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Japan judo hits crisis point as bullied, burnt-out children quit

48 Comments
By Andrew McKirdy

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Sad that such a positive and complete sport have such serious problems, competition can be a good stimulus for growth, but the incidents in the article make it seems like the adults in charge have forgotten the actual meaning of promoting sports.

Hopefully this crisis will help improving the sport, medals and trophies can wait until a time where Judo is enjoyed and becomes popular again.

23 ( +27 / -4 )

Judo is an amazing martial art/sport. Having the power and leverage to throw another human being is a spectacular feeling. France has a much better retention of children and less injuries in the sport, and does just as well as Japan at major tournaments. However, Japan still has the "break a few eggs to get the perfect omelette" mentality.

I made my son do Judo for a year at high school here. He actually enjoyed it and made some friends and got ripped. He quit after a year though. The reason? Overhanded methods of the judo teacher. The man would insist its judo 100% or nothing. For an Olympic athelete I understand this sentiment. For a hobbyist - just no.

22 ( +24 / -2 )

Ironically, my Judo senseis was very kind, while my Aikido sensei was a bit brutal. It must just depend on the person.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

121 judo-related deaths were reported in Japanese schools between 1983 and 2016.

My God, their own children! This is a national crisis not some minor association problem.

12 ( +16 / -4 )

That's what you get when you take something that's supposed to be for fun too seriously. I think other sports, especially baseball, treat their athletes as if they eat, breathe and sleep only that (sounds familiar?) and have nothing else to do in their lives. I think this problem is rooted in Japan's pursuit of perfecting everything and the need to excel at what they do. Can you not just do something for fun and not aim to become the world's best? Coaches that are like these should loosen up or better yet, they should train alongside their students and see how they like it.

12 ( +16 / -4 )

The words "burnt out" and "children" should never be in the same sentence. Smarten up, Japan!

10 ( +14 / -4 )

Problems are not merely on judo, but also on sport-sociocultural norms in Japan. For example, Japanese pupils and young are "discouraged" (not banned) from playing and practicing several sports simultaneously across different clubs. In other words, they engage in a certain sport only for long (showing loyalty and commitment?) inevitably missing other opportunities. Their sports experiences tend to be singular and limited.

If they find it disqualified or unfit, they have no choice but to quit altogether. Some have difficulty in such way-outs despite bullying or other troubles.

I would like to encourage young people to try several sports before they come to understand their potentials and preferences.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Great for those kids. Kids need to take a step back and just be kids within themselves and their friends and enjoy their childhood without the stress. Kids with stress and bad memories will continue to have those memories though to their adult lives and may react and direct their negative emotions towards others or themselves.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

The dumbest thing is that they are actually training with mask on. Are they trying to get the kids to have a heat stroke? The sweat from the training alone is already all over the place. I doubt you can keep infection from happening with a mask on if even one of them has it during training sessions.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

I used to teach at a famous sports school, with strong programs in Judo, baseball, soccer and rugby. The Judo kids tended to be better behaved, would take a telling if they were pulled up for any class indescretion and generally respected the authority of the class. The baseball kids tended to be worst behaved, thinking that they were already shoe ins for the Pro leagues and didn't need school......read into that what you will.

On the one hand, I think it's great that Japan has all these sports clubs and that it's taken pretty seriously. It's healthy for the kids and sport teaches valuable lessons such as discipline that I feel is missing from the youths of my home country (I have also worked in schools back home). But on the other hand some of the kids have to leave their house at sparrow-fart o'clock to get to school to be on time for practice. Coupled with the crazy study load and cram-school culture, there isn't a lot of time left for sleep, never mind time for them just to be kids/teenagers. Some students would be dead on their feet in class and falling asleep was commonplace. I'd wake them up and you could see from their red-ringed, gritty eyes that it was lack of sleep and not laziness that was driving their sleeping-in-class. As ever, some balance is needed......yes, organised sport is good and valuable (not least for their health) for students, but some perspective should be held in that most of these young people will not become professional athletes and should also have time for other pursuits in their life.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Teachers are also burning out. These club activities in Japan never end. In North America, sports teams/clubs are typically seasonal. 3-4 months and then new clubs begin. 

