Bad Calls in Taido Tournaments

From the 2009 world Taido championships:

Kanaeko, the Japanese player, received a score for a kick which obviously missed his opponent. Antti, the Finnish player, displayed much better movement during the match, yet lost on a bad call. Adding insult to injury, Kaneko went on to win first place and yet another gold medal.

There’s no getting around it: if you have tournaments, you will have controversial decisions by judges. It’s simply not possible to please everyone, and even the best judges make mistakes.

However, some calls are just bad. They’re obviously bad, and this hurts Taido.

I’m not going to be writing a lot about how to improve judging in this article. Fixing Taido tournaments is task that I’m not up to accomplishing this morning. So before I get ahead of myself, I want to limit the scope of this post. I’m going to refrain from offering any solutions here. Not today at least. I’m also going to hold off on describing the various kinds of poor judging and bad calls. I’m not even going to give any examples other than the one in the video above.

This article is about just one thing: why reducing the number of bad calls in Taido tournaments needs to be a major priority for all of us.

What is a “Bad Call?”

For our purposes here, a bad call is any time a judge makes a major fuck up. That can mean giving a score for a non-connecting technique, failing to give a score for a worthy technique, showing an obvious bias for a particular competitor or team, or otherwise deciding in opposition to the facts of the match.

Things that I won’t classify as bad calls: scoring discrepancies in hokei matches and decisions in matches where neither competitor displays quality technique. It’s difficult to see everything when judging hokei, and that’s why we have three judges whose scores carry equal weight. As for the latter case, I can think of very little more difficult than judging low-level jissen matches in which both competitors show a total lack of understanding of unsoku and distance. As such, I tend to be lenient on judges in that situation. Honestly, those calls never affect the results of a tournament, as neither player has any real chance of winning anyway.

In tournaments, there are going to be winners and losers. There will also be losers who thought they should have been winners. This is a natural state of affairs that cannot be avoided in competition. What we can hope to minimize is the number of times we let bad calls hurt our art.

Who Loses When a Judge Makes a Bad Call?

Simply put: everyone loses. Here’s a brief look at the how various people are negatively affected by bad judging calls in tournaments:

  • The Winner – A player who wins due to ill-gotten points receives reinforcement that his performance is correct and worthy of a win. He has less motivation to improve than if he had lost.
  • The Loser – A player who knows he was robbed of a point will feel disenchanted and resentful. Tournaments can lose their appeal after a bad experience like this.
  • The Judge – A judge who consistently makes bad calls gets a bad reputation and loses the respect of his own students and those from other dojo.
  • The Audience – The spectators who witness bad judging decisions are often confused about the rules and scoring system. As a result, they conclude that Taido doesn’t make sense or is generally bullshit.
  • The Organization – An organization that certifies poor judges cannot retain the respect of its students. Any organization that hosts tournaments should be aware that the quality of judging is one of the very most important factors in creating an event people remember fondly. Further, an organization that cannot uphold solid rules invites politics.
  • The Art – When outsiders see videos of Taido tournaments, they judge our art based on what they see. Most of the videos we present are taken in tournaments, which means that people will judge us based on the quality of our competitions. Advertising our bad calls to outsiders gives Taido a bad reputation.

In other words, nobody is immune from the negative effects of bad calls in tournaments. It is not a minor issue as it affects, not only how current competitors feel about their participation, but also how prospective students view our art. If Taido cannot get it’s tournament system to work at a higher level, we will be unable to attract new students in the future.

Judging Tournaments in the US

I should mention that every Taido organization has a somewhat different system for handling their competitions and judge training. Since I live in Japan, a lot of my criticisms are directed mainly at Japanese judges. However, bad calls at the 5th WTC were not limited to Japanese judges.

Most of my judging experience was in America. We didn’t have many tournaments when I trained and taught in the States, but we took them extremely seriously when we held them.

Uchida Sensei understood that tournaments we not only for the benefit of the school and the competitors, but also for the parents, friends, and spectators. He made sure that each judge knew it too. Before every tournament, we would have several meetings and seminars for the judging staff covering every aspect of judging, from rules, to scoring, to making calls and giving on-court instructions. He wanted all of us to represent Taido in the best possible way so we could inspire the competitors and earn the respect of the spectators.

Not so say that we didn’t make bad calls. My point in relating this is to say that, in US tournaments, we were keenly aware that bad calls could destroy the tournament and have negative consequences for our school and students. We worked very hard to minimize that possibility.

