Where will our future Judo champions come from? - By Mel Appelbaum, NYAC Judo

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Where will our future judo champions come from? What does the judoka pipeline look like? In any effective business model there must be a business plan. And yes, Judo needs to be run as a business. What is the business plan and what is its time frame? I have not seen a plan for judo development in the US. Without a business plan in place most businesses fail. This is a proven fact! The number of Judokas needs to grow along with coaches and teachers who are well trained and certified. What kind of coach and teacher certification? What kind of continuing education program and testing needs to be put in place for coaches and teachers? Well trained coaches and teachers need to be part of the overall plan that will grow in concert with the anticipated and planned growth of the base of judokas.

Junior Judokas with their awards and their instructors (Photo credit: Ray Matsumoto, Gardena Judo)

With the public schools not having judo programs the system is dependent on the local dojos to produce Judokas. Why should children choose judo instead of soccer and all the other sports? What is the grassroots structure of American judo? What is the grassroots part of the overall plan? Where are the Kayla Harrisons, Marti Malloys and Travis Stevens going to come from?

With three national organizations in place, what are their roles in the overall plan? What are their plans for expanding the base? How do these organizations help the local dojos? With the rapid growth of MMA and the BJJ, which have been helped significantly by TV exposure, Judo needs to become proactive in its promotion. Watching Olympian Rhonda Rousey use her outstanding Judo skills to dominate and become a UFC Champion is a key element in promoting Judo to the masses. How to capitalize on this exposure is the challenge. How to get young girls to want to be like Kayla, Marti, Rhonda, Hannah and the many other women judo champions and similarly for the young men to want to be champions like Travis, Evert, Nick and Aaron, to name a few. Now with USAJudo's recent association with the UFC, Travis Stevens will be able to help generate judo awareness. We need to reach out to the public with a strategic well-planned media program to promote Judo.This media program must be an integral part of the overall plan.

Future champions having fun (Photo credit: Ray Matsumoto, Gardena Judo)


As a start, Judo needs to be a part of a program like the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.  Merit badges need to be created and this will generate exposure to Judo. To accomplish this local dojos can teach short introduction courses and then give exams for the badge. Many of these youngsters will stay after the course and become judokas. Programs need to be developed with the public schools system. Certified coaches and teachers can volunteer to teach judo in the public schools. The national organizations need to open the doors of the school systems. This is their responsibility. The reason for their existence is to promote, develop and grow the sport. US Judoka numbers, at best, have stayed the same in the last few years at around 20,000.  For a country with over 300 million this is not acceptable.

Our current crop of athletes are wonderful. They represent the USA well and make us all proud, but we need more depth. Our organizations need to look to other great Judo powers in the world to better understand what is working for them. For example, France has over one million registered Judokas and a system of coach and teacher training, testing and certification that is uniform across the nation.

Coaches week-long training at the OTC in 2000.


We need to look to our own judo treasures to help develop and implement these programs. Judo masters such as Hayward Nishioka, James Colgan, James Bregman, Hal Sharp, Mitchell Palacio, Clyde Worthern, Jimmy Pedro, Mike Swain, Sid Kelly and Pat Burris to name just a few, need to be part of the program to restructure American Judo. Also, American Judo has many other very astute competent judokas who can significantly aid in the restructuring that will put American Judo on a new path. Many of these folks have become disillusioned and some have been cast aside. We need to bring these judo brothers and sisters back to be part of the force to rebuild American Judo.  

We can reach and surpass the French numbers if we begin now to restructure American Judo.


Mel Appelbaum, NYAC Judo

About the author


Founded in 1868, the New York Athletic Club can boast of a unique history. The Club's founding premise was to bring structure to a sporting environment that was lacking in organization and uniformity of measurement. Quickly, the NYAC organized the first US championships in boxing, wrestling and outdoor track and…

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