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Archive for the ‘Kendo refereeing’ Category

FIK-Euro-Zone-referee-seminarFY2010-2I have been asked to deliver a referee’s seminar in the in UK in late spring. The purpose is to prepare people to take on this onerous task before those currently doing it become too old or too frail or too dead to continue.

I have very seldom heard of becoming a top referee as being high on the average kenshi’s bucket list. It comes a long way down from passing 8th dan, winning the All Japan/ World/European Championships, but like paying taxes we know we have to do it at some stage. Frankly refereeing is not cool. The last thing you are likely to hear from an exited group of high school kendo students leaving a shiai venue is “what did you think of the 3rd fight?” “Yeah, I thought the second fukushin was brilliant.”

Unfortunately like death and taxes there is a certain inevitability to becoming a referee, so we may as well try to do it as well as we can. The purpose of refereeing is to decide on valid yuko datotsu – strikes made on target, at the correct distance, with the correct blade angle and sharpness, in high spirits and followed by zanshin. You do this with your eyes and ears and you have to move in a way where you can constantly see both opponents and the signals of our colleague referees.

You also have to remember the senkoku commands, the flag signals and be responsible for the safety of the competitors without hindering the flow of the shiai. All of these elements are easily learned, but try them all together and chances are that even the most controlled, rational individual will look like a demented windmill undergoing a bout of Tourette’s.

Referees’ seminars can range from highly analytical whiteboard sessions where the finer points of yuko datotsu are discussed in detail to mass flag waving sessions reminiscent of a 1920’s youth rally. My ideal session falls somewhere between the two, with an emphasis on learning by doing, with the help of some constructive criticism from an instructor.

Usually space constraints do not allow more than one or two groups of referees to practise at the same time. For a reasonably well attended session, there are bound to be more onlookers than participants, making the 3 unlucky people in the shiai-jo particularly nervous.

What should be clear is that everyone is there to learn and we all learn by making mistakes. Once you have made your errors you can then go back to the side-lines and watch others make theirs. As long as you can laugh with, rather than at each other it becomes a rewarding experience.

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Article 12

 

RulesI got home last night from the weekend’s European Referees’ Seminar in Brussels and we were discussing what we had learned from the ZNKR instructors during the car journey home. My kendo colleague John O’Sullivan suggested that I use my blog to reiterate the summary that the seminar’s leader, Iwadate Saburo sensei made on what is and what is not yuko datotsu, or ippon.

I made the point that I have written similar posts on numerous occasions and John’s reply was that the information needs to be constantly repeated because there is still a great deal of uncertainty from referees and competitors alike as to what constitutes a successful strike.

During his summary sensei referred several times to article 12 of the ZNKR’s “Regulations of Kendo Shiai”, the section that defines yuko datotsu. I won’t repeat or paraphrase this here as every kenshi should read it themselves, instead let me try to summarise Iwadate sensei’s instruction while it is still fresh in my mind.

Dou – Hasuji should be correct. It is not ippon if the point of the shinai slips down after hitting. You must have both hands on the tsuka of the shinai at the time of striking and of course the monouchi of the shinai must hit the correct target on the side, not the front of the dou.

Men – You must hit the men buton, the top of the men, with the mono-uchi. There is a tendency, particularly with hiki-men to make too shallow a cut, striking the mengane. It is also important that the zanshin for men has the shinai at the level where the strike finished. It should not be raised in the air in celebration.

Kote – You can’t score kote if you move across in front of your opponent to hit it. If you do this your posture crumbles and the point is not valid. Instead you should attack kote in a straight line and you should finish with the toes of your right foot in line with the toes of your opponent’s right foot. (Sensei made a general point at this stage about the importance of good posture to yuko datotsu.)

Nothing was said about tsuki.

In his closing remarks Iwadate sensei stressed that the only way to develop refereeing skills is to practise, not just as a referee, but to do lots of keiko. If you can’t do it yourself then it is impossible to judge the actions of others.

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FIK-Euro-Zone-referee-seminarFY2010-2When it comes to shiai time, most of us would prefer to fight than to referee, and why not?  Kendo is all about improving your technique and trying it against others. What better opportunity to test yourself than in shiai, where we get as close as it is possible to be to kendo’s life or death roots.  At the same time everyone is conscious of the fact that without referees there is no competition.

In countries with large kendo populations there are lots of competitions which are limited to specific age groups and classes. So it is possible to continue as a shia-sha at your own level whilst refereeing younger or lower graded groups. In Japan there are taikai for 7th and 8th dan competitors who will regularly be called upon to referee at other competitions. This is important because one of the conditions of being a referee is that you should also actively train and compete yourself.