Let’s Make this a Priority

That’s all I’m asking: let’s agree that this is a very serious issue and needs to be addressed by all of us who teach and judge. We need to be working with our organizations to improve our judge training and reduce the numbers of bad calls we make. At the very least, in time for the next world championship (Finland 2013), let’s take some concrete steps to make our tournaments better.

I’ll write more about what I think some of those steps should be next time. I’d love to see your comments.

15 thoughts on “Bad Calls in Taido Tournaments”

  1. I think this is very frank article.

    Perhaps in jissen we should copy judging from karate (they have 3 judges who all give their score with flags and the so called main judge just gives the points, but of course he/she has to stop the match when something happens. Then they have one extra judge who is supervising those 4 judges and that person can stop the game if there has been rule error in judging. I think the reason why karate is doing this way orgins from same reasons that we have had problems. 2 judges just do not see (they have to cover tatami area from 2 side and the competitors can move very fast). And when there is more than 2 judges the possibility to be bias is smaller. If someone is bias or very bad they have anymore same affect as in hokei. So if one give ippon and the 2 others think it is wasari then the point will be wasari.

    1. Thanks Elisa. I know you have put a lot of thought into judging, so I value your comments.

      I like your idea of using more judges for jissen. We tried having a third jissen judge in a few tournaments in Japan. The third judge sat in a chair off to the side with flags. I’m not sure why it wasn’t continued.

      There could be many ways to make use of additional judges, and I’m not sure what the ideal set-up would be. The only negative I can imagine is that it requires more judges on each court (though I think it’s a better use of manpower than the current system of rotating the judges between matches).

      The positives are many. For one thing, Taido makes use of a wide space and rapidly changing angles. There’s no way we can expect only two judges to cover the necessary points of view. More judges increases the chance of someone having a clear vantage point (and reduces the pressure of a each individual judge to make a call if they couldn’t see clearly). As you mentioned, more judges also reduces the possibility of bias.

      Probably my favorite idea that you wrote above was the idea of a supervisory judge whose job is simply to ensure that the rules are enforced consistently. This judge judges the judging, not the match. Such super-judges could be judge trainers, and they could give in-the-moment feedback.

      I’m planning to write more about judge training this week.

  2. I totally agree that bad judging (and a poor system) for judging will hurt Taido as an art and its organization. If I can be totally honest here, after seeing the world championships I was so disappointed by the current state of affairs that I spent a whole lot of time trying to come up with improvements. I think Taido not only needs improvements in its tournaments to grow, but even to stay alive as a competitive sport.

    Here are a few of the ideas that I had, they are basic and lack detail, but hopefully they do serve as interesting points of view that can be used for inspiration.

    1) This one is the most important I think: Look at other martial arts and take what works for them and see if we can use it for Taido. Obviously, some things can be copied while others would merely give some inspiration.

    2a) Standardization of scoring. For instance, when giving out a score for a team-hokei performance; use a standard form that the judge must use for scoring. We can compare judging a Taido match with an area that has had a lot of research; job application interviews (and its techniques to hire competent applicants and recognition incompetent applicants). As it turns out, using a standardized interview with a form will work about 5 times better than simply having an unstructured interview.

    This is very similar to judging a team-hokei – where judges rely solely on their memory when handing out scores. Bias and error are more likely to occur in this situation. A standardized form forces judges to follow the same steps with every team, quite effectively making the effects of bias and error smaller.

    2b) Standardization of scoring is easy for something as a team-hokei, but it can also be done for jissen. We need to have on paper ALL the rules that apply for jissen. Players and judgjes must have access to these rules, and the audience should view a simplified version. When I say all the rules, I mean all the rules: how big is the fighting area? What are the participants allowed to wear and what not (including the size of badges)? What is required to get an ippon? A wazari? A yuko? What kind of behavior leads to a penalty, and how big of a penalty will that be? Which safety precautions should an organization take to ensure the safety of all participants (such as tatami, distance to walls etc)? Also; what things can a judge do and where does his responsibility and power stop – so what, explicitly, can’t he do.

    In my opinion: when writing rules, you should write them in such a way that participants are ‘protected’. This means that the central questions should be ‘which rules are required to prevent abuse from the opponent?’ and ‘which rules are required to prevent a judge from exceeding his jurisdiction’. When abuse, unsportsmanlike behavior and bad referee’s are no longer an issue – only clean Taido is left (hopefully).

    3) Better training of judges. There should be 1 instructional video for all judges to see. Knowing what is worth a wazari or ippon and actually seeing it are 2 different things – and a video can achieve this. Better training of judges also means reviewing judges. In all other competition sports that I have experience with, all the calls from the referee were written down and sent to the organization. Why? Well, this is an easy way to see if one referee might have the tendency to give out ippons too quickly, or might be giving penalties too often (or whatever). Of course, these statistics alone don’t say much – but having this as feedback for judges would be useful. A judge might not know that he has been giving out ippon’s as if it were candy, he should know this so he can develop his skills as a judge.

