As shinpancho at the recent Mumeishi 3s, I was asked the question “where do we get the coaches flags”. My flippant sounding answer was “you buy your own”. Apologies if this sounded rude, but at a friendly, club level competition such as the Mumeishi’s you almost never see a kantoku-ki or coaches flag.
In international competition and major competitions in Japan, team coaches do indeed kneel by the side of their competitor or competitors during each shiai with the kantoku-ki in line with their knee. This flag is raised to signal igi or objection. To put this into perspective, a coach can’t object to a referee’s decision, he or she can only raise an objection to an error in procedure. Whether this is fair or not I hesitate to comment, but I would imagine that if coaches were able to debate points with the referees, the average 5 minute shiai would take over an hour.
An example of a legitimate igi would be when a second hansoku is recorded incorrectly; this could result in an ippon being unjustifiably awarded against the wrong player. If this happens to the benefit of your player, the most likely course of action is that you will keep quiet and leave it to the opposition coach to raise the igi. If it is your player who is about to suffer from the mistake, then you should raise your flag towards the court shunin and call igi. You then point out the error to the shunin who will call a meeting of the referees, and the court staff, if necessary.
If it is agreed that the igi is justified, the results of the shiai will be adjusted to reflect the true situation. If on the other hand the claim is refused, the kantoku is left looking somewhat delusional.
I reiterate that igi can’t be used to debate the validity of referee’s decision, so a coach cannot argue whether a hansoku awarded for a foul was correct or not, or whether a strike was a valid yuko datotsu, and as such should have received ippon. I have however seen the creative use of the kantoku-ki made to register disagreement with the referee’s decision.
In the taisho sen of a crucial team match in the 12th World Kendo Championship in Glasgow, after watching a deciding point being given which took his team out of the competition; the losing kantoku raised his knee from seiza and broke the flag across it. Not a course of action recommended in the rules of shiai, but his feelings were clearly understood.