Archive for the ‘Kendo refereeing’ Category

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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I got a new blazer as a Christmas present, shortly after hearing of my selection as a referee for the 15WKC. I had lost a little weight since buying my last blazer, so decided on one with a smart tailored fit. I decided to break it in before the event and wore it to the Paris Taikai.

So feeling that I was looking as sharp as any kendo shinpan can look. I took my place in the sports hall some thirty minutes before the beginning of the event and thought that whilst the competitors were warming up, I should do a few stretches of my own. I started by throwing my arms out to loosen my shoulders and the top button of my two button blazer took off.

Fortunately I had some time before the first shiai, so I persuaded the nearby bogu seller to sew the offending button back in place; I then moved to my court for the first match. All went to plan for the first few contests, but later as I took my position as shushin, disaster struck. As one of the competitors exited the shiaijo, I raised both flags to call yame, as I did so; the top button again took flight and hit the timekeeper. Fortunately he was using a whistle rather than a bell; otherwise it may have been the first and only example of a shushin calling yame and ringing “time” simultaneously.

Working on the premise that the best way to continue was with the minimum of fuss, I fastened the remaining bottom button before awarding hansoku and restarted the match. Within a few seconds red scored a decisive men ari and I and my two colleagues raised our flags for ippon. As my flag went up I felt a draught against my shirtfront. The shushin in the next court then stopped his match, picked up my second button and returned it to me. Now of my two buttons, one was on the timekeepers desk and the other in my inside pocket. Fortunately red scored again and as this was the taisho match, the replacement referee team took over.

After a hurried group rei, I collected my remaining button and considered ways of getting through the day without looking a total slob. Luckily the emergency services were on hand. The Paris Ambulance Service very kindly went through their medical kit and found me two big safety pins which held my buttons in place for the rest of the day.

I have now reverted to plan “d”. On returning home I went to the sewing supplies shop and bough a reel of elastic thread. After making a total mess of sewing on the buttons, I enlisted my wife’s help and now have the springiest blazer buttons in kendo. I will of course take my blazer for another test drive, otherwise it is back to the old model for the 15WKC.

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Following the 15WKC referee’s seminar in Japan and the Paris Taikai and in preparation for the WKC, I am in the process of crystallising my thoughts on what is and what isn’t ippon.

As with any other element of high level kendo, be it scoring the point yourself or validating the successful strike made by another, there is a large amount of “mushin” involved. Whilst there are clear objective criteria for what makes a point, the action happens at a speed where an instantaneous, subjective reaction is required from the referees. The only question that there is time to answer is – Is it ippon?

Of course the elements required to make a point are documented in the rule book. To achieve ippon a player must have the intention to hit the point. He must strike the correct target area with full spirit and correct posture, the strike must have sae or snap and zanshin must be shown after the attack. From a referee’s perspective these points are law; however in the time it takes an athlete to reach the target, the referee has no time to go through the check-list. He must make an instant decision.

A referee’s evolution is similar to a child’s. He starts copying mum and dad and his flags dutifully go up with those of the other referees. He then moves into the rebellious teenage period, where his decisions are most likely the opposite of his two peers and finally on maturity, he aims to harmonise with his team mates, (but not at the expense of truth as he sees it).

With experience he learns to move so that he is better situated to see the competitor’s movements and the reactions of his colleagues, even to anticipate the player’s actions. Nevertheless when an attack is made, an instant decision is required, and it is what fills your eyes and ears at the time that dictates whether the flag is raised.

With that in mind, waza needs to be sharp, accurate and delivered with purpose. Zanshin should be full of spirit without celebration, otherwise you risk withdrawal of the point with torikeshi. Above all ippon should be delivered with 100 per cent commitment. If the player does not believe in his actions, it is unlikely that he can convince the referees to do so.

So, referees and shiaisha gambatte.

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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.

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I spent last weekend in Brussels for the European Referees Seminar. This event is always a good opportunity to catch-up with old kendo friends from across the European Zone and to practise refereeing in a more analytical way than is possible at “live” events.

This year the seminar was led by Matsunaga sensei supported by Nishide and Nakata sensei. Nishide sensei was responsible for our group and watched the initial matches with a critical eye, stopping the shiai regularly to point out errors. As the two day session progressed, the whistle was blown less often allowing everyone to gain as many practise opportunities as possible. I felt however that the real value came from the question and answer sessions. I personally came away with three completely new pieces of information on the interpretation of shiai rules. It seemed that they were not just news to me, but to most of my peers, so I thought it worth sharing them with other referees and competitors.

1.       Hasuji for tsuki – Most people know the rule about referees telling competitors once if their shinai is turned so that the tsuru is not correctly on top, then ignoring any potential points made with the shinai in that position. This does not apply to tsuki. The shinai can be turned to any from 1 degree to full circle, as long as the kisaki strikes the tsukidate correctly, it is ippon. There was also a misconception amongst some people that there needs to be backward movement from the person being struck with tsuki. This should not influence the decision.

2.       Competitors position on the white line – Every shiajo is marked in the centre with a cross and two white lines. It is an infringement for a player to start the shiai if his or her toes are over the front of the line, but not for a player to take sonkyo from a position behind the line, (unless it is a ridiculously long distance). The rationale is that a small individual may be at a disadvantage against a tall opponent who can reach him in one step from the starting position. He has the option to place himself in a distance that is not immediately vulnerable when hajime is called. It was also pointed out that an attack made from sonkyo is not valid. The competitors must stand and settle before an attack.

3.       Referee positioning – On several occasions during the weekend, the three referees failed to maintain the triangular position around the fighters, leaving all three on one side and one side of the action “blind”. We all know that this is incorrect and the judges need to move back to correct position quickly. This should be done by fukushin moving up to replace shushin and then shushin moving to the other side of the competitors. There is nothing new here, but the instruction that I received for the first time, was that if the positioning cannot be resolved quickly, then shushin should stop the match and return referees and fighters to the original positions before continuing.

So although it is never comfortable to be under sensei’s scrutiny, it was a valuable opportunity to train with people of a similar level and to get a great insight into how the rules are currently implemented in major taikai in Japan.

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