From a tournament Judges/Referees Perspective

Discussion in 'The Competitive Edge' started by Montana, Mar 27, 2016.

  1. Montana

    Montana White Belt

    Dec 10, 2015
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    This is an old thread I did a few years back and thought it would be useful to repost.

    This section often has tournament competitors asking what judges look for, or suggestions for improving their "performances" before a panel of tournament judges and referee's, so I thought it might be a good topic for discussion.

    I've been a tournament judge and referee since 1978 for open, all style tournaments. I don't attend XMA-style tournaments, so my comments are for the traditional tournaments.

    The tournaments I attend are light contact for lower belt adults and young children, and medium contact for middle to advanced belt adults. Legal target areas include the front and side torso and kidneys (the spine is a no-no), front and sides of the head and the groin. Sweeps are allowed, but not directly on the ankle/knee joints. Take downs are also allowed but must be controlled and no "slamming" your opponent to the floor. The reason for this is that we don't use mats at our tournaments. The floor is usually a wooden basketball court or tile over cement (such as a closed grocery store might have).

    When I first started, the only gear required was a mouth piece, groin cup and hand pads, but it has progressed to require foot pads and head protection now. Personally, I'm not a fan of protective gear of any sort because you won't be wearing it in a street confrontation, but that's just me.

    Depending on the tournament, competitors are lined up by age groups and belt/experience levels. Typically the sparring divisions are like this:

    Beginning (under 1 year experience) Youth 6-8 years old
    Beginning Youth 9-12 years old
    Beginning Youth 13-15 years old
    Children 16 and above go into the Adult Division.

    Intermediate Youth (over 1 year of experience but under brown belt) 6-8 years old.
    Intermediate Youth 9-12 years old
    Intermediate Youth 13-15 years old
    Children 16 and above go into the Adult Division.

    Advanced Brown/Black Belt Youth 6-12 years old
    Advanced Brown/Black Belt Youth 13-15 years old
    Children 16 and above go into the Adult Division

    The Adult Divisions are typically:

    Beginning Adults (under 1 year of experience)
    Intermediate Adults (over 1 year but under brown/black)
    Intermediate Adults (Brown belts)
    Advanced Adults (Brown and Black Belts)

    Sometimes we will have a division for Advanced women, but typically the women I know that are that level choose to compete in the regular Advanced Adults Division also. Personally, I admire those women and give kudos to them for stepping up and recognizing that they are holding an advanced level belt rank and aren't afraid to get in there with the "guys". Referee's for the beginning and intermediate levels can be brown or black belts, but the center ref has to be a Dan level belt.

    Depending on the tournament, sparring can be who gets the most points in 2 minutes with a maximum of 5 points, and the action stops when a point is called by any of the 3-5 (5 required for advanced sparring) judges. The clock only stops in case of an injury, so points are awarded fast and the action starts again immediately. The other way that sparring can run in our tournaments is 2 minutes of continuous fighting where the clock only stops if there's an injury or the action is gridlocked (basically, no action is going on. At the end of 2 minutes the 3-5 referee's all hold up their flags as to who they think won the match.

    Very often referee's are bad mouthed because we didn't see your point/technique that you scored against your opponent.
    You need to keep in mind that we are only human and can't see everything...or we see something that YOU don't see. Sometimes that great punch that you are sure scored, we see as being to far away from the opponent, or not strong enough in our opinion to be a legitimate scoring point, it was blocked, or you were so off balance that the technique wouldn't have landed with any power to actually do any good. That, and we have to have a majority (2 out of 3, or 3 out of 5) of the judges must see and agree that there was a point.

    Angles of view are everything in a tournament. If we can't see it, we won't call it. ALWAYS kai when you do a point! But if you kai EVERYTIME you do anything, we will get used to hearing it and tend to ignore it. Kai ONLY when you have made what you think is a good point. It's not the length of the kai (ie: a 5 second kai is way overboard) that is important, it's the strength of the kai.

    Now for empty handed kata judging.

    Because this is an open, all styles tournament, judges can't base their scores on the accuracy of the kata that is being performed for them. Although I've seen kata from Okinawan, Korean, Japanese, American and all other styles of martial arts over the years, I don't know them well enough to say whether they are doing them correctly or not, so we have to base our opinions on certain criteria. Such as:


    I'm typically the center, or controlling judge, for kata, so I always have a short meeting prior to the start of the event with my fellow judges. For beginning levels the judges must have at least a brown belt, with the center ref being a ranking black belt judge. For intermediate levels all judges are black belt level, with the center judge being sometimes the highest rank (but not always), or most experienced judge. We have a few "masters" that show up for tournaments, but they are sometimes VERY biased towards their own students, or they are just not very good judges, and thus are not allowed to be center judge.

