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Observations from the 45th Annual American-Canadian International Judo challenge

On Sunday May 28th 2017 competitors and coaches from Rochester Judo Club took the short drive from Rochester NY to Buffalo NY to compete in the 45th Annual American-Canadian International Judo challenge. The competition drew 340 competitors from around the world with representation from Canada, Puerto Rico, Russia and Europe.

Rochester Judo was just founded this year to be the first non-profit (501c in progress) Judo club in Rochester NY so this was our first tournament as an official club and overall I was very pleased with our teams representation. We took home a gold in one large division and had a good representation in the others even though the divisions had a very large range of ranks and skill. In two divisions white belts from Rochester Judo were matched against brown belts with 10+ years more experience.

As a coach, it was a great opportunity to analyze the competition. Here are some of my take-aways from the tournament.

Grip fighting

Power side control: I was most pleased to see our teams grip fighting strategies put to the test and work. We have worked hard to incorporate the gripping sequences and strategies used by Pedro’s Judo athletes like Kayla Harrison and Travis Stevens focusing on controlling our opponents power hand by the sleeve before getting our own power grip. We saw many opponents going directly for power side lapel grips which opened them up for immediate attacks, I was happy to see our team stayed focused on controlling the sleeve and avoided this mistake.

Interestingly enough as well there was a lot of very tall competitors, which resulted in opponents seeking high collar and over the back grips in many cases. Controlling the power hand of opponents was very effective against this as well as immediately throwing Seoi-Nage as opponents came over the top for these grips. We had one white belt with only 4 months of experience throw a brown belt with international competition experience for Wazari. After this happened the opponent was not very keen on seeking that grip again and it destabilized his game.

Double sleeve grips: While controlling the power side was effective it resulted in a lot of double sleeve grips, something that our new competitors were not ready to capitalize on. In retrospective it was clear that drilling more front pivot sode tsurikomi goshi would have helped considerably. However, forcing opponents into this situation while still attacking with foot sweeps allowed our competitors to keep opponents defensive and resulted in opponents getting shidos (penalty) a good number of times. I believe we could have capitalized on this more if our fighters had more experience in this area.

Waza (Techniques)

We saw a lot of Osoto-Gari attempts from opponents especially if the opponent was able to get the over the back grip. I think this was a direct result of the new gripping rules, allowing competitors more time to get a strong two handed grip which is required for a good Osoto-Gari execution. For Rochester Judo competitors the take away is that we will need to work on our sen-no-sen (Attacking the attack) strategies as we lost a few matches due to Osoto-Gari attacks that likely could have been countered with the right timing.

Regarding standing as well, something that was surprising was the lack of uchi-mata usage at the competition. Uchi-mata is usually a high percentage throw that we see a lot, but was not utilized very much at Am-Can. I wasn’t able to discern if this was a direct result of the new rules or simply a result of the competitors at the tournament. Instead the most common big throw seemed to be Ippon-Seoi Nage.

On the ground we saw a lot of good attacks from opponents. The bicycle turnover into bow and arrow choke was used a lot by opponents in our divisions to submit a number of other competitors. Since the Buffalo Open Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament was hosted the day before, we saw some BJJ players in the novice divisions with very strong groundwork submitting a lot of players. Luckily our groundwork is strong as well and we defended these players and ultimately threw them to end the matches. The main take-away from groundwork is that players must be much more aggressive with the new rules. It’s less likely that stalling on the ground will result in match stoppage so players must always be on the offense, recovering guard to stop their opponent and/or working into advantagious positions.

Thoughts on New rules implementation at AM-CAN

In 2017 the IJF came out with a new set of rules aimed at making judo simpler. The most important of which are:

  • Wazari do not add up to a winning Ippon (previously 2 wazari would equal Ippon and win the match), and all throws that were previously scored as Yuko are now Wazari

  • Many grips previously illegal are now legal and competitors get considerably more time to work for their ideal grip before needing to attack.

  • More time to work on the ground

  • No more winning by penalty

  • Shorter match times

I was quite pleased with the new rules, though I think there was still a lot of confusion on the side of the referees as to what constituted a Wazari vs No score vs Ippon. Some referees were very liberal with scoring while others extremely critical. What constituted an Ippon to some ref’s was barely given a Wazari for others. My interpretation of the rules was the Ippon should be much more strict with the new rules, but this varied considerably. Also, while time to work on the ground was suppose to be more liberal, there was a wide difference in how long each ref would give competitors. It would have been nicer to see more consistency with both of these.

That being said, shorter match times and allowing more grip/grip fighting made matches more exciting and also reduced the number of times matches were stopped. Allowing more time to work on the ground resulted in more sophisticated ne-waza exchanges and a lot more matches won from submissions and pins.

Overall I thought it worked out great.

Request to the tournament directors

Something that is common at BJJ and other grappling tournaments which I would love to see implemented next year at AM-CAN is a better breakdown of when competitors will be fighting. Typically a sheet will be provided (See example below) that will give breakdowns by hour for when divisions will generally be starting. One of the hardest things for a coach and competitors is dealing with the stress and confusion of when athletes will be fighting and making sure they are warmed up and prepared at the correct time. Given the long history of AM-CAN and information gathered while running the tournament it would be great to see something done here.

Cheers from Rochester Judo Club!

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