Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Baseball, Neil Adams, and the New IJF Rules.

If you are a practicing Judoka, and haven't been living under a rock for the last few months, you should already know that the IJF has put a lot of rule changes into place as of January 1st. Like everyone else, I will give you my two cents, but first, in order to paint the picture, I want to talk about Baseball - specifically about Balls and strikes.

Two rules that even the most casual observer about Baseball knows:
- If you hit a ball that lands outside the foul lines it is considered a foul ball, and is out of play.
- If the umpire considers a pitch to be hittable, even if the batter doesn't swing, he can call it a strike.

These rules are considered fundamental rules, and even my 6 and 8 year old kids know them already. The first rule, the fall ball rule, has very objective criteria. If the ball lands on one side of the line it's fair and on other side it is foul (yes, if the ball lands close to the line on either side, it is subject both the umpire's perspective but you get my point). The rules have very clear application. As for the calling of balls and strikes by the umpire, while there are official guidelines, every umpire has a slightly different strike zone. But, even though the umpires have leeway and are allowed to use their opinion in the calls, the very nature of the game, rules it out as a factor - for example, after the first few batters, it is apparent to each team what the umpire is calling as a ball and what he is calling as a strike. Even for the first few batters, players can gage the size of the strike zone by the first few pitches thrown.

On the surface these rules may not seem to have any connection to Judo, but if you think about it for a moment, it illustrates a good point about the rules of sport and how they're applied by officials:

- Try to make the rules as objective as possible
- If you must make them subjective, at least allow some opportunity for the competitors to understand how the particular judges judging the match might apply the rules.

While following these two rules does not guarantee that refereeing will be free of controversy (for an example, google Douillet vs. Sinohara, Sydney Olympics),  it does at least help the players understand the referees perspective and enables them to understand what is allowed and what is not allowed - even if that is defined in part by the referees judgement.

So here is where my complaint comes in - the new leg grab rules in Judo violate both of these principles:
- They are not truly objective as they require that the referees asses the situation in which a leg grab attack is made.
- They also do not allow for any margin of error, as the result is a direct Hansoku-Make. 

When they were testing these rules, the initial infraction was Shido, and the second infraction was Hansoku Make. At least in that case, no matter the situation - try a specific technique once, if the ref didn't like it, you get a Shido, and you make a mental note not to try it during a match. Now, even if the most natural tendency is to grab the leg while countering or completing an attack, if the referee feels its not the correct sequence of events, your SOOL, and you've lost the match.

Neil Adams, the legendary British Judoka, has a great video ( illustrating plenty of gray areas brought about by these new rules. For example, the rules show that if your opponent grabs your belt from over the back, you can grab his leg for a takedown, so what happens if he grabs your gi, just above your belt? Most importantly in the video, Mr. Adams keeps reiterating that this is according to his interpretation of the rules - i.e. YMMV (your mileage might vary).  Mr. Adams also posted a blog entry ( as well, indicating some other things that I never even thought of. For example, if referees are overzealous with dishing out the Hansoku-Makes the first day, they might be more lenient the next and vice-versa. 

I guess ultimately, what I'd like the IJF to do is either a) Ban leg-grabs altogether or b) Give warning Shidos for the first infraction. Let's watch the upcoming European tourneys and see how it plays out.

NOTE: As I wrap up, I just thought about this one - if my opponent tries a leg-grab, and gets Hansoku-Make, do I get the win by Ippon? I imagine you would, which looks to be fodder for a whole 'nother blog entry.

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