Point of View in Tournament Judging

In my last post, Bad Calls in Taido Tournaments, I charged that we have too many bad calls in Taido tournaments and that this has many negative impacts for our art. In order to illustrate my point, I displayed a video taken from the most recent Taido World Championship.

The video seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people. That’s a good thing, as it clearly shows a player receiving a point for a technique that totally failed to connect with its target. There were a lot of good comments and emails, and I’ve been able to speak to a few people about it in person too. Good stuff, and I think that we need to have open dialogue about such things.

What This is Really About

Of course, my goal is to get people discussing how Taido tournaments operate and thinking about ways to improve it. I went into more detail on why this is important in the last post, but to summarize: bad tournaments can kill a martial art.

Although I posted a video of a jissen match, I don’t think jissen is the only place where we have problems. Hokei judging is just as bad. Gratuitous and pointless gymnastics are valued more highly than tournament judges than things like punches and kicks.

A Necessary Tangent

Since the particular video sparked some discussion and debate, I’m going to go slightly off-topic here and address the specific match.

Here’s the deal: Kaneko won. He won for a point he should not have gotten, but he did have more strikes in general and got hit the least. He won the match. Though Kohonen moved better, hiss attacks did not connect as well as Kaneko’s did. He also got hit by several attacks (that weren’t quite enough to get scored). He lost.

And I don’t really care.

The thing that bothers me is not the outcome of the match. The thing that bothers me is that a bad technique got a wazaari in a major tournament. I can be totally confident to call the kick in question a bad technique for a few reasons:

  1. It didn’t strike the target.
  2. It was very low – gedan senjo. It was clearly not nentaigeri because Kaneko’s body never tilted (well, at least not until he fell).
  3. Kaneko completed his technique sitting on the floor. He stood quickly, but he was not in control of his balance.
  4. Even if it had made some contact, it would have been a glancing blow off the shoulder. Such a technique should never get wazaari.

In this case, if Korhonen has simply stayed put and not attempted to duck the kick, he would have been kicked in the leg. Kaneko clearly bends his non-kicking leg in order to kick lower. He does this because he sees Korhonen begin his fukuteki. The only problem with that is the rule that you cannot kick someone who is touching the ground.

Assuming that the kick actually hit its target, what kind of contact would we be talking about? A glancing blow off the shoulder of an opponent who clearly saw the oncoming attack and made moves to defend himself. This is not the definition of a wazaari. At best, this kick (if it had made contact) should have received a yuko.

End tangent. Here’s what I really want to bring up today:

Point of View

Point of view is tricky. I’m always reminded of the old saying,

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, and they all stink.

Point of view is important because no two points of view will see the same thing. This can cause all kinds of problems when trying to judge something like Taido’s jissen. Especially in an art that is built on the premise of moving in a three-dimensional space, it seems to me that two judges would simply not be adequate. Kicks can come from any directions, and their delivery is often obscured by body movement. Taido techniques should flow smoothly with the movements of the target. This can make them difficult to see.

It seems almost a given that more than two judges would be required to cover a huge court from all possible angles. The competitors are expected to cover the court form all angles, so we should definitely hope the judges can too. The two judges we use currently stand at the front of the court and the rear corner. At minimum, there is one whole side of the court that is barely (if at all) visible to the judges. This is an important point of view that gets neglected in our current system.

Let’s return to the match between Kaneko and Kohonen to get a better idea of why point of view is important. I’ll post it here again for reference:

Look at where the judges are standing in the video. They are lined up at opposite corners, with the players between them. After stopping the match, the main judge calls a time out and summons the second judge. At the time of the kick, the main judge could not see the strike from his point of view. Korhonen was between the kick and the judge.

I saw one video of the Kaneko / Korhonen match filmed from the fukushin’s point of view. In that video, it appear as if the kick makes contact with Korhonen’s shoulder as he ducks. I still don’t think this would deserve a wazaari, but I can see from the fukushin’s point of view that it looks like the kick connected somewhat.

OK, so here’s a third point of view. This is the angle from which a third judge might have been able to view the match and make a better call:

As you can see, form this angle, it’s also clear that the kick did not connect in a way that should receive a score, much less a half point.

Again, my purpose is not to dispute the results of the the WTC. I think Kaneko won the match. However, if it were just one match, nobody would care. The truth of the matter is that this happens far too often, and it hurts Taido.

