Study Buddy (Challenger): Japan judo hits crisis point as bullied, burnt-out children quit

  • In March, the All Japan Judo Federation cancelled a prestigious national tournament for kids aged between 10 and 12, warning they were being pushed too hard
  • Study Buddy Challenger is for students who want to take their understanding to the next level with difficult vocabulary and questions that will test their inference skills
Doris Wai |

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Young judo trainees are taught the same dangerous moves as Olympic athletes, and intense training regimes can leave them injured or burnt out. Photo: AFP

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] Japan is the home of judo but a brutal win-at-all-costs mentality, corporal punishment and pressure to lose weight are driving large numbers of children to quit, raising fears for the sport’s future in its traditional powerhouse. Underlining the scale of the problem, the All Japan Judo Federation cancelled a prestigious nationwide tournament for children as young as 10, warning they were being pushed too hard.

[2] A pressure group dedicated to those injured or killed while practising the martial art says that 121 judo-related deaths were reported in Japanese schools between 1983 and 2016. Japan regularly dominates the Olympics judo medal table, but federation president Yasuhiro Yamashita told Agence France-Presse that the values of the sport are being lost as parents and coaches chase short-term glory.

[3] “Judo is a sport that emphasises humanity,” said Yamashita, who is also the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. “If you see no worth in anything but winning, and the result is all that matters, that gets distorted.”

[4] The All Japan Judo Federation took action in March by cancelling the national tournament for elite children aged between 10 and 12, and plans to replace it with events such as lectures and practice sessions.

[5] Yamashita said scrapping the competition had put a spotlight on “a problem that involves Japanese society”. “It’s been 21/2 months since we decided to cancel the competition, and people are still debating it,” he said, adding that most opinions “have been in favour”. However, the backlash was fierce with angry parents and coaches accusing the federation of dashing children’s dreams and jeopardising Japan’s status as the bastion of judo.

[6] Hisako Kurata, a representative of the Japan Judo Accident Victims Association, said most parents “don’t think about the danger and just want their child to win”. “Parents think that if their child wins a title, they’ll be happy – they think they’re doing it for their child,” said Kurata, whose 15-year-old son died in 2011 as a result of a head injury sustained at his school judo club. “The parents end up having the same win-at-all-costs mentality as the judo club, and they contribute to it.”

[7] Reports have emerged of primary school pupils being forced to lose weight – sometimes up to 6kg – so they can compete in a lighter division. Young children are taught the same dangerous moves as Olympic athletes, and intense training regimes can leave them injured or burnt out.

[8] Parents and coaches have also been known to berate referees during matches, and corporal punishment still exists, despite reforms in a sport that has been plagued by abuse and bullying scandals over the years.

[9] Noriko Mizoguchi, a Japanese judoka who won silver at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said judo was “not fun” for Japanese children and that the “macho culture” surrounding the sport has had its day. “You have to treat each kid with care and have a long-term vision for the future, otherwise Japanese judo has reached its limit,” she said.
Source: Agence France-Presse, June 20


1. Why might the future of judo be in jeopardy according to paragraph 1?

2. The “pressure group” in paragraph 2 most likely advocates for ...
A. safety in judo training in Japan.
B. mental health of young athletes in martial arts.
C. racial and gender equality.
D. the glory of judo as a competitive sport.

3. According to paragraph 3, what will replace the cancelled national judo tournament for elite children?

4. The phrase “most opinions have been in favour” in paragraph 5 suggests that the majority of the public has a ________ attitude towards cancelling the competition.
A. a disdainful
B. an unsympathetic
C. a supportive
D. an ambivalent

5. Find a word in paragraph 5 that refers to “a strong negative reaction by a large number of people”.

6. According to paragraph 6, parents have the misconception that ...
A. young judo athletes are less likely to sustain fatal injuries.
B. their children feel the same as they do about winning competitions.
C. judo clubs are not concerned about winning titles.
D. none of the above

7. How has Hisako Kurata been personally affected by the punishing routine young judo trainees are put through?

8. According to Noriko Mizoguchi, what needs to change if judo is to continue having a presence in Japanese children’s lives?

9. Decide if the following statements are True, False or Not Given in the text. Blacken ONE circle only for each statement. (4 marks)
(i) Japan has constantly been in the top ranks for judo at the Olympics.
(ii) Noriko Mizoguchi believes that parents should put more emphasis on their children’s academic progress rather than fixating on them clinching titles in competitions.
(iii) Some judo instructors have force-fed children so that they put on sufficient weight to qualify for competitions.
(iv) Young judo athletes in Japan are susceptible to physical punishments.

Noriko Mizoguchi believes Japanese judo only has a future if it treats each child with care. Photo: AFP


1. A large number of children are quitting judo because of the sport’s brutal win-at-all-costs mentality, corporal punishment and pressure to lose weight.
2. A
3. lectures and practice sessions
4. C
5. backlash
6. B
7. His 15-year-old son died in 2011 as a result of a head injury sustained at his school judo club.
8. The “macho culture” surrounding the sport needs to end. / Each kid needs to be treated with care. (any 1)
9. (i) T; (ii) NG; (iii) F; (iv) T

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