Mike Swain demonstrating a choke

Mike Swain and Pro Judo

I came across The Judo Podcast a few months back and finally got a chance to listen to an episode. This one was an interview with Mike Swain. He is a great judoka and has evolved into a successful entrepreneur.

Guys that make a career from judo (or anything else) often tend to oversell judo, putting the sport in the best possible light and sweeping some of the issues under the rug. Mike Swain surprised me with a candor and modest pragmatism in his discussion of judo in the United States. Some of the things mentioned were:

  • There are only 50,000 active judoka in America (which is very little).
  • The three American judo organizations need to merge. They all have good ideas, but building a judo “brand” is essential especially given such a small base of participants.
  • Running a judo tournament needs to become easier. Two suggestions he quickly mentioned were:
    • Make the mat requirements looser (allow for smaller mat spaces, thereby being able to fit more mats in)
    • Make the ref requirements looser (allow for just one ref)
  • Consider using a point system (4 for ippon, 2 for wazari, 1 for yuko) and a set of rules that are easier for spectators new to the sport to understand. Just to grasp the scoring you need to know three japanese words: ippon, wazari, yuko. That shouldn’t be necessary.
  • Briefly mentioned was an interesting suggestion of removing wazari. There are a lot of controversial calls made about ippon / wazari. It might seem absurd but I could see a system where a big throw on the back is 3 points and a throw on the side is 1 point. It’s much simpler to watch and to ref.
  • Longer newaza time with penalties for stalling in turtle. He mentioned a 3 second rule for turtling kind of like you have for gripping on the feet.

They also talked about bringing judo to TV and Swain’s attempt to do so with something called “Pro Judo” which was something that ran for a single episode a while ago on ESPN2. I can’t find any footage of it online, but some people claim to have it on VHS. The point system for Pro Judo is similar to Freestyle Judo.

Swain mentioned that given such a small judo participant base in America, everyone should promote large judo training centers as opposed to creating many small dojos. There are just not enough high level players training together. Or really, there are just not enough bodies on the mat when the judo community is fractured amongst many dojos.

Here’s a video of another interview with him:

0 thoughts on “Mike Swain and Pro Judo

  1. Loren

    Some of the ideas have merit, some don’t.

    I’m particularly against the concept of merging, but that’s personality based. I also don’t think any of the three or four (counting AAU) really have a good handle on how to organize judo for growth of the sport. Personally, my belief is that if judo is reduced/distilled to a sport, many of its benefits will be lost.

    As far as the belief that there are too many clubs, I don’t think that’s the right track to be hunting. For example, if it weren’t for me being able to open a club, there would be no judo and I’d be completely out of judo. I certainly agree there need to be multiple high-level training facilities in the country, I would suggest a minimum of one per region. Also, if one looks at basketball or football, the thousands of clubs in the United States, not to mention school programs, indicate that more is needed, not less.

    Speaking of football, one needs to learn a complete set of vocabulary to understand the myriad of ways to earn points in it! Three Japanese words are not really an obstacle but an excuse. Look at the success of the UFC and other MMA venues. How many people have heard the term “triangle” or “Kimura” or “Americana”? Vocabulary is the least of the worries.

    As far as brand building goes, that’s an entirely different subject and something none of the three organizations have tried to do at all. Brand building is quite a complex task and requires an absolute dedication to the marketing plan. None of them are interested in that and that creates significant issues when trying to build judo. Look at the Gracies (any of them); they are marketing machines. You find their logos, books, dvd’s, and everything all designed to build the Gracie name…all branches.

    I absolutely agree that running a tournament needs to be easier. But I think that the belief that a tournament needs to be in line with all the rigid strictures that judo players in the US believe are necessary, is a false belief. Just last month my club and another did a small training tournament and had a ref, a scorer, and a photographer. The event went well and had many very happy participants. I think more training and information about running a tournament is in order.

    All in all I think one of the biggest problems for US judo is the overcomplication we’re putting on things and the complete lack of training in how to run and manage a club. Look at karate and tae kwon do schools. Thousands of them. They are big, popular, and run like well-oiled machines. What is stopping judo from that? A false belief that judo should be the cheapest thing on the planet.

