A call from the heart from our chief coach

Dear judokas, parents, administrators and coaches,

The Board of the Special Needs Judo Foundation asks your attention for the ringing of the storm bell by our trainer Tycho van der Werff. Tycho, together with the late Ben van der Eng and other people, has made our Judo sport part of the Special Olympics. Tycho is responsible for the divisioning and the formation of poules at regional games, national games and the European Games and World Summer Games, and is consulted for 22 years by the construction of poules and the divisioning at many Special Needs Judo tournaments.
The Board of the Special Needs Judo Foundation fully endorses this alarm call of her trainer.

Tycho writes the following:
“It is time that I bring some things to your attention. During the last few years, a “new” type of Special Needs judokas have emerged. This group transcends the Level 1 as defined by us: “Level 1 is a judoka that can certainly make shiai with a regular, recreative judoka.”
A regular recreative judoka is someone who, in general, does not participate in tournaments and takes part in judo training just for his or her own pleasure. However the “new” group of Special Needs judokas are capable of shiai against a competitive judoka and even win in mainstream international tournaments. Most of us know who these judokas are.

There are two propositions going around at this moment. Either:
1) When a judoka is able to compete in mainstream tournaments then by all means this judoka should do that. But at the same time that judoka must stop competing in Special Needs tournaments.
2) When a judoka has an official Special Needs status then the judoka has the right to compete in Special Needs tournaments.
Please note: Often the mistake is made that a Special Needs status also gives the judoka the right to compete in the Special Olympics.
This is not the case. At Special Olympics, an additional requirement is that the judoka must have a mental disability, with an IQ below 75.

Both propositions have some merit, where the first proposition is very much dependant on the integrity of judokas and coaches. In order to enforce this rule there should be controllers checking the admittance to (and exclusion of) a judoka to a tournament. Apart from the red tape involved these checks can never be flawless and therefore sensitive to foul play. It also steers the whole issue into a negative spiral and I do not think this should be an option.. even though I wonder why some judokas compete in Special Needs where they can just as well be successful in the mainstream judo.
Proposition 2 therefore has my favour because it creates options for SN judokas who thought the older version of SN Judo too easy but are unable to perform in too many tournaments due to their disability. For example, blind and deaf people, or amputees. The new generation of level-1 judokas therefore create new chances for people with a wider spectrum of disabilities but at the same time this requires us to keep a sharp eye on the safety of the “old” generation SN judokas.

We have discussed the above issues with various coaches and it is very clear that it is too early to introduce a new SN-level. Hence, the old levels will remain and the judokas of the new type will be included with Level 1. However, this means that the difference between the levels 1 and 2 becomes so great that safety is at risk. Las weekend I witnessed a Special Needs tournament whereby this difference bbecame painfully clear: A level 2 was lucky to walk away from the throw of a “super” level 1. Fortunately, the Level 2 was one of the group’s better performers but still he was thrown with his head on the mat and whiplashing his neck. This could have become a major injury and unfortunately this was not the first time I have seen such an incident happen, simply because one of the “super” Level 1’s was pitted against a Level 2.

Because of this unfortunate phenomena we must now stop combining Level 1 and Level 2 in 1 poule. Some years ago it was possible to combine levels 1 and 2, levels 2 and 3, etc.. of course with the restriction that level 3 could never compete against a level 1.

My plea here is: Because of the increased difference in levels between level 1 and therefore also between level and and level 2, we should stop combining levels 1 and 2 in one poule!

I appeal to all people involved in SN-judo to support me in this plea, otherwise I do predict very bad injuries or worse for the near future. Apart from that, we can stop the phenomenon that Level 2 judokas stay away from tournaments because they do not want to run the risk of running into a “super” Level 1.

There is a second thing I need to get off my chest and it is equally important.
Judo and especially Special Needs Judo is a sport of Honour and Sportsmanship. Unfortunately, this has been on the decline for some time now. But the last time I looked, the main tenet of our sport was: “Personal growth and benefit for all”.
This means that a judoka, with proper direction of his coach, always strives to better him/herself and treats other judokas with respect. This goes for the coach as well.
So- a judoka must never be put in a lower level in order to win easier. Winning a competition like that is cheap and very much against our principle of “benefit for all”. Winning a competition like that is also against the principle of “personal growth” and what benefit is offered to the other judokas in that poule who are hopelessly outgunned against a higher-level judoka? It is fearful, dangerous and there is no sporting chance to win the match.


It can be worse!
Unfortunately, we know some judokas are trained in hurting their opponent on purpose. For example by kicking the shins, or hitting the opponent in the head. To push the opponent at maté, or even stand on the opponent..

It can be even worse!
During the Beverwijk Tournament in 2015, one of the coaches was heard to shout “kick him harder, then he will give up”. This.. is utterly unacceptable. Not in mainstream judo, and certainly not in our Special Needs Judo.

Personal growth or benefits for all can never be attained by performing on a lower level, or hurting your opponent on purpose. Can you, as a coach or judoka, look at yourself in the mirror with satisfaction by encouraging these things or doing them yourself? Then I honestly ask myself if Judo is the sport for you if you approve of the horrible practices described above.

Judo and certainly Special Needs Judo is a sport of Honour and Sportsmanship. We should all recognise and value this. Let us, if we ran into coaches that engage in and approve of such foul behaviour, speak out and let us not tolerate this despicable behaviour.

Almost all Special Needs judokas, their coaches and the SNJF Board hope you support my plea and strive to make our beautiful sport of Judo one of honour and sportsmanship!

Tycho van der Werff, SNJF”

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