Sunday, July 05, 2015

Devaluation of the IPPON

What has happened to the Warrior?

   When I began studying Judo back around 1958 there was a different attitude (and scoring system) which seems to now only persist in Japan. Back then one could only score a half point (Wizari) or a full point (IPPON) in a Judo match. An Ippon would instantly win the match (as would two Wizaris). Throw an opponent to his or her back with force and control and you were awarded an Ippon...and instantly won the match. As the sport spread across the world and tournaments saw more and more players, modern folk (read: Western) got restless with the scoring system.  Many matches were ending in a draw in which case both players were eliminated (often some of the best in the division).
   Along came the new system that awarded 1/4 and even 1/8 points. So, if a player made a sloppy technique and received a fraction of a fraction of a point, that person could prevail and win the match by going defensive and simply fending off the opponent. Talk about boring matches.
   Still, in Japan the spirit of the game remained unchanged and the cry of the warrior was to GO FOR THE IPPON!
   This resulted in a double edged sword. Say someone got a fraction of a fraction of a point. By going for the Ippon and risking all they created a scenario in which the opponent might counter and get a slightly bigger fraction of a point and, thus, grab victory from the jaws of defeat. Still, in major world-title matches, Japanese Judokas have risked their leads and gone for the IPPON. Sometimes, the spirit worked in another way.
   In a now famous world title match the Japanese player tore a shoulder muscle and  suffered great pain. He almost dropped out but decided to continue. Now, one might think he would try all sorts of little things to get one of those minuscule fractions of a point for the win. Instead, he went full out and relentlessly attacked his opponent with major techniques. With seconds left he made a stunning throw and the referee yelled, "Ippon." He had won the match and a world title. But that is not the end of the story about this man.
   In a subsequent major title match he led by one of those "weeny" points and needed to only run out the clock with defensive maneuvers to take the title. But that was not the spirit of the warrior, that was not what the Ninja had handed down. This man, with victory virtually assured, went for the IPPON and, in doing so, was countered and thrown. He had lost the match and the title. As he stepped off the mat he was seen to be smiling. Yes, he had lost; but he had maintained his honor and dignity. He had embodied the spirit of the warrior. He had, above all, gone for the IPPON.
Paddle  safe...