Sunday, December 29, 2013

Trees on a judo mountain

“Looking at the poems of Basho (one of the most famous Japanese poets), one finds that the concepts of Immutability and Change are very much at the centre of his thought.

The immutable backbone of Judo is the aim of human perfection through judo training, the ideal being the peak of universal morality.

In judo this high ideal is accepted as the aim, but in the practice of the technique (jutsu) itself it is made clear that the ideal is always to be kept before the mind, and this I think is the immutable aspect of Kodokan Judo.”

Kano, R., 1953. Immutability and Change. Judo Quarterly Bulletin, July, IX(2), pp. 14-15.

These are some of the words of Resei Kano. The former President of the Kodokan and the International Judo Federation, written in April 1953, in the Kodokan magazine, Judo. (The reference is for the English Translation in the Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin).

That took me to research a little more about Basho. Born in 1644, near Ueno, now part of Tokyo, he is famous as a writer of haiku poetry. Then I came across this haiku by Shoji Kumano. It seemed rather topical at the moment;

Enjoying three bowls of zoni 
At the New Year's breakfast;
Millionaire as he is!

三椀の 雑煮かゆるや 長者ぶり  (Sanwan no zoni kayuru ya chojya buri)

 ( year's day)

Background: 'Zoni' is a soup containing mochi (rice cakes), vegetables and other ingredients. To cook zoni was very expensive for the common people in the Edo period(1603-1868). 

Earlier in my career, I was lucky enough to be employed as a manager by Syd Hoare. Syd is a legendary judoka, who competed in the Tokyo Olympic Games. His company was called Yamagi Ltd. Hi told me that the company name was drawn from a traditional poem about a secret principle of judo;

The trees on Mount Tsukuba are extremely thick but from time to time a moonbeam penetrates.

(Tsukubayama ha yamashige yamashige keredo
Konoma konoma ni tsukikage zo moru)

This is article 171 in Syd’s book “Judo Strategies”.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of giving a lecture at Tsukuba University. It was formerly known as Tokyo Higher Normal College, and the Principal for 25 years was Professor Jigoro Kano.

I was talking to around 200 undergraduates. Discussing matters related to violence and bullying in sport.  I reminded them that they are the generation to deliver the legacy of Tokyo 2020, and that one legacy could be the eradication of violence from the Japanese sporting society, far more lasting than any bricks and mortar.

Hopefully some of you reading this will have athletes with aspirations to compete with distinction at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Judo Competition. As they eat like millionaires to celebrate this new year, they will dedicate themselves to another year of hardship and hard work. They are trying to create a personal legacy.

I have chosen to dedicate the rest of my career to supporting the athletes, coaches and federations who choose that journey of hardship and hard work. I founded Judospace Ltd, so named as S.P.A.C.E. (supporting player and coach education). I work with a remarkable team of people, committed particularly to helping coaches transform their athletes into judoka.

As we step into another year, another step along the way, we would like to thank everyone that we have worked with in 2013, and re-commit ourselves to having even greater impact in the coming 12 months.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The art of judo

One of the coaches furthering their education at Anglia Ruskin University on the EJU level 4 Performance Coach Award is Danny Williams. Danny is still an active player, and as part of his self-reflection as a coach he has blog at:

In his recent post he put forward some of his views on whether coaching is a scientific or artistic process.

I read his post whilst I was having breakfast at the Tokyo Dome Hotel, during a recent lecture tour to Japan. His post prompted me to reflect on my own views on the topic, and inspired, I wrote the majority of this post there and then at the breakfast table.

“When I think of an artist, I think of the artist with their tools, their easel, oils, brushes, palette, model etc.

But tools are not enough, they have to have technique, knowledge of anatomy, art history, composition, the skills and knowledge of the trade.

Those tools, skills and knowledge are the science that is required for a judo coach. The nutrition, periodization, technical and tactical understanding.

The artist then adds style, their own spin on things. It’s how art historians and forgery experts can tell the difference between a master and apprentice.

That’s what the artist judo coach does with their tools and expertise, spins them into something unique, something special for each athlete.

It’s why I love judo. To see two artist coaches pitched against each other. Picasso and Manet, seated just metres apart, battling with their canvases.

Best regards from Tokyo.”

As a judo coach have you studied enough to have the skills, tools and knowledge required?  How much do you reflect on your coaching to be able to add your own spin? To turn your coaching from a science into an art? Unfortunately too many players are poorly served by coaches who have not studied to better themselves, who do not have the skills, tools and knowledge required. Help ensure that your players are better served. Make 2014 the year that you learn the science and turn it into art.