    I also hold a short meeting before the contest with all of the competitors and give them a pep talk and wish them well.

    When the competition begins, the competitor approaches the judges (usually at a run), stops before them and gives their "salute" or bow, is expected to announce their name, system practiced, name of their kata and then ask permission to begin. I the motion them to begin their kata.

    We will typically watch 3 competitors, chosen at random representing different systems, by the score keeper sitting behind us before we give any scores. We use the 10 point system (10 being the highest) and can either score by the half point (ie: 8.5), or by the fraction (ie: 8.3, 9.1, etc) depending on the rules of the tournament.

    After we have scored the first three competitors this way, then each remaining competitor is scored at the end of their kata.

    Weapons kata can be a real challenge.

    Judges are picked because of their knowledge of kobudo/weapons. Again, I am typically asked to be the center judge for this competition. I hold a short meeting with my fellow judges prior to the beginning of the event and state some basic rules.

    First of all is the weapon of choice. Is it a real weapon, or something else? For example, I had a black belt woman enter the competition with a broomstick painted black. Man, could she whip that thing around FAST! However, because of the type of material and the weight of the weapon, she scored very low with the judges. The reason was because if she had actually hit somebody with it, as a kata represents her doing, the weapon would have snapped and caused little to no damage to them. Keep in mind, this is NOT an XMA tournament, but rather a traditional tournament.

    We also look for good technique. I wouldn't want to even try to guess at the number of competitors over the year that didn't have a clue how to use nunchauku, sai, tonfa, etc other than to whip them around or poke at the air.

    The best example I can give would be a 3rd dan black belt that laid out nunchauku, sai, bo, katana, and a few other weapons in a half circle in front of us and announced he wasn't going to do a kata, but rather demonstrate to us his expertise with each of the weapons.

    Sadly, and I was very embarassed for him, he was nothing short of terrible! His technique was very weak with all of the weapons, but hey, he had good KAI's! Out of a possible 10 he scored a 7, which is the lowest score we will give a black belt.

    My best advice, if you're going to enter a weapons division, is to use a REAL weapon, and really learn how to use it. The nunchauku, for example, isn't ONLY used as a swinging weapon. There are a multitude of blocks and parrys that can, and should be demonstrated. Under no circumstances is the nunchauku passed between the legs, around the back of the neck, twirled between your fingers like a baton, or held close to the rope/chain. Not in a traditional tournament anyway.

    On the bo, it is a two handed weapon. Swinging it over your head by one hand is NOT good technique or control. Nor is your ability to twirl it with one hand using your fingers. There are a few one handed techniques used with the bo, but essentially it is a two handed weapon.

    With the sai, kama and tonfa, learn the proper way to hold the weapon when doing a block. So many times I have seen a competitor do a high block and the "blade" of the weapon that is supposed to be blocking isn't where it should be and if the situation was real, the competitor would have their arm cut off or broken from the strike.

    I hope this helps you understand a judges perspective to tournaments.
    If you don't want to stand behind our troops, please..feel free to stand in front of them.

    Student since January 1975---4th Dan, retired due to non-martial arts related injuries.
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  2. Tez3

    Tez3 Sr. Grandmaster

    • Supporting Member
    Oct 13, 2006
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    That's a big disappointment to me as some of the biggest laughs I've had happened when people swung it between their legs and it really wasn't a good idea! :D

    I've never been to tournaments such as you describe so I found your post very interesting, thank you for taking the time to post.:)
  3. twendkata71

    twendkata71 Black Belt

    Feb 28, 2006
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    I have competed and judged in this type of tournament, open and traditional tournaments(aau, usakf, usankf) over the last 35 years I have been in the martial arts. now its all about the protective gear. Even in the
    WKF they are wearing hand and foot as well as chest protectors now. What happened to good controlled technique. I realize the WKF is gearing thing to get karate into the Olympics.
  4. Juany118

    Juany118 Senior Master

    May 22, 2016
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    I think it also has to do with new "competition" to get people in the door, instead of say your local Gracie franchise that has Muay Thai or your local MMA place etc. A lot of people are looking at martial arts for the "combative" aspect and if you are new you have certain preconceptions and those pads, due to popular sports feed those preconceptions. The Federations have to account for what keeps the individual schools competitive in the business market.
  5. Buka

    Buka Sr. Grandmaster

    • MartialTalk Mentor
    Jun 27, 2011
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    Love competitions. such a great way to learn, to explore, to meet folks, to push yourself. Competed a lot, in everything. Judged and refereed, too. So much fun.



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