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.

11 thoughts on “Point of View in Tournament Judging”

  1. I totally agree with you that this was a bad call from the judges, VERY bad. And I also agree with you that this kind of judging is hurting Taido the big way. We have seen this sometimes in our national tournaments as well and they always stir up the pot. People, both those who practice Taido and those who don´t, don´t always seem to understand why a person got a point and from what technique. I am sorry to say that I could not have been there in Hiroshima myself to witness all what happened but the people I interviewed after they had returned home said that this kind of judging appeared also in other categories. We all know how difficult the judging can be and that situations happen very fast in jissen but judges should be encouraged to whistle hard calls even if they should be against their own country men. In Japan it seemed to be exactly the opposite.

    Especially people were bewildered by the women´s dantai jissen between Finland and Japan in the Friendship Meet. I heard that Japan made hardly any points in the jissen but won the Finns by warnings. That is not the problem here, though. The problem lies on the fact that from what the warnings were given to the Finns. I also heard someone say that judges were giving drinks and help for the girls between whistlings! Here in our national tournaments the judges CANNOT take part into jissen in any way except by giving the points! Others appointed to that task will take care of the injured and so on. No matter what. This way they will stay impartial. From what I´ve heard this didn´t happen in Japan, the impartial part, I mean.

    We have also been talking about decreasing the amount of japanese judges in specific jissen and hokei matches. For example, if there is a japanese and a swedish person facing each
    other in jissen, not either judges should be from Japan or Sweden. And again, if a japanese and swedish were to face each other in hokei, then no more than one should be from Japan and Sweden. How this could be done is another matter since we can´t really know who will be facing who at a certain point in jissen or hokei. But this kind of procedure would certainly stir up the results and we feel that it would be better for all of us, and for Taido.

    Another interesting note is that we recently had a camp here in our country where we had a high ranking sensei from Japan to conduct the practice. Here he explained us how
    techniques should be done so that points could be given in jissen. Everybody was excited about it that finally some straight forward answers to what we could do and what we should
    do in jissen. But then it turned out to be something totally different. It was as if certain rules didn´t apply to the Japanese at all. Tegatana ate, for example. The sensei told us that
    no point is given from a tegatana ate blow that goes vertical from up to down, and that the blow should be horizontal. And yet, they gave points to japanese Taido-ka´s from exactly
    that kind of blows! We feel like we were given mixed messages, one says another, but in the games itself they apply something else. Soon people start to wonder what to believe in. I
    think this kind of behaviour should be given some serious thought.

  2. Kymis:

    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you agree that this is an important matter.

    I was very busy on the day of the tournament, so I couldn’t see all of the matches, and I’m still reviewing various videos that different people took. I don’t like to point fingers and claim that anyone was biased, but I can tell you that there was a distinct feeling that the Japanese
    (players, judges, and staff) were supposed to win. In difficult-to-call situations, I think the benefit went that direction more often than not.

    As for the Fin/Jap women team jissen, it’s very easy to understand why the Finnish players received warnings – they are aggressive, and that is not acceptable for women here. When a woman is aggressive in jissen, Japanese judges feel that she is out of line. If you watch women’s jissen in a Japanese tournament, you will see the same thing. The Japanese women also overreact when they are hit by falling over or crying. This also happens in Japanese tournaments.

    I didn’t notice any judges giving help to the players, but I wasn’t really paying attention to that sort of thing.

    Hokei is also interesting to look at. I think there were some very close matches in the WTC. Perhaps different judges would have chosen better. I don’t know. There are a lot of “stylistic bias” issues in hokei. We also seem to have a lot of judges that are more impressed by gymnastics than by quality technique.

    Finally, you were told correctly in your seminar. Shutto gets almost no points in jissen. It was popular for a few years, but hasn’t been scored much for maybe two years now. I didn’t notice it being used in the WTC much by Japanese players (but I do know two guys that like to use it – I’ll check their matches later).

    However, the issue isn’t that you were given mixed signals. It’s that the judges themselves are not in agreement on what techniques should receive what score. This is a matter of training and regulation that needs to be addressed by certifying organizations.

  3. As you say Andy, the major part of the ‘mixed message’ problem is that the high rank judges cannot agree even in front of an international judge seminar.This was all too obvious in Hiroshima, where they were arguing about some detail (I don’t even remember what it was about) just towards the end of the seminar. The appropriate way would be to either agree before the seminar, or take the discussion afterward. NOT to bicker at length before 50 other judges. However it seems to me that these guys always have to have the last word, no matter what…

    I’m a bit surprised that shuto doesn’t give points, that’s new to me and I would say to most swedes. Another example of the lack of info and organization around the judging of taido… Why can’t this kind of info be sent out without the rest of the small taido world having to ask for it? Really, as we concluded in the prior discussion, taido need to grow up! And btw how come shuto doesn’t give points?

