The Cost of Banning Techniques
I don’t do very much judo anymore. The truth is my body has a difficult time holding up when I do it, and to come back to it on a full time basis would require some significant rehab. While the possibility still exists to return to serious judo competition later on, at this time I’m content focusing on Brazilian jiujitsu. One of the reasons I'm content with bjj is that it includes something missing in judo: leg grabs. This isn’t news, as the ban on leg takedowns has been in place since January 2013, and a variation since 2010. While many people were excited about the rule change, most have frowned upon the removal of an entire area of expertise from judo. A generation of judoka are coming up that do not have to worry about a double leg. There is a serious cost to this aesthetic choice by the IJF.
The first cost is from a martial arts perspective. It's quite simple: if I don’t train to deal with a technique, there is no guarantee that if it's used on me I will know how to react. My reactions to wrestling style takedowns have dramatically deteriorated. I didn’t realize this till I went to a Brazilian jiujitsu workout and had the opportunity to train with Renan Borges. Renan is an accomplished Brazilian jiujitsu blackbelt. After being introduced as a nationally ranked judoka and a training partner for members of the US Olympic team, you can imagine my embarrassment when Renan nailed me with a low single leg takedown out the gate. (To his credit, it was a great shot) In my transition to Brazilian jiujitsu competition, I’ve had to relearn wrestling. To keep this in context I wrestled for a two time state championship team in highschool, and grew up defending wrestling style takedowns in my judo career. Just imagine how difficult it will be for a generation of pure judoka to transition to a MMA or self-defense situation against a wrestler.
The second cost is paid not by the athletes new to the sport, but by athletes who have been in the sport for a long time. You have stranded skillsets. If an athlete specialized before in a powerful pickup game, they won’t have an opportunity to use it again in a competition setting. This means potentially hundreds of hours of wasted time and significant frustration. I only lost one technique in the first phase of the rule change (an off the grip firemans carry). Friends of mine lost most of their repertoire.
The final cost is a little bit more abstract and will matter to differently to different people. In a sense when you think about executing a technique, there's a memory attached to it. You might have very clear memories of having used it or defending it. When a technique is accessed, at least for me all of the memories associated with that technique (both good and bad) are accessed as well. When I hit an uchimata I remember training camps in upstate New York. When I throw osoto gari, I remember one of my old coaches yelling at the top of lungs for me to attack with it. When you ban a technique, you reduce the opportunity for these memories to be accessed. Everyone will put different values to these memories, but for me they matter. I understand when a technique is banned for safety reasons, but when it is banned for sport aesthetics I wonder if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Christopher Round is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University studying information technology and climate policy.