So the Judo competitions of this year’s (2016) Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are all wrapped up. Well don’t worry, you can still watch the full-day event replays for a limited time on the CBC website (likely in Canada only, see your local broadcaster for listings/archives). Spoiler Alert: unfortunately Canada didn’t win any medals.
Both the qualifying rounds and repêchage/medal matches are available. In total there were 7 days of Judo action, running from August 6th to August 12th, 2016. Here are the links:
- DAY 1: Eliminations/Quarterfinals & Repêchage/Medals
- DAY 2: Eliminations/Quarterfinals & Repêchage/Medals
- DAY 3: Eliminations/Quarterfinals & Repêchage/Medals
- DAY 4: Eliminations/Quarterfinals & Repêchage/Medals
- DAY 5: Eliminations/Quarterfinals & Repêchage/Medals
- DAY 6: Eliminations/Quarterfinals & Repêchage/Medals
- DAY 7: Eliminations/Quarterfinals & Repêchage/Medals
Full Schedule (listing of male/female weights contested, by day):
What is repêchage?
Don’t feel bad, I also had to lookup the term “repêchage”; turns out it is a French word which literally means “to finish up again”. Judo and other Olympic sports with tournament brackets (such as Wrestling, TKD, Cycling sprints and even Rowing) the repêchage round allows a fair chance for all (or some, depending on sport) of the losers to compete for the final medal(s) up for grabs. The two finalists of course get Gold and Silver, but any competitor who had already lost a match to one of the finalists and/or semi-finalists is guaranteed to get another chance for a medal (as long as they are injury-free and healthy enough to compete again). So don’t go drinking your woes away as soon as you hear the words “ippon” if you’re an Olympic Judoka who has lost, in case the person who defeated you goes on to the finals. In Judo, repêchage is fought for the Bronze medal. If you lose against a semi-finalist, you get to fight in the repêchage rounds in a mini-bracket for the Bronze. As such, the repêchage bracket is built from athletes who were knocked out by the finalists and building brackets to determine third place. The 1st & 2nd round losers fight each other, the winner of this fights the 3rd round loser, and so it goes until there are only two individuals remaining who fight for third place; the other competitors who made it to repêchage get a tie for 5th place. Repêchage addresses the possibility of two top competitors or favorites meeting in an early round where one is of course eliminated much earlier than their rank or skills would have indicated they should, thus it allows the early loser a chance to still compete for a Bronze medal. In part this is also to address the “Golden Score” rule that ensures that somebody wins and there are no draws or inconclusive bouts as each round is an elimination round. A major weakness of repêchage is to make sure that competitors are not paired with anyone from the same club, country, or social gathering to avoid conspiracies during the last match, such as: “if you let me have a yuko, and then you win by ippon, I’ll get the silver and not the bronze, but you win the gold all the same”. So it is important that contest individuals who may even remotely know each other must fight first in a repêchage system. The benefits of repêchage is that it is one of the best ways to work through a large number of competitors/teams, as it goes from a Qualifier or 100s down to Round of 64, Round of 32 then Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semi-finals and finally the Gold medal match.
On to the Differences between Olympic Judo and Self-Defense Judo
Enough about the complicated tournament bracket system, and on to the techniques and practicality discussion. As you take a look at the links or highlights from these Olympics you will no doubt see some very impressive techniques, including beautiful throws, decisive pins and painful-looking submission holds which score an ippon. These techniques are the ones which (for the most part) will translate incredibly well to the street and real life self-defense scenarios. However, what you will undoubtedly also notice if you have any prior exposure to Judo would be some innovative approaches to scoring sportive Judo points, copious amounts of grip-fighting, mind-games, game-planning/strategizing, delaying tactics, tricks for forcing/avoiding penalties and winning or avoiding losing by shido. You may also notice coach complaints sometimes prompting judge deliberation or (in my opinion), future referee preferential treatment if they feel like maybe they did miss a call. By this I mean they could be quicker to call a penalty against the complaining party’s opponent next time, or, overlook minor infractions to “make-up for missed calls”. Not all the time, but it definitely has happened.
Judo at the Olympics is basically a game and a spectacle. It can be at once thrilling, exciting, inspirational and awesome to watch; but at the same time, it can become super boring, frustrating and polarizing (in a “Judoka A would beat Judoka B off the mat, but the Judoka B is just better at gaming the system” kind of way). In the few hours that I had time to catch so far, there were at least a half-dozen matches where I thought the loser of the match should have actually been declared the winner. Not to mention the amount of time I watched with some family who asked me “so what the heck is happening here”, and “did that person just win” or “so why did they win?”. Sometimes it is really hard to explain. There were definitely some questionable ippons, on both sides of the coin (i.e. declared ippon but looked like a partial score because it lacked one of control, power, placement of uke directly on their back; or, was called a waza-ari partial score but looked to me more like an ippon because it showed each of the required attributes).
