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by Hayward Nishioka
Many would think that a Senior Program is just about having a Senior Nationals and Masters component added to the Junior Nationals. This is not the case. While it may be an integral part of a Senior Program, there is much more to be considered. Since 2006 the USJF and USJA have relegated themselves to essentially taking care of junior judo and leaving senior judo to USA Judo.
USA Judo taking on Senior Judo because they had the rights to International competition which included the Olympic Games, World Championships, and all point tournaments leading to those events. Up until the rift caused by the insistence of the USOC to downsize USA Judo to a 10 member board rather than 120 + member board thinking that decisions would be fast tracked, and run more efficiently, there was an air of collegiality and belonging because of the comprehensive representation. What the USOC did not take into account was that every organization has its quirks and may not always conform to practices that may be beneficial to standard organizational models.
Our organization was not just one single organization. It consisted of two grassroots organizations and potentially 50 state organizations each separately incorporated with their own by-laws. USA Judo was formed to replace the Amateur Athletic Union in 1980 and was to be a mediation ground for judo where all judo organizations could be recognized and have a say and vote in the direction of judo in the United States, and for a while under Frank Fullerton it seemed to be working. This however was before the restructuring of the board that limited representation by the two largest contributing organizations, the USJF and USJA to only one vote between the two of them. Then the new USA Judo board turned around and also alienated the State organizations by giving so many States just one vote between all of them. These and other limiting and polarizing actions eventually led to the once united organizations to take up their different roles, the USJF/USJA to concentrate more on juniors, and USA Judo to concentrate on seniors, The State organizations to disband in some instances and in other instances to take up a more impotent role, all to the discredit of judo in the United States.
This too, like the downsizing plan by the USOC, was thought to be a wise move, but here are some questions that arise: What do our juniors have to look forward to within the grassroots programs once they become seniors? Yes, they do eventually grow up. What of all the time, effort, and money invested in them if they do not have a senior program to jump to next? Do we now send our better students on to USA Judo, when they don’t even seem to have an infrastructure to support our juniors growing up to be seniors? Actually, do they really have a National program of any substance to send our best to, other than the point tournaments our best are forced to join USA Judo in order to be able to compete in? For those of our competitors who are successful and become eligible for USA Judo teams, do we now say to them, “Well, now your good enough to go to USA Judo and become a part of their team, so they are now responsible for you. What are they to do now, pay now for belonging to the USJF or quitting us and joining a USA Judo club because they offer the chance to compete Nationally as a senior competitor?
What of refereeing? What of Coaching? At the recent JF/JA Junior Nationals it became apparent that senior competition brought in a different level of need for excellence in refereeing. Seniors applied more sophisticated techniques and tactics that referees had to adjust upwards to meet and in doing so broadened their ability to meet challenging situations, there by helping referees become a more skilled senior referee. What was disturbing however, was that as seniors went up to compete the coach’s chairs were often empty. Why? Could it be that senior competitors are at the level that is now beyond the level of those only coaching juniors? As with all skills they have to be practiced, and that takes a senior program. Lastly, will our insistence on just junior programs give us our best chances for the future? Is looking to a junior program going to maximize our chances of an increased membership or will a senior program serve us better? Where will we get our next generation of sensei’s, referees, coaches and responsible yudanshakai leaders? What do we have for our seniors to look forward to, USA Judo? Wouldn’t we have a better chance by looking towards a senior program built from our own ranks?
The irony of this dilemma is that USA Judo stands to benefit from our efforts but does little to make us feel a part of the process other than to place restrictions in the way. To not invest in a senior program will only keep US Judo standing still. As it currently stands most of the U S champions are a result of the efforts of the numerous clubs of the grass roots organization’s upon whose programs the current champions of USA partook in order to get to where they are today. These programs include local and regional tournaments where they were able to hone their skills with other senior competitors. Practice sessions, seminars, and in some cases even financial assistance were also provided as well. If we do not invest in a senior program now, we will see fewer and fewer senior competitors from which to groom our next generation of champions.
The concepts of "Jita kyoei" (Mutual benefit) were established by Jigoro Kano, founder of Kodokan Judo. Achieving a state of mutual trust and assistance benefits both the Judo practitioner and society at large.