    4) Finally, since Taido is a progressive martial art, we should use technology to help judges. I have 2 ideas for this. First of all, in Hiroshima I noticed that quite a lot of Taidoka’s were wearing some kind of protection around their chest. I noticed that hitting someone who was wearing these chest guards would give a distinctive sound. This gave me an idea, we should develop a vest that covers the chest, sides and back which gives a noise when hit. This should preferably not require any electronics, and of course be as light and mobile as possible so that it does not become bulky or cumbersome. I’m trying to find out if such a thing already exists, because more budo’s would benefit from such a vest (fencing for instance, has a quite elegant system to distinguish a hit from a miss). Such as vest would not only make it easier to distinguish between a hit and a miss, but also make it a lot easier to discover whether or not a kick or punsh hit the kamae or the chest of the other participant (right now, quite a lot of points are awared for kicks against an arm)…

    Next, and this is mainly an issue for big championships, we should have camera’s. In ice hockey a referee can review an incident on a television screen before making a call, Taido should do the same for something as big as the world championships.

    This last idea will also make Taido a whole lot more interesting for audiences, since ‘cool moves’ and such could be replayed on a big screen in slow motion.

    I have more ideas, but the above will do for now. My main point of critique for Taido right now is the way Taido and Taido organizations do not seem to take themselves seriously. Of course, up to a point this does have its own charm. But if we want Taido to grow, then that also means Taido should grow up. In my opinion, it is time to leave childhood behind and enter puberty. Yes, many things will change and this might be scary from time to time since everything used to be different, small and simple… But this is a critical phase to become mature, and it not a phase that can be skipped.
    One very important note to conclude this last part: there is a very big difference between having people that take their organization and their work seriously, and having an organization with people that take themselves seriously. My suggestion concerns the first; with organizations that publish their future goals and past revenues to all its participating (and contributing) members, and where these members have a say in the future goals and can even overrule the board if they find it necessary (but all of this is perhaps better suited for another day in another topic).

    Lastly, the only way to see what actually works best is by trying it. And I hope that smaller tournaments and smaller organizations will experiment with new ideas, new rules and new guidelines to see what works best. Eventually, improvements could reach larger tournaments from the bottom-up. This would give more merit to Taido as a progressive martial art.

    1. Firstly, this:

      “…if we want Taido to grow, then that also means Taido should grow up.”

      is exactly the kinds of discussion I’ve been having with a few people lately. I think you’re right on the money, and I want you to know that you’re not the only one who thinks it’s time to start getting our shit together.

      I really like your ideas, Amir. Learning from other arts is something that a few people have suggested (for example, Elisa’s comment above). I’ve heard some objection to copying other arts because “Taido is different (better),” but I think that attitude is pure hubris for a martial art that has yet to establish itself as a major art. There are a lot of things we can learn from looking at Judo and Karate, etc., even if we ultimately must do things differently.

      Standardized scoring is something that should already exist. We do have forms for tenkai and a score counting system for hokei. However, I think it would be great if even spectators could follow a rule chart and estimate scores for themselves. It would make the whole thing less mysterious for them.

      As for clear rules, Amen! You can search Taido/Blog for my year-end wish lists – you’ll see Ive recommended this before. We need to have every rule written down and translated into every language. Then every judge should have to memorize them and pass a test on them (95% accuracy or better – these are judges, after all). This process should be repeated every time there is a rule change and for every international tournament.

      Judge training is something I plan to get into with the next article.

      I personally hate wearing a chest protector, but some arts use them as score targets. You should check out the electronic ones used in TKD. Look into error and sensitivity issues. I’m curious.

      Technology is also something I’ve thought about. My only objection (besides logistics) is that relying to much on video would disrupt the flow of the matches. Still, I think it’s a useful idea, especially if executed well.

      How about this: you seem to know a little about video and technology… why don’t you work on a system for this? You have about three years until you would have to start training people to use it in Finland. It needs to be easy to use and mobile. It should be unobtrusive on the courts. If you can come up with a system like that, I’m sure I could get support to test it at the next WTC.

      Thanks again for obviously putting some serious thought and consideration into your comment.

