Jigoro Kano, the revered founder of judo, must be turned in his grave. His view of judo was rooted in the maxim jitakyoei - for mutual welfare and benefit - and, as a highly educated man, he took a dim view of prize fights.
His exalted attitude saw judo as a perfect vehicle for honing the character through hard physical and mental commitment and the refinement of technical skills. Judo was to him shugyo - ascetic training - not sport in the sense of gentlemanly diversion.
However, exactly 50 years after his death, the French Judo Federation, the most powerful single judo organization outside Japan, has announced details of an elite competition in Paris on December 10 offering the sum of 100,000 francs to the winners of four weight categories, with second prizes of 50,000 francs, 30,000 francs to two bronze medal winners and two 20,000 francs consolation prizes.
In keeping with the contemporary trend of sponsorship, it is called The First Dairy Produce Masters (a bit like the Milk Marketing Board), and appropriately will be concerned only with the Gallic idea of the cream of international judo players. Specifically, that means the four Olympic medal winners in the light-middleweight (under 78kg), middleweight (under 86kg), light-heavyweight (under 95kg) and heavyweight (over 95kg) plus four top French players in each division.
It is a marvellously audacious proposal, one that is likely to rock the very foundation of the judo fraternity both in Japan - notwithstanding the clear commercial roots of sumo where the winners are paid cash while still sweating in the ring - and abroad.
It will divide judo into two clear camps: the modernists and the traditionalists. Although no decision has yet been taken - the plans were only revealed at the Tournoi de Paris at the weekend - it is possible that the Japanese will boycott the event; but the more commercially mindedd sportsmen from Western countries may find themselves competing in the Seoul Olympics with half an eye on the further target on the treasure trove at the end of the year.
Among them, possibly, will be Britain's Olympic light middleweight silver medal winner, Neil Adams. Although he cautiously says that his priority at the moment is getting to the Olympics, he is absolutely unequivocal in his support for the idea.
'We have been hypocritical for too long about amateur and professional status in judo,' he said. 'All the top fighters are professional in the sense that they train full time and are paid to do that. The only difference now is that they will ged paid to compete.
'If this gives an incentive to those young boys coming through. I welcome it. After alll, if they can do it in athletics, why not judo? It can only help them, and it will certainly create a lot of interest. The only problems it can cause is if top players decide to peak for a paid event rather than the world championship or Olympics.'
The chairman of the British Judo Association, Mick Leigh, sees the development as inevitable. 'Professionalism in sport is a sad fact of life,' he said.
It seems that the prize-money will be paid to the governing bodies to hold in a trust fund for the judoka (the judo player) when he retires.
The implications for judo are numerous. Le Premier Master Produits Laitiers, to give it its formal French title, could be the start of a series of professional judo tournaments throughout the world. Though this first event includes only four weight categories, all seven Olympic weight events could be included; a natural development would be prize fights for women.
However, before traditionalists throw their hands up in horror, it is salutary to recall that judo made its first appearance in Britain when Yukio Tani toured the musical halls taking on all-comers - for cash. Copyright (C) The Times, 1988
Source Citation:"End Column: French tempt judo's cream." The Times (London, England) (Feb 17, 1988): NA. Academic OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 26 Oct. 2009
United States Judo Association - USJA
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