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Posts Tagged ‘Kendo refereeing’

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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Referees 16WKCAs promised, I am using this opportunity to provide some more detail on information I alluded to in my last post. Steven Roosevelt did a great job in answering the question on scoring with shoto in nito by directing us to Stroud sensei’s description on the Idaho Kendo Club site:

  • “The minimum requirement for making yuko datotsu using Shoto is to have the Daito physically control (pressing) the opponent’s tachi at the time of the strike. However, it is generally rare that striking by Shoto will result in a yuko datotsu.”

We were fortunate enough to have a demonstration from a nito 7th dan who showed us that the opponent’s shinai needs to be totally suppressed by the daito and that the nito player’s body should be completely square on to his opponent as he makes the strike. He also made the point that he had never received or seen ippon given for a strike made with the kodachi.

With gyaku dou it was emphasised that as well as striking the correct part of the dou (the left side), with the correct part  of the shinai (datotsu bu) and with the correct hasuji i.e. striking the target with the bottom take, it was imperative that the attacker step back in a straight line after hitting. The logic being that if he steps to his right or crosses abruptly to his left in front of the opponent this does not constitute a natural path for a pulling cut or hikigiri.

This was in the broader context that all yuko datotsu should be considered with reference to “The Principles of the Sword”.  So the instruction was to consider posture and zanshin carefully along with bu, bui and strength of strike.

Another point of discussion was that bad behaviour in and around the shiai-jo should be dealt with promptly. Hansoku should be applied as per the rule book and in cases of severity, for instance where a combatant refuses to return to the kaishi sen, taijo (disqualification) should be used.

Reference was also made to supporters’ behaviour and that encouragement should be limited to (non-rhythmic) clapping.

The fact that 56 of FIK’s 57 countries are attending, (I did not ask who the no-shows were!) was mentioned several times. This obviously means that the schedule for the whole 3 days is going to be very full. Please competitors and coaches get to the right shiai-jo at the right time, or we will all be in the Budokan until midnight.

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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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ShigakukanI have just returned from the Sunday Mumeishi keiko and am writing this post before preparing for next week’s trip to Japan. On Tuesday we had a visit from Tajima sensei and 12 students from Shigakukan University. The energy and enthusiasm of our visitors was infectious and we enjoyed two hours of flat out keiko.

I am leaving for Tokyo on Wednesday morning for what should be a short but very interesting trip. I am meeting up with a number of Mumeishi OBs in Tokyo and also planning to visit Chiba sensei when I arrive on Thursday, then the hard work begins.

On Friday I check in for the 16th WKC referee’s seminar in Narita to become one of 36 referees who we will spend two days together improving our refereeing technique and learning to work as a team. So far I only know the names of the other eight members from Europe and can only guess who has been selected from the Americas and Asia zones. I am confident however that it will be a tough but valuable learning experience.

The format of previous WKC Referee Seminars has been for referees to officiate in real matches between “All Japan” level competitors from either the university or police sections of the ZNKR competition groups. Last time the organisers had also invited some nito players. The process is overseen by hanshi level instructors and shinpans’ errors and misdemeanours are examined and discussed in minute detail.

It is expected that at this level, referees can correctly judge yuko datotsu and move  as a group so that each has a clear view of the players. The aim of these seminars is to hone these skills to a level where there is complete consensus. I have been told that this year emphasis is being placed on correct shiai etiquette and tsubazeriai, so there may be a lot of instruction and discussion on the role of hansoku and the balance between managing correct discipline and the smooth running of the shiai.

Obviously spending only four days in Japan is far from ideal, and as I am straight back to the office the day after  I return home, there might not be time for next week’s blog post. I am sure that there will be some interesting information to pass on the following week.

I am looking forward to a much longer trip in May, when as well as attending the 16th WKC in Tokyo, I plan to travel to Kansai to catch up with old friends and enjoy the sights as well as some extra keiko. There may even be time for an onsen visit.

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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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