There are things we can do to make our judging more fair and less biased. In jissen, increasing the number of points of view from which we judge is a fairly simple one. Adding one more judge doesn’t require any kind of equipment or additional training. It’s as simple as saying, “Hey you. Go stand over there and tell us if someone gets hit.”

Incidentally, point of view is not only a problem in jissen. Bad points of view can be a serious issue in tenkai since each player has a dedicated judge who sits in a fixed position. In hokei competition, the judges have an excellent point of view for the kiai portions of the hokei, but have almost no way of telling whether or not the other kicks and punches land on the line. Perhaps moving the two fukushin closer to the corners would improve this situation, or maybe there should be a dedicated side-line judge who watches only for this.

Point of view is tricky when the thing being viewed includes fast movements in many directions over a wide area. Addressing this issue might be one of the highest leverage changes we can make to improve our tournament system without having to resort to any drastic measures.

Poll Results: Which Technique is the Most Fun?

This poll ended up running a little longer than I had planned, but the cool side benefit is that it gave more people time to vote and share their opinions.

Let’s Make Taido Fun

I think Taido is crazy fun to do, and I don’t seem to be the only one. At the seminar for rainbow belts prior to the recent World Taido Championships, I helped Saito and Tanaka Sensei give a presentation on how to enjoy learning Taido. The central point, of course, was that Taido is something we do for both ourselves and society, and that we can get a lot more out of it by making it fun.

In that seminar, we tried several ways to put a little bit more interest into training kamae and unsoku – things that may get tedious after a while unless we use some creativity.

There are lots of ways to make training fun, but one of my favorites is to boil down the basic sen, un, hen, nen, and ten movements to fundamental motor patterns and drill them that way. At my dojo in Osaka as well as at recent trainings I gave for students at Kobe Gakuin and Kitasato Universities, I’ve shown students various ways to get more creative with their kihon training by approaching the movement as separate from technique.

Fun is Relative

One thing I always notice when I do these training is that some people like certain movements more than others. Some people like to spin, and others like to jump. Some people seem to enjoy unsoku, while others will do almost anything to avoid stepping sideways.

This is also true of various types of practice. Young men tend to think that jissen is the most fun method of training Taido. Most female college students seem to prefer hokei. Then there are some that love constructing tenkai. I know plenty of people in Japan that enjoy the team events more than then individual ones – especially dantai jissen.

The point being that everyone has a different idea of fun.

Results

If we’re trying to find ways to have fun training Taido, it’s a good idea to know which techniques people enjoy doing. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Hentai – 41% of total votes
  2. Sentai – 39%
  3. Tentai – 38%
  4. Nentai – 27%
  5. Untai – 21%

There were a total of 56 votes in this poll, and each one cast two votes for their favorite techniques to practice. Hen, sen, and ten were pretty even with 23, 22, and 21 votes, respectively. My picks, nen and un, were considerably less popular with with only 15 and 12 votes each.

So what does that mean?

Well, it’s hard to say. I’m not surprised that nengi isn’t very popular, as it’s the technique of which most students know the fewest variations. I am somewhat surprised that ungi isn’t considered more fun – maybe because jump training is so tiring? I had expected tengi and sengi t be popular, but I would never have guessed that so many people would think hengi is fun.

Sure, hengi is cool. It’s interesting. It’s the most popular technique in jissen. But I don’t really see it as a fun movement. Maybe I’m missing something…

Moving Forward

While you’re here, don’t forget to vote in the new poll: What kind of Taido videos would you like to see more of on YouTube?

If you have a suggestion for an answer that isn’t included, let me know, and I’ll post it.

Thanks.

2008 Kansai Year-End Tourney

On 23 December 2008, the Toyonaka Dojo hosted the 20th Kansai Region Year-End Tournament. There were a total of about 30 participants from Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe Gakuin University.

Since this year’s National Championships were so late, we only had about two weeks to rest and prepare before this event. This included creating tenkai and team hokei. The schedule was so tight that the two tenkai from Osaka only got to practice for a total of about an hour each.

Because of the small number of competitors, we made three-member teams for tenkai, team jissen, and team hokei. My team managed to take second in hokei and first in both jissen and tenkai. Here’s the tenkai:

Not too bad considering the circumstances. Well, aside from my kamae, which was awful…

Personally, I also managed to take second place in individual jissen, losing the top spot to Mr. Manji. Embarrassingly, he scored the deciding point with a manjigeri – didn’t see that one coming.

