by Sensei Neil Prime
September 1997

One of the responsibilities acquired as a Black Belt is judging tournaments. It is a job that requires an alert eye, a clear mind, and decisiveness as quick as a punch! Literally, as quick as a punch.

Judging kumite is not as easy as some may think. I have heard many times from outside the ring - "that should have been a point". Quite possibly from that persons' perspective it could have been.

So why didn't the judges recognize it as a point?

Let me try to give you an idea of what a judge should be looking for during a sparring match and it may possibly make you look at the next tournament in a different perspective.

How is a point scored?

The scoring zone is the body above the belt including the head. The spine is not a legal area however, the rib area to the back is.

A point is scored when a striking technique (either fist or foot) enters the legal scoring zone at a range where the technique has the potential to make contact if the competitor where to follow through.

Sounds simple so far.

Controlled contact is allowed to the body however, no contact is permitted to the head nor the spine. Directing a technique at the spine is means for disqualification, however you may direct techniques to the head and score as long as there is no contact.

Control must be at the discretion of the judge as is the distance a technique may be to score without making contact. Remember the technique only has to enter the zone, not make contact.

Where is this zone if no contact is being made?

This changes from rank to rank and age to age. This is an area for sound discretion. For obvious safety reason the judges will score more lenient to an 8 year old white belt and more stringent towards an adult Black belt. As a general rule of thumb, as long as the 8 year old white belt can beat the block of their opponent and the technique has forward conviction they should be allowed the point. The Black belts however must be more convincing.

Example: John and Jim are Black belts. When they square off against each other to begin their match they are approximately 6 feet away from each other. At the sound of the referee starting the match both competitors will move in approximately 2 feet to try to gain the advantage over each other. This leaves them with about 2 feet in between them.

A punch from John is directed towards the chin of Jim. A punch from a relatively experienced karateka will travel approximately 50 miles per hour. That means that it will take less than 1 second for a punch to travel 2 feet. This is still not impossible to detect even for an inexperience eye.

Let's add in some factors. An experience karateka will react to that punch and attempt to block. This now puts Jims' hands in the view of where the punch lands. Even if Jims' hands make contact with Johns' punch, did that happen as the punch was coming in or going out?

Jim will probably also try to move his head away from the line of fire making you wonder if the head is out of the way in time. Sometimes the head jerks so fast it may be mistook as contact, especially if the punch is clearly past the defenses block.

Discretion of the scoring zone.

At this caliber of competition, a scoring technique should be within a couple of inches. Not only should it be that close but it has to have the capability to make contact. If Jim is moving away will the punch be able to reach?

If John is punching and his arm is fully extended and shoulders and hips are fully turned and he is 2 inches away from Jims' nose, then technically it is not a point because John can not extend his technique any further.

Positioning of the competitors to the judges also provides different angles to view the match. While 1 corner judge has a perfectly clear view of the action, the opposite corner could quite possibly be blinded to any technique executed away from their vantage point.

All this does play an intricate roll on what should or should not be a point but what is more important to remember is that there are 5 judges for every match in our tournaments and I can't see any judge purposely ignoring a point or 3 judges making one up.

In the second part of my discussion of this topic (to appear in the next issue of this newsletter) I will discuss some points that I find helpful to me when center refereeing and corner judging.

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