Judo In Japanese Schools – Is It Doing More Harm Than Good?

While researching for a new post, a topic that really got my attention is that together with sumo and kendo, the national sport and martial art of Judo will become compulsory in Japanese schools in 2012.

Just like you reading this post, I am generally enthusiastic about many things involving martial arts.

Especially if you can get kids and teens excited about this kind of education and training, as it in my humble opinion offers more good than harm.

But then I started thinking and reading more about it and I found what has been going on and what will become reality for more Japanese students starting next year rather concerning.

Only between 1983 and 2009, meaning 27 years, there have been 108 fatalities in Japanese school judo which makes it the highest rate by far.

Brain injuries that occur are traumatic and usually fatal. Even ringside boxing doctors are astonished that these injuries happen in school judo.

I read about school judo instructors (and of course I don’t know first-hand if these are isolated cases involving total madmen who have been given responsibilities over minors) that have reportedlychoked students until they went limp, and then threw them to the floor with such force that they suffered severe internal brain bleeding. This kind of injuryis known as an acute subdural hematoma.

One such injury incurred in December 2004, leaving a teen unable to remember anything for almost two years.

The teacher was simply transferred to another junior high school in thesame city, because that’s the standard job transfers among government school teachers.

In another incident in July 2009, the parents of a 12-year-old junior high school student allege that their son died from a similar injury.

After telling his teacher that he had asthma, he was told to wear an antidust mask and forced to spar with the teacher. According to reports, the teachery aggressively threw him to the ground and consequently leaving the boy with a subdural hematoma.

Besides his body covered with bruises, according to his parents, later at the hospital the boy was pronounced brain dead.

Numerous experts are concerned about the frequency of deaths in school judo classes and that it is more than 5 times higher than in any other sport.

What is also alarming is that they have no parallel in other developed nations.

According to the British Judo Association, there have been no deaths or serious brain injuries in judo in the BJA.

And the USA Judo’s Sports Medicine Committee points out that there have been no known traumatic brain injury deaths attributed to judo for all participants under the age of 18. So somehow there appears to be a significant difference in serious brain injury rates in the youth between the U.S. and Japan.

According to reports, the parents of children killed or seriously injured in judo classes in Japan are just met by a wall of silence when pressing for convictions of the alleged perpetrators.

Charges are brought against teachers, but prosecutors simply continue to drop cases again and again.

One would hope that safety improvements would be implemented.

Now that girls will also take part in judo classes, the number of students participating will roughly double.

Consequently, without improving safety for the students, we can expect the death and serious injury rate to double accordingly.

While the All Japan Judo Federation remains playing hookie on the issue, the head of the instruction department at the Kodakan Judo Institute in Tokyo, has been more outspoken.

Writing in the Budo magazine, Mikihiro Mukai argues: “Until now, the judo world has tried to hide things they perceive will be disadvantageous to them. But this trend will worsen the situation, even if we have many discussions about instruction methods, if there is even a single case of death or severe injury, that method is inadequate. There may well be some unfortunate accidents, but we as judo instructors must work to eradicate such problems.

Due to way too many incidents with a very tragic and heart-wrenching outcome as well as without any or almost any consequences for the alleged perpretrators, The Japan Judo Accident Victims Association was founded with a clear mission statement:

“When judo deaths and injuries occur under the supervision of schools, victims and their families often encounter barriers to the investigations into the causes and who was responsible. Japan Judo Accident Victims Association (JJAVA) is a group of judo accident victims, their families, and other concerned people, founded with the mission to support victims and find ways to reduce death and serious injury among students in Japan through introduction of effective safety measures as standard practice in the sport of judo. JJAVA is studying international best practice and developing proposals for an improved safety regime.

Martial arts will soon become compulsory for boys and girls in all public junior high schools in Japan, so it is particularly important to ensure that adequate and appropriate attention is given to safety in judo instruction and practice.”

The school year of 2012 will be here faster than we think.

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