Interesting debate on martial arts as newly required course in JHS under Japan’s Basic Education Law reforms
Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on November 14th, 2012
Hi Blog. Something that came up on one of the mailing lists I’m on (a JALT group called PALE) is an interesting debate on physical education in Japan as part of cultural education in Japan — the new requirement for students to take a martial art in Junior High School as an attempt to “transmit tradition” and develop one’s inherent inner Japanese-ness.
My basic objection with all this education on “what it means to be Japanese” (which reasserted itself with former PM Abe’s reforms of the Basic Law of Education in 2006 to foster “an attitude that loves the nation“) is that, given the binary approach to “being Japanese” (especially when defined as “being unique”, with an added contrast to “being foreign”), it encourages people of NJ roots to be excluded (or else to deny their own diversity as incompatible). But the debate on PALE added a new dimension — an unnecessary degree of danger, given how martial attitudes in Japan often invite physical brinkmanship in unaccountable sports coaches over their young athletes. It’s tangental to the discussion of diversity in Japanese education, but read on as it’s good food for thought. Used with permission. Arudou Debito
October 2, 2012
[PALE] Concerns about compulsory judo in junior high schools
PALErs: Although not directly connected to PALE’s brief, this issue is so important to anyone involved in the Japanese education system that it deserves exposure on this forum.
As most of you will know, traditional martial arts became compulsory in junior high schools this year.
This is a direct result of the new Fundamental Law of Education introduced the last time Abe was prime minister (so nice to see him back at the helm of the LDP!) which called for a return to traditional Japanese values.
In most cases the martial art that has been chosen is judo.
Many parents of young children are very concerned about this.
Since 1983 there have been 108 recorded deaths of children in judo class or school club activities in Japan. With a huge increase in the number of participants it can be assumed that the death rate will increase in the future.
Nobody has been prosecuted for any of these deaths.
As a result, a group of parents and activists have set up the Japan Judo Accidents Victim Association.
Their English language web site is here:
I hope that PALE can do its bit to spread awareness of this serious issue. Yours, RA
For me the most important link was on the left side for the Al-Jazeera program broadcast from Osaka. The older Japanese judoka/MD is opposed to the new system. I’ve forwarded the link to all PE teachers at my place. Yours, MP
I had not heard about this so I appreciate you sharing the information. I do think that an important aspect of your alarm is missing. 108 Children have died in 27 years of judo practice in schools – but there’s no mention of the total # of youth who participated safely in judo (which I’d guess is in the thousands nationwide). So, while the death of 108 children is sad, it’s not the alarmist statistic the website is portraying. How many children are killed walking to school along crowded narrow streets? How many are killed riding bicycles on busy roads? I don’t know but I’d guess it’s no small number either.
The fact that, “Nobody has be prosecuted for any of these deaths.” does not necessarily mean that it’s a conspiracy to hide the facts. Maybe all 108 were deemed to be accidents – something that’s VERY common among youth sports programs worldwide. Let us consider our own childhoods; if a person was injured playing sports, was there a lawsuit or criminal proceedings for all cases? These 108 cases which resulted in death (which the website states were due primarily to brain injury) could have been tragic accidents by kids not paying attention to how they were flipping or being flipped. Without further details of each case, it’s premature to throw up our arms in protest against the implementation of judo in junior high schools.
Sports are dangerous and a measure of risk is involved in simply rising from one’s futon in the morning. Throwing up alarm flags to stop children from learning a traditional Japanese sport which teaches discipline and self-defense–something which I think many would argue is lacking in today’s youth—is not a prudent step in the big scheme of things. You may argue that their goal is not to ban judo, but to “to support victims and find ways to reduce death and serious injury among students” as stated on their website. But the tone of the language implies to me that they desire more than just an “improved safety regime.” If I am misreading this, I apologize.
I agree that an emphasis on safety needs to be made so that we can minimize risk, but banning a sport because somebody might get hurt is like banning bicycles because someone in the past had an accident (a current policy at my daughter’s junior high school). Thank you for allowing me to voice my concerns about the power of PALE’s membership jumping behind this issue without truly looking at the big picture. Have a great week and let the flaming commence. Yours, EF
EF, thank you for your questions.
First of all there are quite a lot of options available between banning a sport and making it compulsory. So, yes you are misreading the site if you think it is calling for a ban. Although you are free to contact the campaign organisers if you want more clarification.
If you want further details of each accident, please go back to the site and click on ‘Download’ and look at the details of the deaths.
