Oh you’re a professional black belt?

Recently I posted on Facebook some things that I felt black belts should be doing if they are going to tournaments when it comes to judging. This was based on my 29 years of being a black belt and judging more tournaments than I can count. It was rather a simple list of things. Here is the copy of the post:

“Your job as a judge at a martial art competition:

1. The competitors come first, not your rank, your style or your agenda.
2. Watch their Kata. Judge it based on balance, technique, power, focus, kime and performance…not on the style preference you have or even how you like Kata to be done.
3. During Kumite matches if you do not see the technique land, even if you are certain they hit them, you cannot call it.
4. Kumite is NOT a game of tag. If the technique was not good form, good Kime, good targeting then it is not a point. It isn’t about who can slap whom first.
5. Stay in your ring until everything is done…and even then ask if anymore divisions need done to help out.
6. WEAR A UNIFORM. It is a martial arts competition…not relaxing at your house.
7. Be professional. Be respectful. It is not about you…it is about the competitors.
8. If you are a black belt with students at an event then judge…we all, every single one of us who are judging, want to watch our students but unlike you we understand Giri…that is paying back for all those black belts who judged you when you were a kyu rank competing.
9. BE ON TIME. MAKE THE MEETING. It is so rude for black belts, competitors or judges alike, to show up late to an event. The meeting is important because that is where rules, changes and other things are discussed.
10. If you are the center official in your ring your job is to run the ring. Get on it. Help your score keepers (they are volunteers who didn’t have to help out). Make it exciting, fun and give kudos to competitors. Be in charge, educate your judges what is expected and most of all FOLLOW THE RULES of the event.

All this is sound advice that I have received over the years and I like to think that I run a pretty good ring when I judge”

What this little post did was create some good dialog on it but it also created a storm of emails from people on my friends list, and some who were not, about a plethora of the whys and cannots for them. Here is some of the messages (along with my retorts) that I received. Of course I will not single them out by including their names.

“I take my students to tournaments all the time but I am not there to judge. I am there for them.” – My reply…so is every single black belt out there who are giving up their FREE time to judge your students. What makes you so special?!?

“I am a professional black belt and have earned my right to not wear a uniform. My rank is 6th degree and if I don’t want to wear a uniform then I don’t have to” My reply…well I agree that we don’t have to once we get to 5th dan and above but showing up in a t-shirt and jeans its what I would call professional. Professional means you wear the attire for the required circumstances. I am a 6th dan and I still wear my Gi to every event because I am a professional black belt instructor as I see it.

“My art is old school and traditional. I simply cannot stand the made up flashy Kata people do today at events and pass it off as Karate. I score those people lower because of it and rightfully so. There is no honor and integrity with those people” My reply…at a closed event such as WKF that would be acceptable but these are open tournaments you go to. Open means any art form and the best competitor should win regardless. While I agree that I don’t care for the flashy stuff either that is not part of the judging criteria for open tournaments. We can’t judge based on how we feel or think. We can only judge based on the criteria. That is the definition of honor and integrity.

From a competitor “What really bothers me and upsets me is when judges just aren’t watching you when you perform or when you lose because they like a person over you or like their art over yours” – My reply…I understand this and we, as competitors, have all been through it. My suggestion is to make your judges pay attention by being so good at your performance that they have to notice. In regards to the other, well you will have that no matter what you do, but train to be so good that there is no way another could ever rip you off…it does nothing to let it hold you back…train harder!

There were more but the one comment about being a professional martial arts instructor and not wearing a Gi to a tournament really stuck out with me. I guess the reason why is every sports league out there that is professional has a set attire for judges and officials. In Karate we do as well. The WKF requires a certain suit and tie. Open tournaments should require all judges to be in a Gi. It is the uniform of our trade and we should present ourselves as professionals. That being said the one who sent me that message often runs, hides, shows up late and tries to avoid judging anyway…so I shouldn’t expect any less of a comment from that type of person.