I prefer the American style. Extracurricular activities should be outsourced to local communities and professional instructors while schoolteachers should focus on their work for class. Most teachers overseeing sports activities are not experts.

Young Japanese should also experience several sports in different seasons and places and that's how burn-outs and bullying can be prevented. There should be more freedom and diversity. In Japan, baseball is still popular among boys as top athletic talents seek (or get instructed) to play in highly competitive school clubs, many do so in order to become pros. But personal preference aside, they could be far better off with another sport such as cricket instead of engaging in a rat-race competition or attrition. You might be surprised or not as to how many times more cricket players can earn than baseball players.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

"Mizoguchi, who has coached in France, said judo was "not fun" for Japanese children".

School is not fun for Japanese children.

Sports are not fun for Japanese children.

Vacations are not fun for Japanese children (with so many projects to do during supposedly "vacation" time")

What is fun for the Japanese children?

What are the Japanese children allowed to enjoy?

They are overcontrolled at every stage of their development and every activity they do.

As they grow older it gets worse and worse, culminating in the ultimate "no fun" part - a job in a Japanese corporation.

I have practiced judo for over 30 years with European and Japanese clubs/coaches. The European coaches were much more demanding and controlling. The best judo coach I had was Japanese, and he made everyone in the dojo feel like family. He said many times - "If you do not have fun, you do not have to come to practice". Everybody came to practice... He is still remembered for his big smile and warm heart.

It is the unhealthy and outdated societal views, judgements, expectations and polices that make most things that Japanese children should enjoy "not fun". Almost everyone - children, parents and other adults - are getting squeezed hard, from every direction, with not much options to find a better way. Those who are not squeezed - the government and elite - do not care for the remaining 99%.

It is "not fun" for the Japanese in general and Japanese children are affected the most, since their childhood is supposed to be the most care-free and enjoyable part of their lives. Those precious moments are lived only once.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Japan is the home a brutal win-at-all-costs mentality, corporal punishment and pressure are driving large numbers of children to quit, raising fears for the future.

Fixed the opening paragraph, it’s not just judo, this basic template could be used for the workplace, education system and suspicious tax spendings as well.

Underlining the scale of the problem, the All Japan Judo Federation cancelled a prestigious nationwide tournament for children as young as 10, warning they were being pushed too hard.

Good luck, like sumo and various 100+ year old laws, you guys are going to dinosaur your way into extinction.

3 ( +20 / -17 )

Parents and coaches have been known to berate referees during matches and corporal punishment still exists, despite reforms in a sport that has been plagued by abuse and bullying scandals over the years.

I was just telling my wife the other day about all of the problems the U.S is having with out-of-control parents at youth sports, about how games and tournaments are being cancelled because they cannot find referees. I told her it was just a matter of time before Japan begins to have similar problems. I guess there are already some incidents.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

noriahojanen and others who have posted like-minded: I've had the same experience. I was a talented distance runner in high school, and my son showed promise as well, winning some premier events in JHS. But his high school coach squeezed every last drop of enjoyment from the sport - methodically and absolutely, as if that were his job - until my son quit. It was disappointing, but in hindsight, the right decision.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

That's fine for a hobby but doesn't build champions.

@Kipling and did the parents and coaches ever bother asking the kids if they want to be champions or just projected their own wishes and goals onto them?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think it's been stopped, but some of the deaths over the past 40 years were in PE lessons where ordinary PE teachers with little or no training were teaching judo.

Most sports in Japan seem to default to a "win at all costs" mentality. In other countries, millions of children play multiple sports at a competitive level, but in Japan, its one sport and one sport only. This naturally elevates the coach of that single sport to he (she) who must be obeyed. Its much easier to quit soccer over a nasty coach if you also go to swimming and baseball.

