The 1996 Essay

In 1996 Gail Stolzenburg, President of USA Judo asked the membership to help craft a vision statement.  USA Judo represents Judo to the Olympic committee and their goal is mostly high level national and international competition, including the Olympics.

As luck would have it I was angry about the direction of Judo in the United States and was immediately fired up to give him a piece of my mind.  On 19 February 1997 I shared the letter with Steven Cunningham’s Judo-L and got a terrific reaction, there were a lot of people who shared the same opinion.  Here is the letter:

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Is Judo Dying?
By Vern Borgen

In 1981 John Holm (of Minneapolis) told me that judo was dead. I had been in judo for only a few years at that time and was really excited about it and I choose not to believe him.
A few years ago while visiting with one of the major martial arts equipment vendors I was told that the judo market had fallen off sharply during the 80s and hadn’t recovered, while most of the other martial arts had continued to grow.

I wear a jacket with our club emblem and name emblazoned on the back and people stop and ask me what Judo is – some entertain me with a weird movie-do rendition kung-fu stance accompanied with a screaming “whaaaaaaaa.” Maybe Judo is dying.
But I don’t like to think that way, and when recently asked my opinion about how to improve and strengthen Judo I wrote this essay to one of our national leaders.
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The United States became a great technological power and remains there not because we established an elite group of scientists and engineers but because we valued education above all else. Each community established a local school system and taught the basics to everyone, not just those most able. These young people graduated and went on to the colleges and university and specialized in a subject of most interest to themselves. Each university had something just a bit different to offer but all were useful in one way or another. The students, their professors and their counterparts in industry went to seminars and meetings and shared the knowledge they had learned and discovered in their studies and in their research. The students graduated and some became professors and others became captains of industry and a select few went on the win Nobel prize and do other great things. We did this not by placing the greatest value on the Nobel prize but by getting everyone involved in the *means*, by making education for every person the most valued thing, so all would have the benefits, then and only then did we achieve the highest pinnacle. (By the way our education system is attributed, in large part, to the work of Mr. Horace Mann, a contemporary of Dr. Jigoro Kano. )( See note 1)

One of my concerns is that the big three Judo organizations (USJA, USJF and USJI ) (see note 2) alienate a lot of people by being elitist, by creating programs where the athletes are regarded the most and the means is denigrated. I would guess that better than half the people doing Judo in the USA could be classified as “Classical or Traditional Judoka”, and further stick out my neck and say that most of them are not registered with the USJA, USJF or the USJI. (I know many ‘Traditional’ sensei who only register those people in their clubs who compete.) These traditional schools of Judo teach a style of Judo that was practiced at the Kodokan while Dr. Kano was alive. In addition to tachi and katame waza, Traditional Schools of Judo also practice wrist locks, atemi and weapons. The philosophical teachings of Dr. Kano are held in the highest regard and so these programs are truly for the young and old, men and women, the healthy and the sick. Each individual is nurtured, as a gardener would care for a treasured tree. By denying these folks we have alienated them and their support. We sometimes forget that people don’t have time to be competitors because of other obligations; they are at practice because it is FUN. We also forget that ‘real’ money comes from people with jobs – competitive athletes for the most part are young, are in school and have little money – it doesn’t make sense to support an organization on their backs.

1. I personally feel that these Traditional Judo Schools are the future of Judo in this country. My argument starts with the simple assertion that non-athletes outnumber athletes. These non-athletes represent all walks of life: doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, police, businessmen and women, waitresses, clergy, mechanics, et cetera…. If we could recruit them into non-sport Judo programs we accomplish a number of things. (A lot of these people already exist – we have close to 80 people on the mat every week and only 20 or so are registered with the USJA.)

A. These people for the most part are stable members of the community, are employed and as a group would provide a firm basis to build a dojo (in physical, mental and spiritual sense.)

B. These people become Judo instructors, referees and tournament officials, administrators – essentially the movers and the shakers of Judo.

C. These people become mentors and role models for the youth and the young adults in our programs and in our community. We must remember that the ultimate goal of judo is not the *gold medal* but to *make good people*.

D. We will have a larger base of informed consumers of Judo goods and entertainment (shia).
E. Since they are employed they also contribute to the financial security of the group both local and national. Judo as a non-sport is still a good exercise; physically, mentally and spiritually. Learning to fall safely and defend yourself are admirable skills and easily learned by ALL. I have a friend who has taught Judo to people confined to wheelchairs. There is a tremendous market for judo based self-defense – just look at the market share that Gracie Jujitsu is picking up.

Additionally, these schools act as repositories of information. Judo is just too large for anyone person to know it all. There is just too much to learn even for a life time. Each of these schools is into a different thing. Even in sport Judo schools there are differences, some specialize in mat work and others in arm locks. If there are more schools, doing more things, there is going to a more information generated and stored – this then becomes the body of knowledge of Judo.

