I have reached an age where I am starting to get “kicked upstairs” to the role of shinpancho. Having just fulfilled that position at last weekend’s Bowden and Premier Cup competitions, it was interesting to take a “bird’s eye view of the refereeing on several courts and to realise what a difficult and thankless job kendo referees have.
I have written about refereeing before, but to sum it up – As a referee, it is unlikely that you will receive praise or recognition, however good you are. Very few people come away from a taikai with the impression “wow! What a great shushin”. On the other hand, make the slightest error and you will be blamed for unfairly distorting the outcome of a shiai and potentially the kendo career records of individual players.
In my view, the referees at the weekend’s events did a good job. As ever, they were too few to have sufficient rest time, but in all everybody maintained their concentration and were pretty accurate in judging yuko-datotsu. The biggest difficulties were on issues of multitasking. For instance, when a competitor is close to the shiai-jo boundary line, referees are drawn to focus on his or her feet to see whether a foot crosses the line and earns a jogai hansoku. Unfortunately by concentrating on this one potential issue, there is a chance that eyes are looking down when ippon is scored and the point is missed.
There are numerous situations like this that can affect referees, particularly the shushin who has responsibility for listening for the time signal, watching the scoreboard and remembering the correct senkoku commands. It is all too easy to get caught up in procedural issues, constantly stopping a shiai because contestants are in tsubazeriai, or shinai are twisted, or equipment needs adjusting. In reality the key function of the shinpan is to facilitate the smooth running of the shiai, whilst accurately judging yuko datotsu.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, refereeing is an intrinsic part of our kendo development and should be regarded as any other aspect of our keiko. Not seeing the whole picture means we are looking too narrowly at one element of a match in the same way that we are unlikely to successfully strike men or kote if we look only at the target. Both shiaisha and referees should be using “enzan no metsuke”.
The problem of fixation on one element of a match can be described as shishin or stopped mind, which is the opposite condition to hoshin; the condition that lets your mind wander freely through the flow of the shiai whether you are a fighter or a referee.
Like keiko, refereeing can be frustrating and painful, but in the same way when you achieve a breakthrough it is very satisfying and lessons learned in keiko build your ability as a referee and vice versa.
If any points were missed over the weekend, I apologise but at the same time would remind competitors that they and the shinpan are all following the same path.