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.