I didn’t fare as well in hokei, losing to a college student. Later, Shinzato Sensei told me that my hokei was almost perfect, but he scored against me because my kamae changed levels a couple of times. OK, I get the message – I need to work on my kamae this year.

Of course, the results aren’t as meaningful as those of larger, more serious tournaments. Just for one example, former all-Japan champion Sato only placed 3rd in jissen this time around, despite being clearly better at jissen than those to whom he lost.

Still, it was a fun tournament and nice to get some good-natured competition going among dojomates. Nakata mentioned making this the final year of the Kansai tourney, but I really hope we can change his mind over the next ten or so months. I think it can be educational since our dojo can’t make it to Tokyo for tournaments more often. It was also a lot of fun.

new poll: what kind of practice is most important to you?

lately, i’ve been thinking a lot about what relative proportion of various training types and methods to use to create an optimal platform for skill development in the class at georgia tech. as usual, i have sixty-ish variables going around in my head about what to do when for what students. i’ve had the benefit of being exposed to a lot of different styles of practicing taido, and i’ve spent considerable time learning and developing a pretty large repertoire of training methods. sometimes, these things can be a great advantage to me as an instructor, but sometimes i feel as if i have too many options and not enough guides for choosing among them.

so, i thought i’d post a poll.

most martial arts train students using a variety of methods. in taido, the obvious two are hokei and jissen. i’m curious as to which kinds of practice people value the most in their own training.

shukumine taught that jissen and hokei were both equally important components in a taidoka’s development. through proper hokei practice (using imagined opponents and paying attention to the ten hokei performance guidelines), students can develop timing, distance, and speed in addition to good form. these skills are put to the test in jissen by forcing us to improvise creatively and react to the movements of a partner.

i know some instructors who have extended this logic to conclude that each tournament competition (including tenkai, team jissen, and group hokei) is of equal value, though i find it hard to agree that team events offer much training value to individuals until they have already reached a certain level of skill. the technical limitations imposed in team jissen can be helpful training for less-experienced students. however, i tend to feel that students need to build some basics before attempting to work in such a complicated, multi-partner environment as we see in tenkai or dantai hokei.

karate has the three ks: kihon, kata, and kumite. basic punches, kicks, and blocks are drilled until the practitioner can do them perfectly without thought. kata are supposed to hold the “secrets” of the techniques, and students are required to learn various possible applications from each kata movement. kumite is “free fighting,” in which karateka are allowed to make use of whatever weapons and strategies they can personally employ within the ruleset.

on the other side of the spectrum, many mixed martial arts schools follow in the line of thought made famous by bruce lee that martial arts forms and routines are utterly useless. they make the claim that fighting against the air in solo drills offers zero translation to fighting a live opponent. i’ve heard kata referred to as “dead forms” by some who feel that the only valuable kind of training is that in which students face “live” resistance.

this attitude can also be seen in bjj schools that pair students against a partner from day one. solo work is reserved for conditioning and fitness. even some more “traditional” martial arts tend to value their combative components much more highly than their form practice. one notable example is judo (arguably a sport), which includes forms, but emphasizes working against resistance in daily training. another is kendo, training for which only rarely has students hitting anything other than a partner. even basic strike practice is performed against another armored student, the theory being that all students need to get used to hitting and being hit.

personally, i have a hard time saying that any one kind of practice is necessarily more important than another – they all have the potential to add great value to students’ development. however, i can see that perhaps some modes of training will hold greater value for various students at particular stages in their taido education. in some cases, it may have to do more with personality than with any other factor.

whatever, your criteria for choosing, try to figure out which of these training methods you personally feel is the most important to you right now. we’ll see what everyone thinks in a couple of weeks… thanks.

2006 Tokaido Regional Meet

This past weekend, I participated in the first ever Tokaido Regional Meet, and I had a great time (but I’m almost always having a great time). This tournament very much resembled the 2nd Kanagawa Meet I wrote about in February in a number of ways. First, it was held in the same location – the Tokai University Budokan. Second, the competitors, judges, staff, and spectators looked suspiciously similar. In fact, it was almost the same competition all over again.

The Back-Story

To explain how this happens, I should mention a few things to which I alluded in my report on the Kanagawa meet. Specifically, it comes down to the fact that Honshu (the largest island in Japan, and coincidentally the one on which all but a handful of Taido clubs are located) is small and mountainous. The result of Honshu’s geography is that there are several distinct regions (each with its own subculture) in close proximity. Tohoku, Kanto, Kansai, etc each have their own Japanese dialects and ways of thinking. However, they are all crammed together on a piece of land about the size of California.