At elite level at level, its easy to imagine hardcore pressure and bullying of competitors based on a "you're representing Japan in our national sport" theme. At Olympics time, "only gold will do" type comments are commonplace.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Sad to hear this has been going on and is going in Japan too. When we left the US a few years ago with our then 5yr old boy I told my wife no youth sports until he's maybe age 10-12 because of how disgusting the competitive nature of youth sports is in America. From soccer to football to other sports the competitiveness has gotten out of control, encouraging kids to join private clubs that cost tons of money and practice sometimes every night of the week with games all weekend, starting as young as 4yrs old, it's awful! And yes the biggest driving factor are the parents. Yes some coaches are bad apples too but the pressure and the money all comes from the parents, Youth Sports = Big $$$$ in the US and I just hope it doesn't get that way here. My son now 8 does tennis and swimming 1x a week each and it's very low key just practicing, no games our tournaments and he's really enjoys both. Wake up parents! Let kids be kids, not a meal ticket.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Gasping for air under a restrictive mask whilst being forced to train hard, now that has to be child abuse.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It's not that hard to find a compromise. As others have mentioned, a lot of sports programs in other countries have multiple programs. Some for the casual child who just wants to learn and have fun and a special program for those having expressed a desire to compete internationally or go professional. It's not that hard to identify these kids. They are already driven and take things very seriously. Mixing them all together and expecting everyone to have the same level of commitment and development is completely unrealistic and ignorant.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The dumbest thing is that they are actually training with mask on. Are they trying to get the kids to have a heat stroke? The sweat from the training alone is already all over the place. I doubt you can keep infection from happening with a mask on if even one of them has it during training sessions.

Nevermind the fact that newaza alone can be claustrophobic and make it hard to breathe, especially with the gi. It must be hell to do judo with a mask on.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Judo is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of club activities that wear children out. Its not only that kids are having to go to club sometimes 7 days a week (I say 7 because even if its only 6 days officially, if there is an all weekend tourny, they'll make the kids come to practice on Monday). Teachers are also burning out. These club activities in Japan never end. In North America, sports teams/clubs are typically seasonal. 3-4 months and then new clubs begin. In Japan, its all year and there is no rest period. Teachers are expected to coach during the summer and winter breaks, not to mention weekends and Golden Week. Just a brutal archaic system they have here. Children need more variety. Basketball and baseball are also unfair. Only the "seniors" typically get to play in games against other schools, while the Juniors have to sit on the bench for 2 years and they might get to play if they are good enough.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Any kind of training in Japan is abusive. From cooking to sport it's abusive. How a Ramen master teaches his apprentice is abusive. In sport it is just abusive. Explain or show how to do it right, that is how to teach. There will always be people that are not good at doing something, just tell them they will not succeed, not beat them or insult them. For cooking, one needs a talent and so is for Judo if not, one can't be successful at it.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

@Aly Rustom

Watched it. Yeah, in Okinawa they treat it as a lifestyle not making it as a list of achievement because it supposed to be a way of life. Therefore you're always a student all of your life.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Judo is a sport that emphasizes humanity," said Yamashita"

Judo is budo, not a sport. Once such an activity becomes a sport, it gets watered down by egos, politics and money. They should remove this from the Olympics and return it to its roots

1 ( +2 / -1 )

At this point, training with a mask would be enough to make me quit.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

No failure of something shouldn't be treated like a fate worse than death.

Or punishment

Learning to fail is knowing how to win next time.

It builds character

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The way they push their kids to excel, nevermind the consequences to their physical and mental health is pretty abhorrent. Whatever happened to letting kids be kids and enjoy a sport, hobby, or activity?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It says it all when Japanese athletes win silver at the Olympics and cry out of shame and apologies. Most would be elated to win a medal

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Judo is budo not a sport

Its both !

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Here in the UK rugby is a sport that is played from an early age, the rugby federation stopped the heavy contact manoeuvres on children, they now focus on. passing, playing, and tactics, and basic fitnesses, as they get older they move onto more contact manoevres, as the childs body develops the body can take more impact, at an early age its taken seriously, but the kids still have fun, it seems that is not the case in Japan, kids should be able to go to a sports club knowing that they are safe, knowing that they are going to learn and have fun at the same time, and as for loosing weight, i think that some judo teachers have a problem, with there attitude and ego's

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yamashita's own federation is responsible for pushing the win at all cost mentality, and just cancelling this tournament is not the fix. Ever since Japan's dismal performance at the 1988 Olympics held in Seoul, which was dominated not by Japan but by Korea and the European teams, Japan was "shamed" and went on an all out program to win at all costs. They created this monster to save face at the Olympics.

