Minimum grade requirement for competition

I was involved in a debate today and I thought I would share it here.

It is common practice for judo competitions to stipulate a minimum and/or maximum grade requirement. The reason for this is that if the competition is of a certain level, lets say national level, then a minimum grade requirement, lets say green belt for now, means that unsuitable players will not enter.

We all know that the belt system is based upon this, it is a safety mechanism when you train the the club environment. If a blue belt faces a yellow belt in randori he has an idea of the level of the opposition and knows to “take it easy” or maybe put some shin pads on 😉

This has worked fine for many years but there is now an issue with it, especially in the UK but I am sure in other countries too. recently British judo changed their grading system to a non-competitive system. This means that instead of competing the players have to demonstrate a number of techniques (waza) from a set syllabus. This is a move I fully support and I think it is a good thing for British judo.

The problem arises with then using this grade to predict or inform of a players ability to compete. How can it? The player has demonstrated a number of techniques from a set syllabus and contest ability is based upon skill. Technique and skill are two very different things, for more information on this in a judo context you could read “judo inside out” by Gleeson (1983). You could read almost any motor learning or skill acquisition book to read about it in a non-judo context.

Neither can we assume that knowing more techniques will improve competitive ability. In fact an increase in options (in this case the number of techniques available) is know to increase reaction time (you could read into Hicks law for more on this). It has also been shown by several authors (including Weers, n.d.) that elite judo players only have 4-6 standing techniques (tachiwaza) and 3-4 groundwork techniques (newaza).

So, in my opinion using the current grading system to asses competitive ability is a little like using knowledge of spelling and grammar to assess an individuals ability to write a novel.

Of course, it is one thing to say something doesn’t work but quite another to suggest something that does. I do not have all the answer but the suggestion I would make would be qualifying events. For example you have to have competed in x number of events that year of a specific level/standard. Admittedly this wouldn’t be easy to monitor or check. It might,however, mean that less competitions are cancelled due to low numbers.


Please comment below.



Filed under Coaching Judo, Judo

4 responses to “Minimum grade requirement for competition

  1. Kay Nightingale

    Everything you have mentioned above has come up in discussion between myself and other coaches at my club (Raven Judo Kwai) i totally agree with your suggestions. Although the recent grading system is all well and good meaning our players will know more techniques but how can these players be equivalent of their theoretical grade and their abilty to compete with others. I from day 1 competed for my grades and can say i am worthy of my dan grade. We have blue belts in our club who have passed the grade through knowing the syllabus but they are not at the standard of a blue belt when it comes to competing. !!!


    Am I the only one…am I the last man standing in the arena…why bother to go through the time and effort to learn (at least experience for the non combatants school of thought) an Olympic Combat Sport if you do not want to experience under a grading or other competitive environment…COMBAT? This is the major issue nothing else. No matter what is put in place on safty grounds or long term athlete development. If the combat element is not nurtured early then please do not wait to its to late to experience combat. By all means within the coaching environment set up safe newaza, safe randori sessions but to eliminate and then wonder why you’ve thrown the babay out with the washing I find it bewildering!
    PS forget states…elite Judoka have the ability to execute and i MEAN JUST THATmore than three to four waza…donot confuse choice of waza in Shia (strategy and tactics) with an ability to execute waza that they themselves may consider their weaker Tocuwaza…

  3. I agree that perormance players can often perform many throws and technically very proficiently, the point is that being able to do many doesn’t mean you can do a few skillfully.

  4. Lance Wicks

    Great post.
    I share some of Trevor’s concerns, if we remove too much competition does Judo still count itself a sport; or as Trevor puts it Combat.

    If we have a restriction system based on grade, then it makes sense that the grade needs a contest element. Else, time to review how we restrict entry to competitions.

    So… maybe BJA should maintain records on who has fought what and achieved what results. I know this has been talked about/around; nerds addressing asap.

    The issue also of a two tier grading system gets discussed. I don’t think we need competition based headings IF player do competitions. But if we end up with people who have never done anything more than club Randori then perhaps we do.

    Balancing it all is the tricky bit right.

    In my recent experience, I have encountered whole clubs where nobody does competitions. Clubs where hardly any, if any randori is done.

    Are these even Judo clubs anymore? Are any grades coming from that club valid? For me, testing (and growing through competing) is kinda vital to what Judo is.

    Else we are creating a new Judo, one where just practicing the moves in to club and memorizing the names and movements is the challenge. We perhaps go from what we have had to people jumping as Uke. Pretend waza, I for one don’t want to see Judo go that route; I’ve seen enough of it in other martial arts clubs and on YouTube.


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