In one corner are the judo purists, desperate to keep their sport loyal to its traditional Japanese origins.
In the other are the modernisers who know that, if judo doesn’t appeal to a wider fan base, it will gradually die out.
Trying to reconcile the two is Romanian-born businessman Marius Vizer who took over the International Judo Federation (IJF) in 2007, and has been trying to drag his sport into the 21st century ever since.
Before his arrival, the popularity of judo in its biggest market – Japan – had been waning. In France, its secondary market, it wasn’t a widely viewed or appreciated activity.
So Vizer fearlessly decided to push through an ambitious publicity plan. As well as simplifying the scoring system, he banned moves such as leg-grabs, dropping and sacrificial techniques popular in wrestling – a style dominated by Russians, Iranians and Caucasian countries. Since this ban, pure, classical judo has been allowed to flourish once again, and the Japanese, who invented the sport, are enjoying new-found success.
It has made for more spectacular and attacking judo, something that has pleased television executives. According to Nicolas Messner, at the IJF, more fights now end in a move called ippon, the equivalent of a boxing knockout. “The Japanese have benefitted as they can do their style of judo again,” he says. “Techniques that had disappeared have reappeared.”
Both the modernisers and the traditionalists seem to be content. Vizer may just have managed to find a happy medium.