It must not end as an unfortunate injury; punishment during sport training

The Asahi Shimbun Digital
November 14, 2020
Toru Nakakoji / Senior Staff Writer


Keiko Kobayashi (71), former Secretary of the Japan Judo Accident Victims Association, was full of emotion when she heard the news. “I believe this is the first time that a person wearing a judo uniform using judo technique in a school training hall was charged with inflicting bodily injury. The door has finally opened.”
The Kobe District Prosecutors Office Itami Branch, on November 2, charged a teacher and supervisor of the judo club at a junior high school in Takarazuka, a west Japan city, with inflicting bodily injury. He broke a first-year student’s spine by using judo techniques, including a foot sweep, and injured another first-year student by pulling him to the ground during judo practice in September. The coach punished the two students for eating popsicles without permission.

“My son was seriously injured by a teacher in a similar case 16 years ago, but the teacher was not punished,” said Ms. Kobayashi.
In 2004, Ms. Kobayashi’s son, a judo club member at a junior high school in Yokohama, lost consciousness during judo training. When he declined admission to a high school on a sports referral, the judo teacher, who was once a national judo champion, lost face.* He called her son to have free practice with him. For 7 minutes he used different judo techniques such as body drops, foot sweeps, inner thigh reaping throws, large outer reaps, small inner reaps, shoulder throws, one-armed shoulder throws, circular throws, small outer reaps and strangling techniques. The training ended when her son lost consciousness (7 minutes later). He was diagnosed with acute subdural hematoma and brain contusion, and still suffers severe complications now.

The teacher was not subject to criminal punishment. Kanagawa Prefectural Police referred the case to the Yokohama District Prosecutors Office on suspicion of inflicting bodily injury. However, he was released because, according to the prosecutors’ decision, the teacher’s action did not go beyond reasonable use of force applied during judo practice. Based on the Kobayashi family’s request, the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution decided that non-prosecution was inappropriate, but, in 2009, the case was once again not prosecuted.

Ms. Kobayashi did research on judo injury cases that had been prosecuted. She found that a high school student and member of the school judo club in Akita prefecture died after grappling with the club head teacher during practice in 2003. His parents filed a law suit against the teacher on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death, but the case was dropped. “Every injury has been treated as an ‘unfortunate incidence’. Similar cases will continue to occur.” She and her husband established the Japan Judo Accident Victims Association (JJAVA) in 2010.
It was identified that more than 100 students died in relation to judo injuries at junior high and high schools in Japan since 1983. JJAVA communicated to the public what happens to your head when it is exposed to impacts during judo training, and how easily young judokas could sustain serious injuries. It also emphasized that schools trying to conceal the cause and responsibility of injuries, and the judo community’s bias in favor of judo instructors were obstructing future injury prevention.

Prosecution of the junior high school teacher in Takarazuka broke the precedent. Use of violent action to punish students, which had been protected by the instructor’s claim that he was teaching competitive judo, may, from now on, be criminally punished. We hope it will contribute to the prevention of similar cases.


* Sports referrals are usually arranged between high school clubs and junior high school coaches. Students are expected to accept any enrollment decided by the coach.


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