  2. scranton mma

    First Mike Swain is awesome!

    I agree with most of the points above except for the turtling penalty. I think if you penalize the turtle it would lead to more stalling in tachiwaza and less attacks. I do like the idea of more newaza time though which might help with the lame turtling.

    I do think running tournaments should be easier… I can get back to you on that after we run a freestyle judo tournament in Scranton.

  3. Eric

    This is the second or third time I have heard someone mention penlizing someone for tutrling. I completly disagree with e penalizing a perfectly legal position. If you want to overcome the turtle defensive 2 things need to change. 1, work on your turtle attacks and 2, give more time to attack the turtle. Change those two things and penalties are not nessecary. Judo needs to get away from all the penalties not add more of them. Let guys play!!! The alternative is a grappling art without grappling.

  4. Mike Darter

    Just wanted to say first of all, thanks for checking out the Judo Podcast. I founded and co host the show with Gene Shin. My club http://www.okcdt.com, recently hosted a tournament under what we called developmental rules. It included one referee (in the prelims), yuko and ippon only scores with 2 ippons to win, and more emphasis on ground time – alot of the ideas that came from that interview with Mike Swain. It turned out great, and we got alot of positive feedback on it. It was my third annual event (Heartland Team Judo Tournament) and it went alot smoother than the past. With one referee, the matches went alot faster, and both mats were utilized the entire tournament. In the past, with 3 referees, many times we only had one mat running.

    The 2 ippon rule made for more attempts at big throws, knowing that if it was countered, or you got a bad call, you could make up for it. Also with more emphasis on groundwork, it made for a great training experience. You can win 3 ways on the ground, but only one standing….I guess two if you count penalties, but I really don’t like watching a judo match won by penalties…

    I had also hosted a AAU freestyle judo tournament earlier this year, and it was a pretty good event, but the hard part for us is the fact that it is yet another organization that you have to sell in order to compete. In our area, we have no clubs in that org, so we felt we needed to try something developmental under our existing structure. My thought is that maybe there are not many developmental tournaments such as this because no one ever asked? There is a mindset that it would be rejected, when in fact, I think it is just that no one had ever tried it.

    I agree with most of your other comments, there needs to be some training in organizing and putting on tournaments and running clubs. We have a couple interviews with people on these topics in the past on the podcast site, but we will try to record some more in 2011.

    Great site, keep up the good work!

  5. Kevin Green

    Make sure you keep that bowing thats the important part. To humiliate yourself in front of crowds by adopting culturally inappropriate Shinto religious customs. You know the graven image of Kano and bowing to inanimate objects like matts and the Kami’s the little Shinto shrine things . The Joseki where all the spirits rise from You know judo is a religion a life style gee I am getting all goose bumpy thinking about it. And make sure you keep that Japanese language thing. Even though the official languages of judo do not include Japanese . You sure dont want the audience to know whats going on by speaking English do you? This sport deserves to die at least what is left of it. The inmates have been running the asylum for so long now these so called rules prove that. I remember when all that money was spent because someone wanted to get rid of the forced bowing crap . The money spent defending forced bowing and all the ingrained phoniness the arrogance of this self righteous rule changing it should be referred to as the destruction of the sport by idiots . People placed into positions of power they have no idea of why or what so they try to justify their meager existence by ‘making new rules”. You cant make this shit up nobody would believe it unless it was in a Fellini movie.. just petition the Olympic committee to go right ahead and ban this piss poor imitation of what Kano envisioned just put it out of its misery All the justification needed for the Seppuku of this cult activity called judo is evidenced by the people in charge of making these rules. Just make sure to cut the head off to keep it from screaming and dieing an undignified death. This crap doesnt belong in the Olympics anymore.


    20 years ago I put together a 20 points scoring system for under 10 and 13 year olds.
    wherebye a competitor had to score score 2 ippons to win. The system being 10 for a ippon.5 for wazari. 3 for yuko. and 1 for koka.
    This system prevailed in Tasmania ,Australia.and continues to do so.
    The system allowed more time on the mat thus having that competition and life experience that is so important for young people.
    Anyone who is interested I will help with more info.


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