Unfortunately for smaller kendo nations, most kendo competitions are open, so that people have to choose between being a competitor or a referee, and the easy option is the first one. Let’s face it as well as being less fun than fighting, refereeing is difficult. The objective is simply to judge what is and what is not ippon, but the challenges of remembering all the commands, using flags to signal correctly and thinking about maintaining the correct position on court make the simple act of judgement very difficult.

Unfortunately all of this stuff is important. If you give the wrong command or indicate incorrectly with the flags the fighters become confused and lose confidence. If you are unable to maintain a correct triangle between the three referees as the fighters change direction, then it is possible that you will miss points.

Like every aspect of kendo, the only way to overcome these challenges is to practise. Once the commands and flag signals become instinctive they no longer cause you to break your concentration while you think about how to move the flag or what you should say. Once you learn to read the fighters movement you will be in the correct position to see and judge each attack. To help us get to this position, it is important that kendo federations run regular referee seminars. These give us the opportunity to learn from more experienced referees, and more importantly to practice to a level where we have the confidence to try in the shiai-jo. Even if it is just taking a turn after you have been knocked out of the competition

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Igi

kantokukiAs 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.

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IMG_0143I wrote this half way through the 16 WKC referees seminar, where 36 of us from 16 countries were being gently reconstructed in the interest of refereeing perfection.

This year the action takes place in Narita High School which has some of the best kendo facilities I have seen. The shiaisha  for the practice matches came from the 5 top kendo universities in the Kanto area – and they are fast. Trying to keep up with the speed of the succession of renzoku waza they produce feels like refereeing in fast forward.

The instructors in charge of the seminar were Sato Nariaki sensei and Kakehashi sensei and the referee’s theme for the event is 16CWKC. The C stands for clean, stressing, clean, sharp technique and correct shiai behaviour. A considerable amount of time was spent on examining the various elements of successful and unsuccessful yuko datotsu. This was particularly illuminating for gyaku dou. I was also shown the answer to a question that has been a mystery to me for years. When can a into player score ippon with the kodachi?

One very interesting fact came out of the opening address. 56 of the 57 IKF member countries are coming to the event in May.This is going to be the biggest kendo ever! With 3 days of men’s and women’s individual and team events on four courts the referees are going to need their vitamin drinks.

Excuse the brevity and typos, but fat kendo fingers and mobile devices are not natural partners. I will do my best to outline some of the key points in my next post.

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Competitors in the children's group.

Competitors in the children’s group.

I spent my Saturday as Shinpan-cho of the Mumeishi 3s Championship. It’s now the  5th time I have taken on this role in various competitions and whilst it is good to have a privileged view of all the courts, it feels a bit lonely sitting out there on your own.

As you know, shinpan-cho are responsible for making the standard of refereeing at any taikai is as good as it can be. They need to ensure that the allocation of referees to each shiai jo gives an even balance of refereeing skill, so that fighters have an equal chance wherever their match occurs. The shinpan-cho also sets the pace and nature of the competition by the instructions that he or she gives to the referees in a meeting before the opening ceremony.  For instance, guidance to strictly enforce tsubazeriai rules and to penalise unfair pushing in the early matches results in cleaner faster kendo for the duration of the competition.

Shinpan-cho also act as ombudsman and have the final jurisdiction over “Igi” objections from managers or players if the shinpan-shunin for the court in which the dispute happened, is not able to resolve it. Just to make it clear, Igi can apply to procedure, but not to the judgment of points. Even if the man in the middle disagrees with the referees on what is and what is not ippon, their decision stands.

The one element of the shinpan-cho’s job that I don’t quite understand, is that he is responsible for keeping the league table up-to-date as the matches progress. This means that while he is looking at the performance of referees on a number of courts at the same time, he is also has to record the results of all matches. Personally, I am not sure if this is really essential, because detailed information is kept by the officials on each court and is then transferred to a central sign board.

On Saturday, because of court layout signboards for the three courts were on my side of the hall. I had to rely on messengers to bring me the results. Obviously they had other things to do without me demanding their time. And I found it quite difficult to watch all courts at the same time and to fill in the league table. Of course keeping an eye on three shiai-jo was comparatively easy, when you consider that some competitions have up to eight courts running simultaneously.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a great believer that the traditional elements of kendo are there for a good reason and I am sure that there must be one in this case. I would welcome suggestions or guidance as to why this duty goes with the role. It may well be that it is an essential part of the job and it is just my well known inability to multi-task that makes it seem incongruous.