[As an example, our school is using a syllabus that was developed by Kenshiro Abe, one of Sensei Kyuzo Mifune’s uchideshi.  (see note 3) This syllabus emphasizes simple techniques and broad movement in the beginning – it flows like Aikido. We have found this syllabus to be an interesting and enlightening method for studying Judo movement. As students become brown and black belts their knowledge of technique is on par with students doing Judo at a USJA Club (we actually require a LOT more out of our students than the USJA does.) We do all of the formal kata of the Kodokan, Mifune’s kata of counters, and two katas by Geoff Gleeson. We are trying to recreate the style of Kyuzo Mifune. I should also say that a dozen or so of our group compete in shiai in Canada (our closest competitors, Winnipeg is 220 miles away) and do quite well in both the novice and advanced divisions. We also practice Judo with weapons – for the most part our weapons system uses the Philippine Arnis sticks (see note 5) and the jo. We have found that our gripping skills have become much more effective since we started doing Arnis.]

To build a strong Judo organization we must include “All the people.” We must modify our Judo programs for “all the people, young and old, male and female, the healthy and the sick.” Once we do this we will have a large base of Judoka upon whose backs we can build “an awesome Judo organization”, BUT WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THESE PEOPLE AND THEIR DIVERSITY AND THE VALUABLE ROLE THAT THEY WILL PLAY!

2. We need to become more professional. I am an engineer by profession. The engineering society of which I am a member has two meetings a year. At the meetings we participate in seminars and committee meetings. There are formal dinners and professional speakers.

This is a good place to share our understanding of the body of knowledge of Judo. As a Judo community we have a lot of diverse ideas; some of us practice Judo as a sport and others as a martial art and some both, some of our styles are very linear and other more circular, some of us emphasize kata over randori and others the reverse. At an annual meeting we could share some of this stuff. Mini seminars would be a good format to demonstrate a new throw or to discuss a kata – to present information about liability insurance, legal aspects of self-defense, massage therapy, how to tape an ankle, Dr. Kano’s cosmology…. We should get together for formal dinners to acknowledge the success of our fellows.
3. We need much better communication, not just to let people know what is going on, but to educate… Kano would roll over in his grave if he knew just how little communication there was. Kano’s idea of Judo was to teach social education, it is precisely here where we are lacking the most.

I personally feel that we lose a lot of students because the Judo community has no magazine that extols the benefits of Judo. I have been a member of the USJA for close to 20 years – it is difficult for me to sell “my” organization when it has very little to offer, especially to beginners. I think that having a good magazine that educated would be a great seller. I was at a book store in Fargo a few days ago and noticed that there were several Aikido Today Magazines on the rack. Odd, I thought, as there is no Aikido club within 250 miles of Fargo – when asked, the proprietor told me that they sell out every month! Why isn’t there a good Judo magazine on the rack? Also I might add that the Aikido Today Magazine is non-partisan and demonstrations of technique are not included – essentially an Aikido magazine for “everyone”.

If we want to attract the kind of athletes that are going to win gold medals for the United States in the Olympics and train them, we are going to have to build up a tremendous Judo base and the only way I can see to do that is to make Judo an activity for everyone, not just elite athletes. Right now the best athletes are attracted to sports that make it to TV and newspapers, there is no glory in Judo. BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IT IS! We need to develop local Judo as an activity for the athlete and non-athlete as well. We need to respect and reward the good work of the athletes and the non-athletes as well. We need a forum at which we can share information and we need a good magazine that shares the stories of Judo, the history, the personalities (we need to interview our sensei(s), especially the older ones – so we can all share in their wisdom), we need to share the lives of people who are doing Judo… if we can’t Judo IS DEAD.

Yours in service to Judo.
Vernon A. Borgen Sensei

NOTES:

1. Horace Mann is called the “Father of American public education.”

2. Now USA Judo

3. This is not correct. Kenshiro Abe was the leading graduate of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (Martial Arts Teachers College in Kyoto, Japan. He was sent to England to teach Judo, Kendo, Karate and Aikido. While in England he established the Kyushindo Society, a school of martial arts with a syllabus similar to the one he learned at the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. Later the Kyushido Society was resurrected as Zen Judo by Dominic McCarthy.

4.  Learned from Grand Master Jose Bueno.

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I got a response from Gail Stolzenburg, you can read it here:  gail stolzenburg letter

About Gentle Ways, Inc.

I taught Judo at North Dakota State University from 1980 to 2012. The Judo program consisted of a credit class and a judo club. Over 32 years about 3,000 students took the judo class.
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