I like blogging on WordPress. They have a useful stats page that not only tells me who is looking at my blog but how they found it.
Last Monday I happened to glance at the list of search terms used to find me and the one that stood out was “what’s the point of being a kendo referee?” Fresh back from two days on a busy shiai-jo in Paris, this struck me as being a very good question. It is not always advisable to read search strings literally, but I perhaps uncharitably took the meaning to be “refereeing, what’s in it for me?” which is indeed worth exploring.
I have been a referee for quite a few years now, originally at domestic level then subsequently at European and World Championship level. My original motivation was simply that “if I don’t do it and everyone else feels the same, we can’t have a taikai.” As time has gone on however, I see it as very much an integral part of my kendo training and try as hard to improve my refereeing skills as I do my ability in keiko.
Looking at the question from another angle, we know that the requirement for a kendo referee is that he or she needs to regularly practice kendo and be at a technical level at least equivalent to the players. If you can’t do a technique yourself, then how can you judge it when it is done by others? Given that a referee meets these criteria, refereeing can teach you a lot.
- It teaches you to anticipate movement, as you need to think ahead of the players and be able to position yourself in the right part of the court before they move there.
- It teaches you about enzan no metsuke, as you need to be aware of the players, your fellow referees and the court boundaries at all times.
- It teaches you about distance, timing and opportunity as these are the key elements of successful yuko-datotsu.
- It teaches you about ki-haku, kiai and zanshin – without which a point is not valid.
- Finally it teaches you to keep a still mind. You need to be able to react instantly to a strike, foul or signal from another referee or the timekeeper, but only after you have evaluated all the information. To do this without premeditation or bias, your mind has to be clear, like the proverbial kendo mirror.
I find that after refereeing at a tournament I try techniques that impressed me at the time and try to correct faults I saw that prevented the competitors from making successful attacks.
My advice to anyone above third dan is to attend your next local referee seminar. If nothing else you should have a good laugh at some of your mistakes and those of your colleagues. Who knows? you may decide that you get as much as you give by becoming a referee.
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I have just returned from the keiko after the Mumeishi 3’s. This was a full-on 2 and a half hour session with some two hundred people in attendance. I was reminded that in my last post I underestimated the motodachi count by one seventh dan, but even with 8 of us plus one 8th dan and numerous 6th dans it was still hard work.
The previous day’s taikai went without a hitch and Mumeishi’s “A” team won. This was a great way for the club to celebrate the event’s 40th anniversary. My job was that of shinpan-shunin, running “A” Court under the direction of our shinpan-cho, Sumi sensei. The overall standard of shiai was excellent and the referees did a good job in keeping everything moving. My only complaints were in the few cases where overzealous referees stopped shiai too frequently for minor points. Sumi sensei did however let me know that we should have dealt more strictly with one case of tsubazeriai infringement. Of course when a hanshi tells you something like this, you answer “yes” and make sure that it does not happen again.
Sumi sensei however is a very approachable hanshi and later at the after competition party we talked frankly about how strictly the tsubazeriai rules are enforced. I mentioned that I had attended the two World Championship referee seminars this year and the instructors had made it clear what was and what was not acceptable for tsubazeriai and what counted as a clean break on wakare. In effect tsubazeri is only legal if the shinai are crossed at the tsuba on the omote side. The shinai should not touch your opponent and neither of you should touch your own or your partners jinbu. On wakare both parties should break cleanly so that the shinai are clear of each other.
Nevertheless at the World Championships numerous examples of the players either covering the shinai from the ura side, or attacking before making a clean break on command were allowed by highly experience referees.
Sumi sensei made the point that at this year’s Asia zone referee seminar the most asked question was “why should we penalise this behaviour when it is becoming normal practise at the All Japan Championship.” I imagine quite a difficult point to answer.
There is obviously a divergence between the theory of good kendo and the practicalities of not getting beaten which needs to be resolved at the highest levels. In the meantime we can start by encouraging good kendo by enforcing the rules in our local competitions.
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