etc)

Perhaps part of that is because up there they see what it takes first hand? We’ll have to see.

Been loving the blog as you know; would you be agreeable to coming on my podcast to talk about the trip?


P.s. While I think of it, perhaps your next journey could be to Edinburgh to watch Billy & Co. at work. Then Dartford to compare?

  Paul Black wrote @


Just read all of your blogs in chronological order – absolutely engrossing and a really good insight – well done.

In reference the specific question of honesty with our players, no we are not honest enough with our elite players, let alone our cadets, juniors and u23’s. But I think that part of this is down to modern ethics within GB and Western thinking societies (as opposed to Japan, although Western in its economic outlook, very traditional in its moral outlook) – we do not have the necessary approach to the training in the same way that the Japanese do. Although aided by the integrated set-up at school, it would be incomprehensible to most 15 year olds to do 25+ hours of training a week on the mat, with additional conditioning on top. I guess that most of our elite judoka struggle to do more than that, as they have to work to make ends meet (in most cases) so the ethos will not filter downwards with the current set-up. We need to develop a system that supports this approach if we want to produce anything more than the odd world class player in the future.

  Mick Wood wrote @

You are spot on your opening up a can of worms and have you got the bottle to carry through what needs to be done not just for the kids but for all judoka

  Joe wrote @

To a degree I think that at a club level we should simply be encouraging players to compete in competitions and helping them get there if necessary. The talent scouts need to be at the comps. They then have a good idea that the player probably has the necessary will power, desire and support to move forward. In terms of paying for them, British judo should be lobbying government for the funds for scholarships. Membership money should be for all members, not just the elite and up and coming. This way the government gets the medal count it wants and elite players can build a career on their experiences. This also means that those wishing for a career in judo aren’t held to it by feelings of loyalty to their sponsors if they change their mind. Afterall, the best chance we have is to encourage our elite players to enjoy the sport and give them the resources and guidance they need but since they, and the nation, reap the rewards of their successes rather than the clubs, they need to commit the funds or fund raising required to get there.
I agree with the comment that the Japanese system isn’t perfect either. But I suppose you improve your chances of finding super talented players if you increase the numbers going through the training required to bring out the best in them.

  Lance Wicks wrote @

Have to say that watching recent world cups, it is pretty clear that British performance players are coming from Edinburgh, Camberley and to a lesser degree Bath.

All three provide a greater volume of Judo Than available generally.

I think British Judo could via ideas like Mike suggests can increase the volume of training more broadly across the UK. The performance cell project might help?

Of course then we need to consider Intensity and quality of training. Intensity can be raised by “trainers” perhaps? Club coaches and former players could take this role and get players training harder.

The difficulty is increasing the quality of the training, we need more coaches with good education in Judo, in sport, in sport science and in “Elite Judo”.

If we can build cross discipline teams from the people in the local area whilst pulling in experts where needed perhaps that could work?

I’d argue that even of all the people were inexperienced or low level; the combined effort and aim to increase volume, intensity and quality of training in your club/town/county/area it will have a hugely positive effect.


  thegymmonkey wrote @

Great article Mick. Thanks.

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