In the worst cases, winning can also be handed down not even by the referee’s judgement but by the judges’ discretion. On the street, things are different. One needs to use techniques that de-escalate a violent situation as quickly and safely as possible (for both you and your opponent). One will quickly find that pulling on people’s sweaters or jackets like a mad fool, grip-fighting your way to a “referee’s or judge’s decision” won’t go very far in a self-defense scenario, save to irritate your opponent and probably their friends or onlookers too. Not to mention, you would probably look like the bully or instigator in most cases.
Self-Defense: Appropriate techniques for the situation
Since Judo is supposed to be more about dealing with bullies than being one, let’s talk about real life scenarios. Picture this, you are with friends at a party, and a particular friend whom you like but who has had a bit too much to drink starts acting up and destroying another friend’s (or worse) your own property, hurling insults at the other guests, maybe even threatening, fighting or otherwise looking for all sorts of trouble. In general they are probably acting completely out-of-character (maybe this is normal for them though, in that case why are you their friend? Get them to an AA meeting stat).
What would you do in the scenario laid out? Should you start boxing them up and punching their lights out? No, not really they are intoxicated and things could get escalated really quickly. Someone would regrettably get hurt if it came to fisticuffs and don’t forget the seriously inebriated don’t feel as much pain as your more sensible self would. Should you smash something over their head or hit them with some kind of weapon? Not very subtle, and possibly could lead to death or serious injury and later involuntary manslaughter or 1st/2nd-degree murder charges. You probably don’t want to spend the next few months in court. So what would you do?
If you know Judo you are in luck since you should have the confidence and skill to handle the situation well. Don’t forget though, this was supposedly your friend right? Even a throw could seriously hurt them since they don’t have their wits about them and won’t likely catch themselves very well. The best thing to do is almost always to try to calm them down vocally using your words, but if worse came to worse there is no better way than Osaekomi (a hold down).
To get you there, you might need a gentle takedown such as a foot sweep (right) or trip (left), but please no head-over-heels throws like Uchi Mata (inner thigh throw) or aerial throws like Ippon Seoi Nage (major shoulder throw), save that for your enemies, competitors or sempai who know how to breakfall well. Another way other than clean gentle Judo techniques is to get multiple people to help you gently subdue the aggressive, unruly friend (just make sure they are on the same page and reliable to not use excessive force).
Often times, this can come out looking more like the chaotic Rugby “teamwork tackles” below where they get slowly dragged to the ground, just do your best not to injure anyone (or let the aggressor hurt anyone) either:
Once they hit the ground though, you should definitely know what to do with them. Hold them as securely as possible, all the while communicating with them and trying to calm them down to appeal to that little bit of sense they have left to stop them from resisting. Once they realize the situation they will often comply, but sometimes it might take a few minutes for them to calm down. Hold-downs are also great for law enforcement officers and/or security personnel, especially those in a well-known setting and with backup, so that the person holding down the attacker will not be attacked by the rowdy person’s friends as they detain them and try to calm them down. The following is a chart of the core Judo hold downs taught at just about every Judo club in the world:
In many cases, hold downs can diffuse a potentially violent situation quite well but sometimes its just not enough. That’s when you want to make sure you have a few go-to grappling techniques on reserve, in case things got out of hand. There are 1000s of variations of positions/techniques, but mastery of at least one arm lock, one choke/strangle and one leg-entanglement are the very minimum for any self-respective Judoka, if not the ideal to strive for. The rest is just bonus, but keep your go-to techniques sharp and clear in your mind no matter how often you get to practice on the mats.
Here are some useful examples of Judo / Jiu-Jitsu positions being used by military & law-enforcement in arrest or detainment situations:
To illustrate the differences further, let’s compare two videos, the first is 10th dan Sensei Kyuzo Mifune‘s classic self-defense kata, and the second is the Olympic 2016 highlights (including the qualifications this year leading up to Rio).
Ok ok, I’ll admit it, the kata is certainly less glamorous than the high-impact super cool looking Olympic highlights. However, look closer. Which one would you prefer to take with you to a bar fight? Which one do you prefer to keep with you for the rest of your life? Raw athleticism required to pull off techniques in the context of the sport of Judo, or finesse and efficiency of motion that comes from mastering the self-defense applications of the technique? As age creeps in raw athleticism fades, and don’t forget, there’s always someone younger, bigger, stronger and/or faster. Also, who wants to bridge-out head-first or twist-out to land on their stomach from a throw/takedown attempt at the hands of some hooligan on concrete or asphalt? Anyone? How about if you win the tussle with a forceful modern (aka “buried”) throw, slamming some poor young unsuspecting delinquent’s head into the concrete then landing on said head with your own bodyweight and giving them lifelong brain damage or possibly killing them and ending up on Death Row? Nah, I don’t think any of those things sound like fun… so better combine a respect for the traditional self-defense with your quest for glory in modern competitions.
In the next post, we’ll be looking more at Kata and how they can be used by both the aging Judoka and young spitfire Judoka alike to stay in touch with the essence of the self-defense side of Judo, which should only add depth to any competitive aspirations.