People who do Taido for longer than a few years are bound to run into the same folks again and again. They develop bonds through shared Taido experience as well as their unique geographical quirks of Japaneseness. In Taido’s short forty years, families have developed, and since most Japanese people don’t stray very far from their hometowns, these families remain extremely integral. This is very apparent in the group of Taido associations around Shizuoka and Kanagawa.

The godfather of this Taido-mob is Norio Akiyama, whom I first met when I was a tike in 1986. Akiyama Sensei is one of Uchida Sensei’s best Taido friends, and he’s the reason that Negishi came to live with us in Atlanta for five years. In my travels to Japan, I have spent a lot of time with Akiyama, staying at his house for almost a month one time. He’s a great Taido geek. I was telling someone last week that, if I were able to choose someone to be my uncle, Akiyama Sensei would be my top pick.

Anyway, in addition to owning the dojo in Fuji (where I visit to play and teach on a pretty regular basis), Akiyama Sensei is responsible for teaching lots of really cool Taido instructors. His Taido family includes Negishi and our whole Yokohama crew, Kato Sensei’s group in Shimizu, and Tokai University (where Negishi, Kato, and Fukunaga went to school), as well as his own dojo, which has produced a number of really strong Taidoka.

It was Kato Sensei who managed the operations of the Tokaido taikai, though Akiyama was “tournament president,” which basically means that he authorized decisions and signed the certificates. This event was a little bigger than the Kanagawa meet turned out, possibly because everyone is getting geared up now that tournament season has started, but everything ran very smoothly and I think we all had fun.

The Tournament

I felt like crap Sunday morning, so I decided to skip the hokei division. You just can’t fake a good hokei performance by doing some things better than others or favoring one side of some techniques over others. Actually, this is a large part of the genius of Taido’s hokei as a training tool as revealed by the high point deduction for failing to return to gentai.

Since Nakano has pretty much maxed out the technical level of the -tai hokei as they stand, it’s hard to be blown away by most of the hokei one sees at local competitions. Though I couldn’t have done any better, I was hoping to be more excited about the hokei part of this event than I was. The women’s hokei division was a lot better, with Yokohama dojo members taking first and third place.

Yokohama also did really well in tenkai (2nd and 3rd) and won the team jissen. Chiba and Takatsuna took 2nd and 3rd in men’s jissen, and Takatsuna also got 3rd in hokei, despite an injury which forced him to compete only with hentai.

I also did pretty well myself, though I narrowly missed getting a heavy thing placed around my neck at the end of the day. I won my first two rounds of jissen, despite my back and ankle feeling all out-of-whack. My first opponent was pretty strong, but I saw everything he threw coming from a mile away. Despite his size and power advantage, I didn’t have too much trouble strategizing my way into his weak points. Essentially, I fronted an aggressive game, then trapped him by appearing to go on the defensive. Big guys in Japan love the chance to attack, so he fell for it easily.

In my second round, my opponent was faster, but small and not very confident. I gave up a yuko for some really wimpy kick, but totally dominated the rest of the match. At one point I forced him out of bounds by sheer intimidation. After that, I just kept hitting him with better timing than he was fast enough to work around. He tried to get in some quick counters, but a half-assed shuto just doesn’t hold up when you are taking a hangetsu straight to the chest, so I won. But damn, was I worn out.

My third match was against Takatsuna from Yokohama. We were both tired and nursing injuries, so we agreed beforehand to have fun and let whoever found the cleanest openings win. I think Kato Sensei wanted to give me a warning for laughing a couple of times, but he could see that it was useless in a match where two friends are just playing with each other. In the end, I lost, but I wasn’t disappointed.

Perhaps I would have tried a little harder had I known that I was one match away from the finals. Takatsuna’s next match was against Chiba, who was also injured and worn down by that point. Chiba and I tend to stalemate, with one of us sometimes catching a lucky shot for the win. I’ve also sparred a lot with Fujita from Fuji, who took first. All of the judges were telling me that, based on the level and type of jissen I was playing that day, there was a very good chance for me to win if I hadn’t run out of energy. Oh well. I don’t enter tourney’s to win; I play for fun, so I was happy either way.

