At The Tournament, Part 2

Tournament picsLast week I started discussing a tournament I attended in Columbia, Missouri over Easter weekend. I mentioned that while I may compete in the various tournaments, the fun part for me is judging.

Let me explain for those who have never seen a martial arts tournament a little of how ours operates. Multiple competitions occur in the same ring. Forms, weapons, sparring, and combat sparring (with a thick padded stick. Nothing like getting to whack an opponent. Lol) I want to focus right now on the forms. There are three judges per ring – one who assesses the quality of kicks and stances; one for hand techniques; and the center who judges overall performance. This includes: timing, rhythm and flow, and attitude. Each judge gives a score between 2 and 9 and the three competitors with the highest total scores receive medals.

I sat in the center chair for two rings on Saturday. One for a group of 2nd and 3rd degree black belt boys age 12-14 and another of the same two degrees ages 15-17.

Let me assure you, judging is tough. There is so much to consider, so much to remember (besides the rules), and sometimes…sometimes, people aren’t happy with the results. This was the case during the two rings on Saturday.

I’m not going to name individuals, because I don’t know any names of the people who disagreed with my scores. I’m also not here to justify my judgments even though it may sound like it. I just want you to try to understand how competition works.

As I mentioned, the scores range from 2-9 (with the possibility of a 1 or a 0 in certain extreme cases as when competitors leave out a major portion of the form but I don’t want to get too technical or too detailed with the rules), with the average for a large sized group being 5. This means that to receive a 9 the competitor is of the best in the group. A 5 means an average performance and anything below means a below average performance for the group. For that specific group. At that particular tournament. Past performances in other tournaments with other judges cannot be considered.

Which is where a problem arose. With such a large group (8 competitors) the judges are advised to spread out the scores so as not to risk multiple ties. Ties do happen and they’re dealt with but they can be limited by spreading out the scores. Which means, that out of a group of 8, there should be some who are above average, some who are average and some who are below average. Remember-for that group at that tournament.

I must say that this ring, as well as the subsequent ring, had a group of fine martial artists who all had quality performances. This makes it tough for the judges because we have to notice and pick apart any little inconsistency or fault so we can score properly. Sometimes, it may be a slight wobble, hop, off balance maneuver, an off target strike or any number of little things which differentiates each performance from the others.

So, when the competition was completed I was approached by another martial artist, in uniform, and another individual who I assumed was a parent. They proceeded to inquire about my low scoring of a particular competitor. I explained how I judged that person didn’t do as well as the others in certain areas. They tried to explain how the competitor had fared at previous tournaments, receiving a higher score. I had to explain, as I mentioned above, that I cannot consider previous tournaments’ results. I have to judge by what I see that day.

Unfortunately, they went away disagreeing with my calls and my explanations and I regret they did so. I don’t like dissatisfied parents. In reviewing the scores, it was determined that all three judges scored fairly. As long as a judge is consistent with the scoring and the thought processes behind it throughout, then a justifiable explanation can be made. Also, unfortunately, some people may not agree.

Have I made mistakes in the past? Of course. At one tournament some years ago, I was told straight out, one on one, by a Master, that I had erred in my scoring in a weapons’ competition. I didn’t like that he told me I was wrong and, frankly, I went away from the tournament with a sour attitude. I’d been judging for over a decade and this guy tells me I’m wrong?

However, in subsequent training and classes and seminars I learned…he was correct and I was wrong. A couple years later, I had the chance to thank him and to explain how I had learned from the experience.

That’s part of being a martial artist-making mistakes, learning, accepting humility, and growing as a result.

I’m thankful for the high ranks in my organization and those who help with problems at tournaments. In the subsequent ring down in Columbia, I noticed a Chief Master explain to another parent how judges score the weapons’ competition and why I probably gave a student a low score. See, I had learned what areas in the performance to watch and what criteria to judge. I don’t know if that parent accepted the explanation but I felt satisfied that I did a good job.

I’m thankful for the support from the high ranks and other judges. As I mentioned last time, I know I’ve done a good job when parents thank me for helping make their children’s experience enjoyable. I don’t go fishing for the compliments, but take them to heart when they come.

And the student who received a low score…he also thanked me for being his judge.

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2 thoughts on “At The Tournament, Part 2

  1. It’s wonderful that your passion for martial arts is matched by your ability and expertise. It’s also wonderful that everyone appreciates the effort, fairness and detail that go into being a judge. I’ve always heard that martial arts are noble and you are underscoring that notion for me.

  2. As I told one of the competitors, my days as an actual competitor are numbered. My passion for in-ring competition has waned. I still enjoy the tournament, but I don’t get excited about competing. I will, but if I don’t, then I don’t feel I’ve missed something. I go to tournaments to have fun and to help others have fun. I enjoy judging. I enjoy the camaraderie with the other judges and high ranks and chance to yell and try and up the excitement level for others.

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