There are some heat stroke and heart attack cases but most deaths are due to brain contusions or subdural hematomas. These are directly caused by being thrown. There are also some suffocations caused by choke holds (sometimes by the teacher). This is NOT the same as falling off a bike. You are not supposed to fall of a bike or ride it into a fast moving car. You ARE supposed to throw your opponent in judo. I know almost nothing about judo and how someone is able to protect themselves when they fall. Clearly there are techniques for doing this and equally clearly they are not working for many school children in Japan. Making everyone do judo will only make this problem worse.
I do not agree with your implied notion that there is an acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries for any school sport. Rugby is a sport where serious injury can occur. However, over the years there have been changes in the rules of rugby in order to (successfully) reduce the number of accidents. Maybe this is the way to go with judo in schools.
On the subject of criminal prosecution, take a look at this Japan Times article from 2010:
Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010
108 school judo class deaths but no charges, only silence
Fatalities since ’83 highest rate in any sport; brain injuries abound
It describes some tragic cases where the police did try to get prosecutions but public prosecutors threw the case out.
It may be only a matter of time before a prosecution does stick. The only question is how many children will die between now and then.
Someone who knows judo much better than me (and is a fan) told me that judo is the most dangerous legal two-person sport: more dangerous than boxing. Is it a smart idea to make this sport compulsory for 12-year-old boys and girls?
As far as I have been able to find out deaths in judo world-wide are extremely rare – except in Japan.
With the making of judo compulsory it is a statistical certainty that the number of deaths will increase in the future if nothing serious is done to change the way judo is taught in Japan. Yours, RA
PS: You asked us to think of our own childhoods and the accidents that are bound to occur in school games. Well, when I think back I can clearly remember boys coming in to school on Monday morning with injuries sustained over the weekend in various sporting fixtures. I remember broken arms, black eyes, missing teeth etc. usually from rugby games. I knew one boy who lost his front teeth by, as he put it, ‘unwisely trying to catch a cricket ball in my mouth’. I think the closest I ever came to serious injury myself was when I was chased by a wild horse during a cross country run (but I managed to escape up a tree). When I was a teacher in a school near London I had to apply First Aid to a boy whose bare foot had been spiked by another boy’s running shoe. Try as I might I can’t think of any case of a child being killed or put in a coma during a school sporting activity in my school or any nearby schools. And the atmosphere is much more safety conscious in the UK now than it was then. We need to seriously ask if schools in Japan are doing all they can to protect the children in their care, and if they can learn from best practice in other school systems.
“Hai sai” (Okinawa dialect for konnichi wa) from Okinawa, everyone.
I think EF shares some good points (RE: it is always possible to overprotect children by erring too much on the side of safety…in fact, Stephen Pinker in his new book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” posits that one of the unfortunate side effects of the worldwide decline in violence is that kids are coddled and overprotected too much – e.g., being discouraged from playing outside due to kidnapping fears…child kidnapping by strangers is in fact extremely rare in developed nations).
However, 108 judo-related deaths in what are supposedly supervised classrooms still raises some alarms for me…namely, how qualified are the judo teachers, and what, if any, nation-wide mechanisms are in place to ensure adequate qualifications and quality control of said judo instructors? In fact, I think that someone brought up in a similar thread on PALE a number of months ago some stats showing that there are a fair number of unqualified judo instructors in Japanese schools. This wouldn’t surprise me – remember when the MonKaSho rushed English into elementary schools a few years ago without ensuring adequate EFL teacher training for the homeroom instructors who were expected to add English teaching to their already ridiculously busy schedules?
This compulsory judo has similar potential to be problematic (though with more serious consequences than a lack of EFL training of course!) if the new teachers in schools where judo instruction introduced for the 1st time are being rushed into these classrooms without proper training.
My daughter attends a private jr. high school in Okinawa where karate instruction has been mandatory for many years (as a way to promote Okinawan culture – this prefecture is the birthplace of karate). I doubt that karate will be replaced any time soon by judo, given the high pedigree of karate here, which also ensures that all instructors – 3 or 4 black belt teachers per class of 35 students – are well-qualified…I observed one of my daughter’s karate classes and was duly impressed by the teachers…in fact, Sakura-chan seems to think that some of them are “too strict” with regards, for example, to how the kids tie their belts. This is a good sign to me that they are watching kids very closely for safety, etc…indeed, that seemed to be the case during the class I observed.) Cheers, CB
I’ve done martial arts for almost 30 years, my first martial art was judo, when I was in second grade, and my father went with me (he received his black belt in an alternate system to Kodokan judo, Kodenkan in Hawaii, under Seishiro Okazaki) and I have a sandan in judo, so I’m more sympathetic to EF’s points.