  3. Thank you Andy!

    This is an issue that has bothered me for quite some time, as you know. The most irritating problem besides the ones already addressed I think is the fixation with grades: to be able to judge in a international championship (not friendship) you have to have 4dan or above. The trouble is that, at least in Europe, there are many judges below that rank that are far more qualified for the task than the higher ranked people. Why? Because the higher ranked guys (not all) barely do taido anymore! Or they are staying in small dojos with no real competitors and never come to camps and other occasions to train. But they still get the free pass, just because of their rank. It annoys me to the verge of insanity! Andy, I’ve already told you one solution to some problems, but I won’t write it here or I’ll be banned, but I think you know what I mean when I say that it would take too long. We need to get some things rolling, at least.

    Amir: You have some great ideas, even if I hate the thought of a vest myself, I’ll most likely will never be required to ware it ;) There are some “protocols” as Andy mentioned, but they seriously need to improve. In Europe, there is actually a summary of all (or most at least) the rules, and it’s actually in English. Unfortunately I don’t have the electronic version, but maybe Elisa does? Now, I don’t know how up-to-date it is, but it exists anyway.

    I’m gonna save the comments on the so-called “education” we get in the judge seminars until the next article. But we really need to make taido more transparent for the outside world! Once I read a chronicle by a sports journalist, who was commenting on modern wrestling and their rules and he said something like this: “If I can’t figure out why they [the competitors] do or don’t get a point, I don’t watch!” I think he was spot on…

    1. Hannes – Thanks for your comments; our discussions in Hiroshima were definitely one of the factors that inspired me to write this.

      The issues you bring up about rank are a big one. In Japan, there are no shortage of high ranking black belts (I might even say there are too many…), but this isn’t the same everywhere. As you say, a lot of the older judges no longer teach or practice (nor, apparently, do they renew the prescriptions on their glasses).

      I have a copy of the EuTai tournament rules in English, but it’s a few years old now. I think most of the European judges (the younger ones) were trained on a fairly standard protocol, but that goes out the window as soon as we have an event with Judged from both Europe and Japan.

      As for your quote, I’ve been tempted to stop watching jissen many times.

    2. It has been drawn to my attention that my comments about the high ranked judges in Europe could imply that I think all European judges ranked above 4 dan are bad and that everyone below are good. That is certainly not the case and I apologize for the confusion!

      Most judges are good or better, but there are a few with high rank that I think get more attention than they deserve. This is only my personal opinion though!

      Any critique I have against certain individuals, I have been advised to bring up with them personally. I intend to follow that piece of advise if there is an opportunity. I will however not discuss anything like that here.

    3. Hannes, thanks for the clarification.

      Just for the record, I don’t see how anyone could have read your first comment to be derogatory towards any particular individuals. I thought it was funny, but that’s because I get your sense of humor. Perhaps it doesn’t come across as well to some others.

      I think it’s perfectly natural to be frustrated with the situation as it stands. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  4. Judging will always be subject to human error, however there are some safe guards that could be enacted at the high level tournaments .

    In the case of Jissen, having 2 angle video recording of at least the finals is plausible. If any protests occur a panel could review before final judgement. Ideally the panel would not consist of judges from the participants team/country to avoid politics. Sad but true they do exist.

    I’ve seen where the next match was hurried up to prevent any protest from being lodged, this is not good for the sport.

    1. I’ve seen where the next match was hurried up to prevent any protest from being lodged, this is not good for the sport.

      That is shameful.

      Of course human error is going to come up, and we can’t eliminate it. The interesting thing about humans isn’t that they make mistakes, it’s that they can make judgments at all.

      To me, the most important job of a tournament judge is as a teacher. By saying “this is good Taido” and “this is not good Taido,” the judges are responsible to teaching competitors what it means to do Taido properly.

      We need humans for this, and some error is worth the benefits we get in instruction from a good judge.

  5. We have been working here in Europe for English rules and regulations and also the other manual how to organize Taido Event. Those both are written in English. They are still drafts and most likely until things changes….However, I think until we wait that the official versions come. We should use the drafts, because its better than nothing. Andy could perhaps check the grammar etc. As he is very good in English ;) and then I could delivery the draft for all taido countries. For example via FTA’s web pages.

    The other thing I would like to open discussion is the head gear. Only Japanese had those and I think it has made their jissen bad. They don’t keep hands in kamae up, or protect head as their should (kaba), they also lift their chin as same time when they go down (manji geri) and so on. Last competitions I would say it was 100% their own fault if they had kick in the head, because of their jissen style was totally reckless (and everyone know who’s fault it was every time). And the fake crying. They should get warning themselves if they play and get that way the other person chuii. Jissen is game where two players use taido rules and FIGHT. In real situation if you start fake crying can you really win? Also the protection prevents seeing proper way and for most of the women it moved constantly so that they had to fix it all the time…

    And that pulling and grabbing to the legs, if the other person made good hit they (both men and women) grab the person leg and pulled so and then the judge did not give any points even there was perfect hit. In taido we don’t grab legs after point, you have already lost at that time! Also if one is laying on the back and kicking, western people do not get points and they should not (because they don’t have unsoku) but Japanese do.