There were several messages from people who compete complaining about judging situations that have upset them and, in all honesty, I feel for them because I remember many in my years as a Kyu rank competing as well. Whenever I hear some complain about being ripped off, or robbed as some call it, at a tournament my mind races back to when I was a brown belt and had done the same thing with my Sensei at the time. For over a year I rarely lost a tournament as teenager brown belt competing. One weekend we decided to go to a tournament outside of our normal ones. I trained just as hard for this one as I had all the others. We got there, we competed and I only placed in fighting. I was very upset that my scores were so low because I had ran a very solid traditional Kata. The following week at the dojo I expressed how I felt ripped off by the judges to my Sensei. He looked at me sternly and said “If you’re going to complain then train to be so great no one can ever rip you off at one”. Even to this day that resonates with me and is the same thing I say to my students when they complain as well. That is a real martial arts mentality…to train so hard to be so good at your art that you shine above others. Most people refer to it as indomitable spirit in their “marketing”. Sadly many schools support the exact opposite today…whining, crying and throwing fits. Needless to say I trained hard and the next time we went to that event I aced it getting 1st in Kata and 1st in Kumite. It was that simple sentence from my Sensei that set a standard for excellence in all I do, both inside and outside of the dojo.

Some of the other complaints from competitors are very much well founded and perhaps one of the many reasons I made the post to begin with. I can’t stand seeing judges watching their students in other rings when they should be watching the competitor in the ring they are in. It also sickens me when someone is so closed minded that they simple score a student low because they don’t like that person’s teacher or art. There is no integrity in such actions at either time. Many years ago I was judging at a tournament in Kokomo, Indiana. The center, and host of the event, was Mrs. Judy Wade. About in the middle of the division we were judging she caught me watching one of my students in another ring. Right after the competitor in our ring got done she stopped the next one from entering the ring, walked right up to me and said “your eyes better be in this ring or you don’t deserve that belt on your waist”. Well, anyone who knows Mrs. Wade will tell you this was normal coming from her if you messed up and to this day it has held solid in my mind as a standard for being in a ring and judging. The competitors in your ring deserve you absolute attention. You should watch them with as much intent as you would your own student at all times. Anything less is a lack of integrity from your own actions and, well, quite simply not proper black belt attitude.

Then I got the emails from the hater’s club, as I call them. These are black belts that simply can’t stand anything I post. Needless to say I never bothered to respond to them after reading them because they always troll and cause issues on Facebook and I have no time for that. That being said there was one of them that stuck out so here it is:

“Ok so who died and made you king of the judging at tournaments. I don’t think you should belittle everyone for doing their own thing just because you don’t agree with it”. Well, maybe this guy is correct BUT it is my Facebook page and I will post what I like. I know this individual and we have never got along. He is definitely someone who does none of the things I listed in the post yet walks around (when he actually shows up at an event) as if everyone should bow down to his mightiness. I didn’t bother responding because all he ever does is bash everyone for everything in the martial arts world so it would’ve been a waste of my time however; had I responded it would have sounded like this “No one died and made my king of anything but, unlike you, I lead by my example and everything I stated is exactly what I do. Sadly you can’t see past your own nose or made up, self promoted ranks, to see that it is about others and not you.” So I am sure you can see what would have occurred from that reply LOL.

Judging at tournaments can be a very unforgiving job. It makes for a long day, in an often thankless position, judging competitors. Quite often we are competing as well so spending four or more hours sitting in chair does nothing to help us be ready to go do so. I agree that there are some people out there who should never be judging but I disagree that they can’t learn how to do so. If a school is going to have students compete in tournaments then you, as the Sensei, must educate your black belts how to be great judges…no matter how small the amount of sport you do in your dojo. You also need to set the example for your students in everything, and I mean everything, you do. If a student sees you never dressing out, never judging then that’s exactly what they will grow up doing. If everyone thought and taught that way then there will be a demise in sport tournaments very quickly.

One last thought on this…black belts should take classes to get certified in the rules of the organization / association they belong to. In the PKC we offer certification classes for judging criteria. The ones who take this course are going to be in charge in the center of the ring. Part of what we are taught is to train our judges what is acceptable and what is not. As a center official I always recommend that they take a course and get certified as this makes the ring, and the tournament, run smoother with less headaches for everyone…including competitors, judges, black belts, teachers and parents. If everyone is one the same page it is an amazing experience…but, like they say, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bushel….DON’T BE THAT APPLE.





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