    About the women jissen: I thought jissen was taido fight? So if taido is for both men and women, why shouldn’t it be the same rules? The only thing we accomplish if we encourage the japanese women style jissen is bad jissen. It’s not strange that you get hit in the head if you dive head first into a manji geri without any sort of kaba. Tried that myself… And about the crying and so on: that’s also the judges fault, since they seem to fall for it. I wouldn’t care less when it’s as obvious as it is, but I’m not japanese… Also, the japanese judges should read up a bit on cultural differences, so they can at least explain why they do not approve of aggressiveness in womens jissen (understanding and appreciate other cultures might be a bit too much to ask, unfortunately). Again, it’s spelled communication.

    1. I have received emails telling me that this comment (and also my other comment under ‘Bad Calls in Taido Tournament’) has a number of points that needs to be clarified, and rightly so. First of all, the comments I made above and to the other article was made in frustration and was perhaps unnecessarily broad and in some cases I could have phrased it differently. I’ll try to specify some of my points.

      First of all, the comments above are my own point of views, don’t forget that! They are not any official statements.

      About the japanese women jissen style I’m trying to aim at that if crying after failing to protect themselves works, then something is wrong in my personal opinion.

      About the judges falling for the crying and their need to read up on cultural differences etc: This is not in anyway intended as critique of individual judges, although the way to say it may be viewed as rude! Individual critique should be brought up with the individual and if someone was offended it was not my intention. I want a discussion about how we should judge and this is one important aspect, especially how we should determine if a hit is hard or not. This could render a good discussion in the next judge seminar.

      Perhaps I’m just misinformed about the above statements, but if I’m not, it is something that really needs to be discussed. One may think that this is the wrong forum, and it might be correct, but I fail to find any other (public) forum available. I think discussions benefit of being public, that’s why I posted here. That the topic was raised by Andy also contributed of course.

      My point is that the issues raised in the last two articles (including the comments) need to be discussed. Since there is no other forum that I’m aware of that raises these issues, I posted my thoughts here. However, they are supposed to be focused on the system, not on individuals, and to raise a discussion, not trying to claim an ultimate solution. Since I got emails telling me otherwise, I’ve missed the target and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone by the way I wrote.

    2. Thanks again Hannes.

      I’m confident that everyone reading this is intelligent enough to understand that you meant your comments in good faith and confident enough to take any criticisms as well-intentioned feedback from someone who cares deeply about the future of Taido.

      Even though I don’t feel you should have to apologize, the fact that you are man enough to do so publicly simply confirms your good intentions.

  4. I think this discussion shows, once again, that when writing rules there should be special consideration for protecting the players again the judge. In other words, this means that the rules should explicitly state what the judge is allowed to do, and what is out of his control. In the case of aggression, the rules should state that bad control / bad unsuku / bad conduct etc will lead to a penalty. It should also specifically state that the judge isn’t allowed to hand out penalties for anything that isn’t written down in the rule book for that tournament (just like the judge shouldn’t be handing out points for techniques that don’t confirm with the rules).

    As for the discussion on viewpoints, although more viewpoints obviously give the judges an advantage and could help in Jissen, I can’t help but think that bad viewpoints aren’t the core of the problem. Again, it would definitely help but I think the first priority is to increase the quality of judges. To do this, not only would judges require more or better training, but specifically and more importantly they should all receive the same training. This of course first requires us to have 1 set of rules for Taido. If we take your video for example, a judge shouldn’t have to actually see whether or not the kick connects to know it is not a point (in this situation). The fact that it did give a point, in my opinion, means this judge was too preoccupied with whether or not the kick hit anything; neglecting all the other applicable rules.

    So again, I believe more or better viewpoints would help (I especially like your suggestion for hokei!). But I can’t help but feel the core of the problem is a lack of unity in rules for players, judges and viewers.

    By the way, where should 2 judges or 3 judges stand to give them an optimum combined viewpoint? In the case of 2 judges, should they stand 180 degrees apart, as they do now, or should they stand at 130 degrees? In the case of 3 judges, would it make any sense to give the third judge an elevated position? I remember having a clear view of about 90% of all techniques that were made during the WTC because I was sitting in the spectator seats, giving me a higher position and better viewpoint. I think it might be better than having 3 judges standing on the ground level.

    1. I can’t help but think that bad viewpoints aren’t the core of the problem. Again, it would definitely help but I think the first priority is to increase the quality of judges.

      I’ll start here, because I agree with this, but I think you’re missing the point. If it were as simple as identifying the problem and then making it go away, problems wouldn’t be problems.

      It’s easy to say that we need higher quality judges, but you’ve got to remember that the judges are people. They have egos, they outrank you, and they think they are high quality. I’m afraid you won’t get very far by just rounding them up and telling them they need to get their shit in gear.