Reunions

While I was changing into my dogi prior to the competitions, some woman I’ve never met before came up to me, very excited to introduce me to somebody – a Taido student from England. When I got a closer look at him, I realized, we had met before. It was Josh Macabaugh. Though he had shaved off the dreads I remembered from his visit to our dojo last year, we recognized each other and chatted a bit. It was nice to see him again. He’ s (I think) interning in Shimizu for a few months and practicing with Kato Sensei while he’s there.

I was also happy to get to hang out with Okawa Sensei a bit too. Okawa is a crazy guy, and I first met him during American Taido’s 30th anniversary celebration last year, when Chad and I taught him how to do the robot. He was pretty excited to see me, and gave me some (really excellent) advice about my jissen. He had been the assistant judge for my matches and gave me the low-down on ways I can work on actually getting points for all the strikes and kicks I land on my opponents (which is always incredibly disproportionate to the score I receive). Then he made his wife take pictures of me with his students.

What?

At the end of the tournament, we all lined up for awards. Our team had a good number of certificates, medals, and trophies sitting around, and we were pretty stoked. Akiyama Sensei likes to innovate, so the judges decided awards for the best sen, un, hen, nen, and ten. Much to my surprise, I was picked to share the nengi-sho with Sano (whose nenin hokei is really, really good). I think I was chosen because I took all of my scores for nentai attacks (hitting one guy with at least 5 hangestu in one match). It may have also had something to do with the fact that I think Okawa Sensei really wanted me to win something at my last tournament in Japan.

At any rate, I was surprised with a fancy certificate for “best nengi,” which is really funny to me, since I’ve always considered nengi my weakest technique.

My Last Tourney in Japan

This was it. Last chance. I think that was a good note on which to end my Japanese tournament experience. Not having many tournaments in America (and being one of the only qualified judges when we do), it was really cool getting to compete with so many different people. I’ve enjoyed making friends and sharing ideas with all of them. This being a “family” event, it was a super-friendly time to participate in my final competition of my stay in Japan.

The Official Party

After the clean-up, we had the official toasting and pouring-drinks-fo-each-other celebratory “party”. Everyone met everyone they didn’t already know, and we ate like pigs. Fumi (the head instructor at Fuji and one of my long-time friends) was getting pictures with everyone, just in case they became famous. Oe got sloppy and then emotional. After a while, he was crying and giving everyone especially heartfelt handshakes and hugs. I swear, I thought he would never let go of my hand, but he’s a really great guy, so you can’t help but share the sentiment, even when he goes a little overboard. Each dojo made speeches, and Josh and I (the foreigners) also had to make some comments. And then we ate like pigs again.

Now this is a first: I don’t know how it happened – especially at a Taido function, where such things are usually well provided-for, but we somehow managed to drink all the beer. It may not sound like such a big deal, but we were less than half of the way through the scheduled roster and suddenly, there was no more. We asked the staff for more, and they told us that it was gone. We had finished it all. Oe and I were trying to convince the hall manager to go to the store and buy more, but it just was not to be. We spent the next hour scavenging abandoned glasses and bottles and selfishly guarding anything alcoholic we could find. How can you pour a drink for the guy who kicked you in the face if there are no drinks to pour? It was a serious deficit.

Logistical issues aside, we all got so have some really good talks about the day’s events and our plans for the future (even if we were a little more lucid than usual). It probably sounds a little silly that I make such a big deal out of the post-event drinking parties, but you would be absolutely stunned how many important decisions get made at such affairs. Invitations are granted, friendships are begun, advice is received (and quite often acted on later), questions are answered candidly, teams are formed, and whole other tournaments are planned (I’ll tell you more about that one later…). The get-together is every bit as important a part of the tournament than the actual competitive games are.

Now, let’s all go drink more!

So after drinking the entire house, the Yokohama dojo made a collective decision that we needed more. Wait, I don’t want to make it sound like we’re a bunch of alcoholics. Isn’t it only alcoholics that need a drink? Well, in that case, we decided that there was beer and sake remaining in the Tokai Uni area, and that was it waiting to be drunk by someone. In other words, there were drinks that needed us. That’s better, isn’t it?

We toasted our first-time champion, Tanaka, and tried to get Miho and Nakajo to hook up . We talked and laughed (and Oe got a ride home early, so nobody was crying) and ate greasy izakaya food. It was pretty-damn fun, and we all managed to get home at a semi-resonable hour.

Best of all, I was able to take Monday off of work, so instead of making the long ride back to Gunma, I spent the night at Negishi’s house and slept in.