To all the judo family who have taken time to read this blog over the years Good luck in 2014 with all your endeavours. Thanks from all at

The image for this blog post is a woodcut by Jane Veveris Callan. Check out her website

Her judo images are available as greetings cards from

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A dream for judo

While the IJF 2013 World Senior Judo Championships were thrilling the audience in Rio de Janeiro, the free world celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights march to Washington DC, and the famous “I have a dream” speech of the visionary Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Recently there was a discussion on social media about coaching and the development of a judo system. One post referred to the speech and said that his dream for judo is “'- that every town, borough or city will have a permanent dojo with quality facilities.”

The comment got me thinking, about what my dream is for judo.

I have a dream that those dojos in every town and city of the world will be based in a place of learning. That every school, college and university, will have a dojo, and that judo will be synonymous with education. That the values of judo will be taught in the classroom, and the values of the classroom will be taught in the dojo.

I have a dream that those dojos are led by great coaches. That those dojos are led by educated coaches. Are led by coaches who have devoted their own time to the study of how to make their dojo better, the pupils better, their athletes better. Coaches who have studied diligently about how to change lives through judo.

Without great coaches, dojos are empty, sometimes intimidating, sometimes scary, and sometimes dangerous. Without great coaches that embrace the values of judo, dojos can encourage arrogance, deceitfulness, even bullying.

Great coaches, educated coaches, encourage the development of the whole person. They encourage hard training, technical excellence, respect for others, seiryoku-zenyo and jita kyoei.

At Judospace we are committed to helping coaches become great. Recently we have teamed up with KokaKids to create more opportunities to link judo and education.
To find out more about our work visit
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Judo: the art of communication

All teachers will understand pride in the accomplishments of their students. I have been fortunate to support the development of many judo coaches, a number of whom have gone on to significant positions in the sport. Increasingly, many of them share their thoughts online and communicate with the whole judo family.

I have chosen to highlight in this post the thoughts of some of these present and former students who took the decision to improve their coaching.

Firstly, Danny Williams, is a still an active player, an Olympian, who competed in the 2012 London Olympic Games, Danny is a player at Camberley Judo Club, and a student at Anglia Ruskin University, following the EJU Performance Coach Award. He is preparing already for his future coaching career, and works on a weekly basis with the England Regional Cadet players.

I have two favourite quotes from Danny’s blog;

“Sports coaching and training from a young players perspective cannot be a democracy, the coach must deliver precise technical fundamental practice and sparring training, and the athlete must follow precisely the given instructions.”

Then talking about his improved ability to combat frustration he says…

“I believe I owe this to things I’ve learned from my own experience and from my coach who has helped me to see training and competition as a process rather than the be all and end all.”

Danny’s coach, is another of my former students, Luke Preston. He graduated in 2008 from the EJU Performance Coach Award. Luke was a coach for Great Britain at the London Olympic Games, where his athlete Karina Bryant, won a bronze medal. Follow Luke on twitter;

Next blog is from Mike Newton, Head Coach at Vale Judo Club, graduate of the EJU Performance Coach Award in 2009. In 2010, Mike spent a placement at Sagami High School, near Tokyo. A feeder high school to Tokai University, former students include Yasuhiro Yamashita and Kosei Inoue.

Mike made a number of changes to his club environment after visiting Sagami High School, read about them at;

On 12 February 2010, Mike presented a case study of High School student Naohisa Takato. Three years later, I watched Takato win the Paris Grand Slam. At the time of writing he is ranked 1st in the IJF World Ranking List. Discussing his training environment in Sagami, my favourite quote from Mike is…

“Every student knows what to do and when to do it – coaches simply provide technical input, set the training atmosphere and provide encouragement – most of the time things run like clockwork.”

Also working with the same age group is Dave Elmore. Dave graduated the EJU Performance Coach Award in 2011. He works with Wolverhampton University and Walsall College, delivering the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence. A structured judo curriculum for junior players.

I like this quote…

“I feel that you should always be willing to try new ideas and look at other sports and activities to find a new edge.”

One very prolific blogger is Bob Challis. Having graduated from the EJU High Performance Coach Award in 2009, Bob is now the course leader, and a Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University. Bob is continuing to develop himself and is in the second year of his PhD.

You can find his blog at:

My favourite line from his blog is;

“To be honest there is no real secret, for me it is about mat time and volume of randori.”

Bob also quotes from a well-known former judo player, and US President, Theodore Roosevelt;

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “

One could argue that the “king” of the judo blog is Lance Wicks. Lance also graduated from the EJU High Performance Coach Award in 2009. He is now a member of the IJF computer team, providing the live streaming from IJF and EJU events across the world. Lance developed the site which aggregates all the judo blogs into one feed. He has English, Spanish and French versions.

On his blog at Lance reflected on each lecture during his time studying as a coach. To quote a couple of reflections;

“One of the great things about this course is that most all of the work we do has real world application and this development plan I have to write could be really good if executed.”

“One of the most important skills any Judoka and in particular any Judo coach can have is the ability to look at things critically and assess the value of what they read, see or hear.”

