Olympic Spotlight Shines on Japanese Athlete Abuse
In the wake of recent scandal and Tokyo's current bid for the 2020 Olympics, the emotional and physical abuse of Japanese national Judo athletes by their coaches- the hallmark of traditional Japanese martial arts instruction- has come under attack. Recently, a joint letter by 15 members of the women's Japanese national Judo team demanding a stop to the culture of “power harassment” that they have been subjected to has gained some international notoriety. But the shadows of discontent in the native home of Judo are only currently visible because of the Olympic spotlight shinning on Tokyo.
Japanese female athletes have been voicing their concerns for some time, first from retired former bronze medalist Kaori Yamaguchi. After the women's team returned from the London 2012 games, Yamaguchi lodged a complaint with the All Japan Judo Federation (AJJF) after confirming that head coach Ryuji Sonoda had beaten several athletes for under-performing.
Sonoda received no real punishment, which prompted women's team members to bring their concerns to the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC). The details of how their complaints were juggled in bureaucracy are nicely cataloged in an article by Philip Brasor of Japan Times. The short version of the affair is that both the JOC and the AJJF invoked the only staple of Japanese national sports more cherished than abusing athletes: ignoring a problem until it goes away.
However, thanks to an upcoming visit from the International Olympic Committee involving Tokyo's 2020 bid, as well as the suicide of an Osaka high school basketball player following a beating from his coach bringing abuse of athletes into the zeitgeist, the AJJF has finally been forced to act. Sonoda has stepped down from his position as head coach of the women's team and the AJJF has declared the problem solved even though none of the athletes seem to think so. But the bandage the AJJF put across the open sore of Japan's national sports culture brings to question whether this is a solvable problem.
Judo is both a martial art and a sport. Additionally, the Japanese tend to treat other sports culturally as they would treat martial arts. In the traditional model of martial arts taught in Japan, **** rolls downhill and being low on the totem poll means disciplinary action well beyond what Western eyes view as constructive. If there was ever any evidence necessary to illustrate that Draconian treatment of athletes was part of Japan's national identity, it could be clearly seen by how Japanese media members came to Sonoda's defense after he was forced to step down, citing how the women's team exceeded expectations under his watch.
A writer as cynical as myself may even go so far as to say that the AJJF and JOC's sudden concern over the way Judo national athletes are treated is akin to a husband who temporarily stops beating his wife when the cops are at the front door.
Last edited by Phrost; 2/20/2013 9:21am at . Reason: Insert image
Total Comments 16
2/20/2013 10:43am, #2
This is a lot bigger than just Judo and/or Japan. Many national teams take this sort of approach. Western sentiments make me lean towards suspensions from international contests for this sort of thing, but part of me says "that's just how they do it there." Do we have the right to admonish a whole culture? Shouldn't they be responsible for their own evolution?
That being said: Physically abusing people is wrong. Especially if you are in a position of power over them. Suspensions all around, please.And lo, Kano looked down upon the field and saw the multitudes. Amongst them were the disciples of Uesheba who were greatly vexed at his sayings. And Kano spake: "Do not be concerned with the mote in thy neighbor's eye, when verily thou hast a massive stick in thine ass".
--Scrolls of Bujutsu: Chapter 5 vs 10-14.
2/20/2013 12:27pm, #3The fool thinks himself immortal,
If he hold back from battle;
But old age will grant him no truce,
Even if spears spare him.
2/20/2013 12:56pm, #4
I would think an athlete would do better if they want to win rather than wanting to win so they don't get a beatdown. I have never understood the philosophy of beating will into someone, it just seems counterproductive.
2/20/2013 2:52pm, #5And lo, Kano looked down upon the field and saw the multitudes. Amongst them were the disciples of Uesheba who were greatly vexed at his sayings. And Kano spake: "Do not be concerned with the mote in thy neighbor's eye, when verily thou hast a massive stick in thine ass".
--Scrolls of Bujutsu: Chapter 5 vs 10-14.
2/20/2013 3:01pm, #6
2/20/2013 3:23pm, #7
The Judoka should have thrown the Coach through the window.
As we say - in the Pub when playing pool and someone gives advice - "Coaches in the Car Park!"
Scandalous but I suppose Predictable. Same in Gymnastics (USSR, Romania) etc.
2/20/2013 3:26pm, #8
I'm happy the athletes did something about the abuse. I spoke with some people recently were familiar with the coach and they all said something was wrong with him. He was a sadistic control freak who liked to hurt people when he trained (as an athlete) from their experience.
BenFalling for Judo since 1980
2/20/2013 3:31pm, #9
I got paddled more than a few times in middle school for shenanigans. Whether or not that's a good thing is up for debate (I usually laughed it off); it was the last gasp of the "it takes a village" approach to raising children, where teachers were seen as an extension of parents.
That relationship does not exist between Coach and Student, and while some would argue that cultural differences apply, it's not the same thing. As someone who believes that consenting adults should regularly punch each other to such an extent that he created a website devoted to the concept, I completely disagree with this, and here's why:
It doesn't motivate anyone to perform better. Beatings aren't about inflicting pain, they're about inflicting shame. And shame can be inflicted, where deserved, in a manner that's actually beneficial to an athlete.
Yes, it's called "extra training". An athlete that screws something up should be made to repeat that task until they get it right; after class, during class, whenever, and being made to do so in front of his/her peers provides more negative feedback than just hitting someone.
It's the same reason why the US Army stopped the "practice" of roughing up dirtbag soldiers. A.) It's easier (and cheaper) to just get rid of those who can't be trained, and b.) every screw-up is an opportunity for additional training; something that directly improves the soldier's performance.
So yeah, as much as I'm against imposing regulations on things, there should be an open and direct discussion about whether or not countries that practice this type of training should be allowed to participate in the Olympics...
...right after we unfuck the Wrestling situation.
2/20/2013 4:27pm, #10
- Join Date
- May 2011
- Sydney - Australia
I personally know a Chinese trained Ex-Gymnast who was so destroyed by their 'extra training' that she's half crippled in her mid 20's.
Things aren't different in the other countries I've mentioned, where a dislocated knee or torn ligament is literally the end of potentially decades of work, simply because they can't keep up with the demands being placed upon them?
In those circumstances, and in that environment, you're simply discarded as 'not being strong enough', which is the antithesis of sportsmanship.