    Then the third thing is that I would not mix events that way that judges change all the time. It would be better that all the time there would be same 3 judges, but they would be always from different nations. If the Event is too big for one area I would split that way that always up to 16 matches would be judged with same judges. (so if there is 16 competitors or less one area, 32 2 areas, 64 4 areas and so on). Now it felt that competition was totally mess, where same people had to be 2 different places at same time.

    And the prize giving ceremonies, IFC at the end of the each event, but WTC in the end and national songs, where were those

    What comes to that gears that keep some kind of sound I don’t think that is working. For getting ippon you have to have unsoku+timing, controlled technique+right target spot, kimegi+kiai and gentai. So the actual spot is just part of the ippon. And the hardest thing in jissen for judge is not to see if there was hit or not, but evaluate the other parts of the performance like timing when things happen very fast.

    Video, you should have cameras at lest each side and for these small sport that would mean many times more expensive fees. Also the it is sad to say, but we have only 3 countries that have judges (Japan, Finland and Sweden). Australia are at mostly also Swedish, Denmark don’t have, neither Netherlands, France, Portugal, GB, USA). So who would be those people in the panel? It was big problem already, all countries should keep their own national competitions and train judges that know how to judge. One can not be judge in international competitions if the person doesn’t judge at least minimum 2-3 national competitions per year! One just can not just come to competition and start judging, the speed these days is so fast that one has to be very active judge to be able to perform proper way.

    Unfortunately we just have beginners classes in international judge seminars. Those who don’t know those things already should not be judges in international competitions.

    I think we have to make first proper basement for our sport and then we have to grow, grow, grow (now we just shrink, shrink, shrink). All countries should start taking action in their countries and grow. Now some countries has less members than my own club (which is by the way for 2009 is about 65). And we have had the club only 7 years now. We have want to grow to be able to grow. If we just want to play with our old friends then we will just die.

    So this means more clubs to all countries. In Finland our newest club is now 1 year old and they already have 25 members and yes we have here the competition (aikido, judo, karate, kendo, iaido, jujutsu, brasilian jujutsu, krav maga, teakwondo, thai boxing etc etc). And yes we have to pay fees to counties to get the gyms where to practice and yes we need to advertise taido. So before getting Mega screens there is so much to do and yes you can do it yourself, start the club, get students, take care of them…. What is the price of this, you loose some spare time (instead laying in the couch and watching TV, you go to dojo and TEACH taido) but this way you will get dear friends that you can account for.

    Some questions:

    Have you own dojo?
    Do you train judging in your dojo?
    Do you teach competition rules for your students?

    1. Elisa, first let me say this: I love you.

      Moving on, I’m pretty much in agreement on everything you said. I won’t reply to each point, as you covered a lot of ground. I’ll highlight a few things that I think are really important to this discussion.

      Headgear is the same as the “no contact to the face” rule. It teaches us to be lazy about protecting our heads. I think the jissen (and other event) rules should teach students to do good Taido. For similar reasons, I think the obscene point bonus for nenchu in hokei needs to be repealed.

      There are lots of cheap tactics one can use in jissen. Maybe I’ll write an article about that sometime too. The faking, leg grabbing, etc. is just bullshit. Resorting to such tactics may get you a medal, but they won’t change the fact that you got owned.

      Keeping the same judges for each event is a very good idea to keep things fair and consistent.

      Finally, I totally agree that a lot of the solutions to all Taido problems are best solved within the national organization. However, as Amir pointed out, it seems that some orgs just don’t take the management end of things seriously enough. Look at Japan. We have the most judges and and the “best” teachers, but we don’t have near the infrastructure and organization that Finland and Sweden do.

      Even though the dojo is the first place to seek solutions to our problems, we need to leverage our international and organizational connections to put pressure on each other to improve.

  6. Just want to insert a related note here about the nature of the comments above:

    Nobody posting here is doing so on behalf of anyone but themselves. We’re all entitled to personal opinions, and it would be silly to read too much into that.

    All of the people engaged in this discussion think Taido is fantastic. We love it and want to continue doing it for a very long time. We also want to share it with others. Sometimes, that means we have to share our frustrations so we can work together and find solutions.

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