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.