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DATE : 17-08-22 06:06
The Future of Judo Clubs
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The Future of Judo Clubs
Dr. Allen Back

        Since becoming an Olympic sport judo has become less popular to practice.  The percentage of the population actively involved in judo has declined.  Judo has only lately turned into a sport.  Here we wish to consider why this has happened and what can be done about it. 

        In the late nineteenth century, judo was seen more as a form of combat and self-defense.  Judo was able to become a sport by de-emphasizing lethal, practical self-defense, and replacing it with tournament sport competition.  Thereupon judo became quite popular, and became an Olympic sport in 1964. 

        However, once it had become an Olympic sport, judo declined in popularity.  Likewise, in the late nineteenth century in Japan, when kendo became a popular spectator sport, it too had a similar his-tory: more spectators; fewer players.  Other sports with high spectator appeal, from sumo to baseball to racing also have few active participants.  So watching a martial art sport may present graver dangers for the survival of widespread practice of that martial art.

To gain a theoretical perspective on this issue, let us borrow a distinction used by Peter Wenz between the exchange and the use value of a sport.  In effect, the exchange value is what a profes-sional athlete, qua professional, gets out of an activity that the amateur athlete does not: namely, what other people give to the professional: fame, money, attention, social status.  Professional athletes cer-tainly gain all these benefits today, and gain these benefits because other people watch them.  On the other hand, the use value consists in the sort of benefits common to the amateur and the professional, namely, whatever the practice brings: the physical skills of the sport, and, perhaps, other benefits like health, self-esteem, and character building.  Now, like a sport, as a martial art becomes more popular, its exchange value tends to increase, since there will be some martial artists, the elite practitioners, who get increased money and fame from that activity.  The use value of the martial art to the professional martial artist is about the same as for the amateur—at best, a bit more, given that the professional has better martial arts skills.

        The difficulty is that, as Wenz observes, the aggregate use value tends to drop as the aggregate exchange value increases.  In other words, the more popular the activity becomes as a spectator sport, the players as a group get more fame and fortune from practice.  But, when this happens, the sum total of the use value, the intrinsic benefits derived from practice, without spectators, tends to drop, on ac-count of there being fewer players.  The players now have become professional, or quasi-professional, and professional activities generally have fewer participants.  There are various reasons for this, includ-ing the monopolization of the resources needed for engaging in the activity by the professionals and the growing conviction of most participants that they should give up practicing as they never will excel, and reach the professional pinnacle of success, fame, and fortune.  So rising popularity often brings more spectators and fewer participants. 

For example, in (American) football, more people have come to watch, and fewer to play the actual game.  The playing career itself tends to become shortened, limited to the male young; indeed only those who make the school teams are in a position to play the game (not touch- or flag-football).  So too judo has elite teams in colleges and in international competitions.  Many clubs focus on them.  But most players will never become part of such an elite and become marginalized.  The rule is to rule them out.  Even in many commercial judo clubs the emphasis has come to be: focus on the players and the tournaments.

        The problem then is that we end up with fewer judoka.  Now there may be some exceptions to this rule: soccer, basketball, golf.  Nevertheless, judo practitioners need to ask themselves: how can we be exceptions too?  Surely the appeal of judo—what distinguishes it from other forms of wrestling—lies in its mystique as a martial art.  As Kano himself held, “judo is an art of self-defense and a way of life that is closer to physical education than to sport.”  Having all these func-tions, judo can have a wider and a more lasting appeal.  How should we then promote these features then in daily training?