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Eurokendo RefereeI 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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FIK-Euro-Zone-referee-seminarFY2010-2I returned last night from Brussels where I attended the annual European Zone Referees’ Seminar. These events take place in the three FIK zones, Europe, Americas and Asia and serve the purpose of both updating referee skills and as a selection forum for referees for upcoming regional championships and in some years World Championships.

For those of you who have not attended one of these functions, the format tends to be fairly consistent every year and in all three zones. The ZNKR send a delegation of three 8th dans as instructors to share their knowledge and each member country sends a group of referee candidates to benefit from their instruction. The referees work together in two groups; red numbers – who are candidates for the next regional championships and black numbers – people who are either newer referees or who are not available for selection but who want to keep their skills up to scratch. Each country also sends groups of fighters to take part in the shiai.

The event takes place over a weekend and includes keiko sessions on Friday and Saturday nights and at the end of Sunday morning. The grand finale is a grading examination up to 7th dan, which in Europe is one of the few opportunities to try for this grade. The weekend is a great chance to meet up with old kendo friends and to make new ones.

The actual seminar takes the form of referees working together in groups of three and the 8th dan instructors stop the shiai to point out mistakes and invite discussion from the rest of the group. Candidates are numbered according to age and seniority and each session starts with the lowest numbers first on court. For some reason, probably due to the retirement of some of my senior colleagues, I was number two red. I therefore had the pleasure of being in the first group to referee; the one that invariably gets stopped most often to set the tone for the weekend. In some years there seems to be an emphasis on a particular aspect of the shiai rules. This year it was not so. The sessions served more to emphasise correct positioning of each group and the criteria for judging valid yuko datotsu.

The groups of fighters did a great job, treating each shiai as if it were the final of the World Championship. This year I was particularly pleased to see that the British national coach, Malcolm Goodwin, had arrived with a team of our younger competitors who fought well and gained a number of compliments on their attitude and team spirit from the EKF organisers.

My last job before leaving was to sit on the grading panel for the first to fifth dan group. This was of course an honour and a pleasure to do, but sadly it meant that I was not able to watch the 6th and 7th dan grading which took place simultaneously in the next court. Two candidates out of 14 passed 7th dan including Mr Kurogi from Belgium. Our team manager Malcolm Goodwin was one of the few to pass 6th dan and in my court two British guys Alan Thompson and Keith Holmes passed 5th dan. Congratulations to all the successful candidates, name checked or otherwise. I am now going to unload a case of duty-free wine and two sets of wet kendo equipment from the car.

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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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A Court referees

The 15WKC is over. Kendo people from around the world are arriving home and sharing their impressions of the event with friends in their home countries. Athletes, coaches and supporters are still buzzing with euphoria or nursing their disappointment and starting to think about doing as well or better in Tokyo in 2015.

After my first WKC as a referee, I came away with mixed feelings of exhaustion, relief that I have so far not been featured on the referee mistakes videos on Youtube and surprise that I got home with all my possessions and none of my room- mates after packing for the early morning airport bus, just hours after the sayonara party.

For the referees it was a long week. We started with a referee seminar on Wednesday to reinforce the work we did in Japan in February and then spent three long days in the arena. On Saturday we arrived at 8.00 in the morning and got back to our nearby hotel at 9.00 at night. The activity was constant; I may be a potential candidate for the World Speed Eating prize, having demolished a four course Italian lunch in a 5 minute break.

The referee team inhabited a parallel universe for the course of the championship. We were either in the shiai-jo or segregated in our own hotel and other than briefly socialising with each other over dinner and breakfast, did nothing apart from referee and sleep. Even amongst ourselves, there was no discussion on the accuracy of decisions made on court. At the two seminars prior to the competition, yuko datotsu were dissected in detail, but at the event, real time decisions are made in seconds, are incontestable; and further debate is irrelevant.

I worked on Court A with a group of Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, American and European colleagues. When we were sitting in the queue; we stole the occasional glance at the performances of our own countries’ teams but by and large, remained emotionally detached. When on court, everyone made their own series of split-second decisions with sincerity and without bias. My overall impression is that everyone gave their all and that the calls made in the centre of the arena under the scrutiny of the audience and the world’s media, were made to the best of our ability.

It is easy to make judgments when you are nursing a cold drink in the back row of the stands, but slightly tougher when you are in the spotlight. There have been debates about electronic bogu and video evidence to decide ippon. When you take into account the elements of distance, posture, intention, sae, hasuji, attacking spirit and zanshin that are integral to yuko datotsu, there seems to be little alternative to the current system, human error included.

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