Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Competition judging - my first experience...

I had my first experience of competition judging last Saturday. It was a club level kata competition mainly for the kids in our club and for most of them it was also a first time experience. Sensei was having some difficulty getting sufficient numbers of black belts to help so he asked me and my husband if we'd give it a go.

Always one to support club level activities I jumped at the chance to have a go. I also thought it would be useful to be on the other end of the marking scheme which was the same scheme that will be used in my grading.  As it was just a fairly small competition (around 30 competitors) we just had one area in use with 5 judges. Most of the competitors were our youngest students (6 - 10 year olds) with a few older children and young teens. Though we had a full range of coloured belts represented the majority were still in the very junior ranks.

Sensei gave us a briefing on how to assess and score each competitor. He told us not to worry if our marks seemed a little higher or lower than other judges - scoring consistently within the category was more important.

Things I learned about judging:

  • It's a lot easier to judge a kata performance if you know the kata. Since most of the competitors performed one of the pinan katas or a familiar kyu grade kata this wasn't a problem. However, we had one senior category with 2 competitors performing 2nd dan katas which I don't know yet so I just had to look at the details of stances, hand positions, general tidiness and precision of moves. I've no idea if they made mistakes!
  • I'm a hard marker. I seemed to consistently score between a half and one and a half marks less than other judges. It's not always easy to know how much to add on for a particularly good performance and how much to deduct for mistakes. I was starting to feel embarrassed that watching parents would see me as the 'mean old woman' of the judging panel! 
  • Different judges notice different strengths and weaknesses in a performance. This is probably partly due to the fact we each see the performance from a different angle and a mistake may not be noticeable from a particular judge's angle. It may also be because each judge has a slightly different set of criteria. I have a particular thing about stance work - I spend so much time in the junior class getting the kids to bend their front knee in zenkutsu dachi or bend their back leg in cat stance that any straight legs seen in the competition lost them a half mark! (I'm so mean). Other judges may have had their own particular 'thing' that they looked for.
  • You have to concentrate very hard and not let your mind wander - you have to be in the moment. Most of these katas take around 30 - 40 seconds to perform so if you let your mind drift you've missed it! 
  • The standard was more variable in the very junior ranks than in the more senior kyu ranks. This made the purple and brown belt category much harder to judge and we did have a few tie breakers to decide who went through to the next round. The winners were a lot more clear cut in the lower ranks.
I was really impressed with the standard of our kids. A few on them were particularly outstanding even though they were only very junior belts. I thought they all rose to the challenge very well - it must be very intimidating to a 6 or 7 year old to perform their kata in front of judges and watching parents. I was very proud of them.

I really enjoyed my judging experience, it has helped me understand the marking scheme a bit better and given me a better overview of the standard of the kata performance of our junior students, and I was impressed!

Do you have any judging stories to tell?

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Charles James said...

Good Morning Sue,

Bullet One: You do know how to evaluate even kata you don't know. Just look for the fundamentals or fundamental principles, i.e. proper stances, proper fluidity to transitions of stances, form, structure, posture, etc. because these types of fundamental principles are universal to all kata, all systems and all practitioners.

Bullet Two: Don't allow your mind to accept any stories. You are an individual and unique with a unique perspective that benefits you and those you evaluate or judge. All parents always look to judges as something evil if they perceive even a smidgeon of criticality of their perfect child/children.

Bullet Three: You hit this one right on the head, excellent, awesome, good job :-)

Bullet Four: Another excellent observation; real black belt material thinking, thoughts, etc. :-))

Bullet Five: No comment here just another excellent observation.

Your remained very positive and I suspect any comments you made to the applicants were of the same which is a hall mark of a good evaluator/judge. Your willingness to step up to the plate is also a very awesome black belt or just human trait that speaks well of yourself, you can be proud of your participation and should consider researching and learning all you can about judging and referee'ing, etc.

I, at one time long, long, ago, was a member of the Okinawan Karate Referee Association. It is no longer alive but it did allow me a perspective that helped my observations as an instructor.

Have a good day!

Charles James said...

Okinawa Karate Referee Association or what we laughingly referred to as, "Okra." ;-)

Felicia said...

Hi, Sue...
Sounds like you had fun and learned lots. Congrats on seizing the opportunity :-)

I'm a hard grader as well, but I seem to have an easier time grading kata I don't know over ones that I do. Especially in mixed-style competitions, there are usually more than a few kata that I don't know or that other styles/schools do a wee bit differently. I look for not only stances and technical basics (hand/body positions, etc) but also for intent. To me, that kata should show two things: that the person is in a fight and that they are winning. The martial artist who does that the best will get the score highest score from me - especially in things like weapons kata (but not getting swept up by the "flash and awe factor" there is a whole 'nother story)..

Glad you enjoyed yourself :-)

John Coles said...

Congrats on the experience. Of course, more thought provoking posts. As part of our shodan grading, we had to spend 40 hours assisting on grading tables. The idea is to learn how to grade. While not explicitly taught, you do so in a 'sheep dog' type of manner by seeing what the experienced 'sheep dog' did and being given the opportunity of asking questions and being involved in discussion etc. Do you have a similar grading in your dan grading system? ... And of course, you've provided the subject of a blog in the very near future.

Sue C said...

Charles, thanks for all your feedback, you're really starting to feel like my personal motivator! You're right, now that I think about it, it shouldn't matter whether I know the kata or not - I can still tell whether it's being performed well or not if I look for the fundamentals.

Felicia, more good advice - thanks for sharing your insights. I'd be interested to hear about your 'flash and awe' story - sounds like you've seen a few sights whilst judging!

John, learning how to be a 'judge' is not part of our shodan grading. There is a 'referee' training course that one can go on after shodan but I think that is about referring sparring competitions rather than kata competitions. Your method of 'shadowing' experienced judges to learn is a good idea. In fact your whole system of grading sounds very exacting and demanding (I've been reading your posts). No stone is left unturned! I'll look forward to your post about judging...

Etali said...

Well done for stepping up!

I am interested in refereeing, and I've already done a bit of score-keeping, but no judging yet - that's the realm of the higher Dan grades for us. Your Sensei must have a lot of faith in you if he asked you to judge!

The grading requirements comments are interesting. The association I train with requires you to either compete in or officiate in some capacity at two tournaments to get your 2nd Dan, but doesn't have any special requirements for black belt.

Sue C said...

Etali, You know I was only asked to help with the judging because it was a fairly low key club level competition for our kids. Any higher level competition and I wouldn't have been allowed to do it. This 'friendly' level competition was a chance to give our kids some competing experience and us some judging experience. I really enjoyed doing it though and have learnt a lot.

Paul said...

Hé Sue,
I had my very first judging oppurtunity last sunday, which was also at a kata-shiai.
We had three shinpan (judges) per shiai. How we went to work was as follows: After the first kata we would get together to evaluate our judging; are the scores on a similar level? Maybe any shinpan would have to reasses their criteria?
I found it hard to keep that very first performance as the guideline for the other kata.
One round I had to judge, the kata naifanchi as a matter of fact.
It was a nice oppurtunity to experience. Also to look at other perform for once, because when I compete I hardly have eyes for others performances.

Nice blog by the way!

Sue C said...

Hi Paul, your experience sounds similar to mine, great fun eh? Thanks for commenting...


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