As for learning how to fall, one usually first learns ukemi, which is how to take breakfalls. Having taught adults how to take breakfalls, it is much better to teach it to students when they are young. Less mass so less chance of injury, and more youthful flexibility. I do think some things should be done to make it safer. I have been told and I pass it on to my aikido students that learning how to fall is probably a bigger safety factor than thinking how martial arts is going to protect you from being mugged because whenever you don’t see a curb, or miss a step, you may need to fall correctly. I remember when I was a kid and my father got tripped by the dog running just in front of his feet at the top of 6 concrete steps at our house. He went down doing a judo style breakfall and got up afterwards. Later found out that he had cracked two ribs, but that is far better than breaking his neck.
I also think that there should be some compulsory sport in school. While the ideal would be to have several sports that students can choose from, judo has a number of advantages in terms of cost, facilities and participation. Judo also has an advantage in that it permits students of all sizes and builds to adequately participate. Team sports would have problems not only from the nature of the sport (how can you be sure students are getting the exercise they need), but also from the fact that students of particular builds are favored, while I can’t think of any other individual sports that provide exercise over the full range of body movements, with the possible exception of wrestling, though that is problematic for women (especially with male teachers) and has many of the same injury possibilities as judo. Swimming might be the ideal, but that is season dependent and requires specialised facilities.
I do worry that poor teachers, both those with inadequate training and those with behavioral problems are a worry, but I think that is more a problem with the way Japanese schools are staffed and their hierarchical nature. However, I don’t think that should be an indictment of judo.
For high schools, the compulsory sport is either judo or kendo iirc. I’m not sure about numbers, but kendo has the possibility of some particularly horrific injuries, specifically shattered shinai (practice swords made up of 4 bamboo slats) blinding or, in the worse case, killing practitioners when they go thru the eye and enter the brain. Furthermore, the gear makes it difficult to assess student injuries or problems like heatstroke until it is potentially too late.
I do think there are some things that should be done to improve safety as RA suggests. In junior judo in the US, chokes and armbars are not permitted and tsutemi waza (sacrifice techniques) are generally not taught. I realize that Japanese might balk at ‘watering down’ judo, but in the glance over the listed fatalities caused by judo, shime waza (chokes) seems to be a big factor. In addition, many of the other fatalities in the longer list occurred in tournament competitions. This problem arises when a match is fought and the person who is being thrown doesn’t want to lose the match and so refuses to take the ukemi and is thrown so that they hit their head or techniques that are even more risky (in that they don’t permit the uke (the person being thrown) much option in the ukemi) are used. While it is a judo fatality, I see it as the result of competition rather than the inherent nature of judo.
Again, I am biased, but judo is a great sport to learn as a kid, it lets you develop balance and strength without over emphasizing any particular part of the body, it requires very little money and ideally gives you a certain amount of confidence. Yours, JT
I too am biased. I haven’t done it for years but I like judo. My
first introduction was in college and I recall that the teacher had
us loosening up and only practicing falls for the first classes.
(Note: Most universities in Japan do not have mandatory PE classes
but the University of Tsukuba does. Some students like this. Some
don’t.) Our small university has one campus for the visually
impaired. Judo is one of the main sports (the others are sound table
tennis, floor volleyball and blind soccer) and this year one of our
girls went to the Paralympics in London. Also, some of our students
join the U of Tsukuba clubs. It’s a great sport for the blind
because they can compete on an equal basis. But having said that,
after watching the Al-Jareeza program that was done in Osaka, and
listening to the interviewed parents and doctor, and seeing the boy
in the hospital bed, and reading the postings on this list, I have
some real concerns about the compulsory classes. Yours, MP
First, let me thank JT and MP for their input and insight into the world of judo. I’ve never played judo but my brother did in university and for a bit thereafter (he stopped when he moved to an Indian Reservation due to lack of partners). I agree, Robert, that it’s a very dangerous sport and the causes of death bear witness to this fact (thank you for directing me to the details).
In reviewing the list, there did seem to be about 25 or 30 which were incidental deaths not directly attributable to the sport itself but occurred in proximity to practice or competitions (heat stroke, dehydration, other medical issues, etc.). One pattern which was readily apparent was that the vast majority were due to the judoka’s head striking the mat and them suffering brain injuries / hematomas. I hope that this organization is able to push for the possibility of having the students wear headgear (similar to that worn in wrestling) to protect against such injuries. Doing so would add cost to the sports program (which I’m sure is already underfunded) so the likelihood may be low, but I do think it best to support this move as a group.
Anyway, thanks for raising this discussion and for everyone who added their two cents. I will definitely raise my concerns at the PTA meeting should I hear that my daughter’s school adopts compulsory judo in PE.