-1 ( +12 / -13 )

. . . chuui. . . !

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

121 judo-related deaths were reported in Japanese schools between 1983 and 2016.

My first thought was the youngsters need to harden up but 121 deaths does seem an awfully large number.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@ Paul

Any kind of training in Japan is abusive

That's not an accurate statement !

Do you personally know all the teachers in Japan ?

Not all teachers in Japan are Japanese !

Here in Okinawa the Okinawan teachers are more relaxed , flexible , patient and friendly.

That's my experience .

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

i don't know much about martial arts but when i was a kid, i played for a local football club back home... we have one training session mid week and our matches on saturday mornings... coaches wanted us to have fun and be supportive of one another...

only if you wanted to be professional then you could join a professional local club (where you may get scouted to join an academy like Ajax)... here you would train 5-6 times a week and everything is all serious...

but here in Japan, i feel like the kids have no choice and they only have one program where they just go hardcore on the kids...

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Judo is a wonderful sport and form of self defence. I have been at it for some 20 years and am a second dan. Sometimes I am asked to teach at my club but I have sometimes been told off for not being ruthless enough with the students. But this is just not my style. The club atmosphere is so severe.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Judo is budo, not a sport.

Yeah, it's not like it has competitions, points, winners, losers, rules, and organizations around it as a sport or anything.

...oh wait...

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Remove 'judo' from the title and still true

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

Purple....

Whatever happened to letting kids be kids and enjoy a sport, hobby, or activity?

That's fine for a hobby but doesn't build champions.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Andrew McKirdy and JT are to be applauded for bringing this serious issue to the public's attention. But don't be too hard on Japan and offend their love of bullying.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

Watched it. Yeah, in Okinawa they treat it as a lifestyle not making it as a list of achievement because it supposed to be a way of life. Therefore you're always a student all of your life.

Its the same with Koryu (Old school Budo) in Japan. Its a way of life, not a competition with others. You would think they would learn from that...

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

We enrolled our kids in Judo. We're very lucky in that our children's coaches are amazing. One of the coaches is German and the kids adore him. Another coach has his kids in the dojo and they teach my kids. The dojo actually has a Taikai this Sunday which is why the kids' training is cancelled but they still can go on Saturday. I guess it does depend on the instructor. I've trained ninjutsu under various grandmasters here in Japan and they are all very different with some being like fatherly figures and others being complete bullies. it does depend on the teachers.

Japan is the home a brutal win-at-all-costs mentality, corporal punishment and pressure are driving large numbers of children to quit, raising fears for the future.

Fixed the opening paragraph, it’s not just judo, this basic template could be used for the workplace, education system and suspicious tax spendings as well.

I would say its how Japanese society approaches ANYTHING.

-7 ( +15 / -22 )

I think the masks have finally choked some of them out.

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

Japan is the home a brutal win-at-all-costs mentality, corporal punishment and pressure are driving large numbers of children to quit, raising fears for the future.

Sumo has also had its scandals of bullying and death..

This is not only in Judo and Sumo but in other martial arts. One very interesting thing I learned was from a foreign YouTuber called Jesse Enkamp. One video he made was illustrating how Japanese Karate is SO different from Okinawan Karate. One thing he said that struck me as so different is that in Okinawa, you can come late and leave early. Its sort of a flex schedule and the instructor is there to help you and give you pointers but is not the ERAI "sensei" seen in Japan.

Karate in its homeland is FAR more relaxed and friendly than in its adopted Japan, so this is just a fundamental issue with the Japanese mindset.

-9 ( +10 / -19 )

The whole Japanese tradition of anger and aggression is an important quality of teaching and leading needs to end and the sooner, the better.

-12 ( +6 / -18 )

Can you BLAME them?

-13 ( +2 / -15 )

if you cant take the heat get out of the dojo

-14 ( +0 / -14 )

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