Finally, I end this post with some light relief. If Lance is the king, then officially the “Queen of Blog” is Aki Inoue. She is a friend of Judospace, wife of All-Japan Judo Federation Head Coach, Kosei Inoue, and a celebrity in her own right. Aki’s blog has a huge following amongst her fans in Japan.

I hope you enjoy.

To find out more about the experience of these coaches, visit our website at


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Judo Coaching: great coaches make great players

If you are a judo coach you have a very important role. If you are paid as a judo coach, then you have a very important job.

Why is it an important job?

You have a responsibility to your judoka, the athletes that trust you. The trust is often built on respect. Your judoka respect you, your behaviours and your opinions. They value your knowledge, they learn through the way that you communicate that knowledge.

When you share knowledge effectively, it can be utilised by the judoka to win a match. The judoka understands that the win is because of the knowledge that you shared with them. This reinforces their belief in you, and the knowledge that you have, and your ability to communicate it effectively.

Sometimes your knowledge is found wanting. You are not really sure how to deal with a certain opponent, or a certain kumi-kata situation. You are embarrassed at your limited knowledge in a certain area. You try to hide it. Maybe you convince yourself that you think you know the answer. Your judoka trusts you. They try their best, but they don’t succeed. Your limited knowledge let them down. There is a small chink in their respect for you. They are not sure to fully believe you the next time. Gradually the relationship breaks down. The trust and communication that you had together starts to fall apart. Each thinks the other is to blame.

How can we avoid this? Certainly you cannot hope to win all the matches, your relationship cannot be built on only winning.

If we think about a judo competition, in each round, half the players win their matches, and half the players lose their matches. That’s the sobering thing about judo. You either win or lose. If you keep a record of the matches of all your judoka, if the win record is better than 50% you are doing better than average.

If your judoka can see that you are constantly trying to improve your knowledge, they will see that you are investing your time to help them. They will see that you are studying for mutual welfare and benefit. They will have greater confidence that the suggestions that you make are based on reflection, on evidence, on research.

Research, evidence and reflection can help the judo coach to make better decisions, to offer better advice, to have access to a wider range of ideas. Study into communication methods and techniques can help the decisions, advice and ideas be understood and applied more effectively and more efficiently. Maximum efficiency with minimum effort.

Study hard, don’t expect it to be easy, and your players will benefit. They may even win more matches. The harder you work, the luckier they get.

Good luck to all your judoka.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Freedom in continuous change

While all changes do not lead to improvement, all improvement requires change. The ability to develop, test, and implement changes is essential for any individual, group, or organization that wants to continuously improve. To quote Winston S. Churchill:

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Recently I was lucky enough to attend the Paris Grand Slam, where I was able to observe first-hand the application of the recent IJF rule changes. The judo was magnificent, fast-paced, explosive and exciting. Over 500 players competed, and there was an increase on the number of ippons compared to the previous year. During the first day, there were only 2 fights that went to golden score. The statistics speak for themselves. The empirical evidence supports my subjective view that the rule changes are a big improvement.

I started to reflect on the concept of change.
With huge changes in the development of judo in Cambridge, UK, I was drawn to the thoughts of the famous Cambridge graduate, Charles Darwin:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
So the judoka that survived, and thrived in the London Olympics were the judoka that adapted best to the rule changes adopted in 2010, prior to the Olympic qualification period. Looking forward, the judoka that survive and thrive in the Rio Olympics will be the judoka and coaches that adapt best to these changes.

So as judo continues to evolve, there is a process of natural selection, where those coaches and players best able to adapt, survive.
For an excellent chronicle of the rule changes in judo, I recommend the article written by the judo legend, Syd Hoare:

Let’s not forget that the judoka that competed in London, were those that qualified. Those qualifiers had adapted to the new qualification process, based on the World Ranking List. When those changes were introduced, some people were resistant to the change. But those changes in the Olympic Qualification system meant that the best players in the world competed, and yet there was participation by 137 nations. Let us be under no illusion, had those changes not been made, judo could be facing the same fate as wrestling, dealing now with the threat of being removed from the Olympic programme, for the 2020 Olympics. Imagine the scenario that was averted. A potential Tokyo Olympic Games without the sport of judo!
There is a Japanese philosophy called “kaizen”. It refers to continuous incremental change, in order to improve quality and efficiency. As judoka we have to practice kaizen every time we put on a judogi, and throughout our lives. The challenge to the coach is to manage the process of kaizen with the athlete, to help them adapt, and to help them thrive in a changing world.

The coaches that resist change will not manage this. We need to welcome change, expect change, and embrace change.
Any coaches that are willing to adapt, and are looking to make incremental improvements to their coaching, could consider following the suite of coaching awards from the European Judo Union. See or to find out more.