      A far better approach is to look at what changes we can make to the system that will allow the judges (current and future) to perform better without sacrificing their pride.

      This also goes for the rules. While it’s true that we could do a much better job of standardizing them (I have a lot of ideas for this), we have to remember that the judges already believe they know the rules. We have to find a way to question that respectfully – probably as an ostensible standardization campaign or by posing questions revolving around ambiguous cases.

      I would put a third jissen judge on the court for psychological and visibility reasons. If the shushin stands at 12 o’clock (and moves between 10 and 2), and the fukushin stays between 4 and 5 o’clock, the best location for a third judge would be the area on the aka side between 8 and 10 o’clock.

  5. Dear Bro,

    “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought. Matsu Basho”

    When Jissen was introduced it was a way to create new techniques (due to the attack and the sudden forced unexpected counter technique(s) by the opponent).

    But I have to admit with a certain shame that I haven’t seen new techniques born and instead and in contrary techniques used even declined. Perhaps this due to the fact that with certain techniques and the biased Shinpan(s) the chances of winning the match wasn’t solely based on the skills of the Taidoka.

    More over the numbers of Taidoka’s / Countries increased and inevitably raised the questions of the Judgements made.

    To introduce new ideas we once again, as back in 1998, would like this opportunity to introduce the Dutch Taido Open 2010!

    Again a Poul system will be used for Jissen (and perhaps Hokei). Followed up by a runners up system (winners and second best).
    For Hokei everyone, depending on Kyu/Dan level, shall start with Sen Hokei, 2nd round Un Hokei, 3rd round Hen Hokei after which “a free choice” Hokei for runners up rounds.

    To encourage everyone to participate in Dantai Jissen / Hokei teams of 3 persons (Hokeis even mixed) instead of 5 shall be again introduced (teams are allowed to be mixed sexes and countries and be made one day before the DTO starts).

    Shinpan-ins changes:
    1. Jissen: three judges with flags;
    2. Those countries reaching quarter finals those Judges shall not Judge;
    3. Using a Judge form when judging Hokei (after last competitor finishes Judges shall have 20 seconds to fill in the form and decide based on outcome of the form)
    4. Opponent receives Yuko when attacker received two warnings (one by one or two at once) .

    The above taken into consideration and the comments seen we also introduce a new approach of the Judge system. Everyone who would like to Judge shall need to follow the Judge Seminar. After which examines needs to be taken. Based on the outcome Judges shall be awarded separate gradings or approvals for Judging. In other words it can happen that the Judge (although maybe having been a Judge for many, many years) will not receive a Judge license for all Judge events. It can be that he/she is allowed to Judge Jissen but not Hokei or Dantai of Tenkai.

    After the tournament the Main Judge or Fukushin shall inform at the Judge meeting the results of the day supported with video footage to explain what was good and what was bad. Eventually resulting in the extension/declining of the Shinpan license for the coming 2 years or whenever a new Tournament takes place. The Fukushin shall not participate in Judging, but shall Judge the Judges.

    Perhaps the above not explained very well it is our intention to move Taido to the next step/stage, whatever/wherever that might be.

    “The best part of falling is getting back up again -David Belle”

    Brother against Bullshit

    1. Thanks for the reply.

      As we’ve discussed running and judging tournaments on several occasions, you and I have some similar ideas about how it should be done. I agree that we should experiment with different ways to run the events. I enjoyed the pool arrangement for elimination matches in the 2007 IFG because it forced more variety.

      If it’s at all possible, I’ll plan to attend the Dutch Open next year.

      A quick note about this:

      But I have to admit with a certain shame that I haven’t seen new techniques born and instead and in contrary techniques used even declined.

      I reviewed the videos of the WTC from several sources, and it appears that Kaneko only used four or five (depending on how you count) different techniques during the entire tournament. He’s very good at them, but I do believe that this is the path to devolution in Taido – the opposite of our explicit goal.

  6. hey Andy,

    in regards with different judging positions in hokei, here in Oz we compete in am all styles martial arts competition where forms from different styles are judged against eachother.

    the setup for this has three judges on three different sides of the court.

    the difficulties of comparing forms from different styles not withstanding, the judges each have a different viewpoint of the competitor and where one viewpoint may miss a mistake made, the others may be able to see it.

    its a notable difference as a competitor as at each stopping point of the hokei there a judge right in your face instead of just at one point as in a taido comp.

    1. That sounds interesting. I wonder if these are elimination matches, or are they one player at a time with a score?

      The only negative I could imagine to such a set up in a Taido tournament would be if the side judges had difficulty seeing the player on the opposite side of the court. Still, it’s definitely something to consider.

      I think Taido (as an organization) can learn a lot from other styles, especially from established budo and professionally run orgs. As a martial art, Taido works on its own principles, but the principles or running organizations and competitions don’t differ significantly from case to case.

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