Was that a point?
By Sensei Neil Prime.

I have said it before and I'll say it again, judging can be one of the hardest to learn, yet one of the most important roles of any Black Belt who is at a tournament. I take this seriously because bad judgement can really put a discouraging note on a competitor. Even though we try to instill participation is more important than a trophy, it is a hard concept to grasp for many of the competitors. After all, the nature of competition is to win.

Here are a couple of basic rules I try to imply when judging.


Make sure you give yourself a good range for scoring. If the pre-determined average is 8 and competitor "A" does a kata that you feel is average to their rank then give them the average score. A little bit more or a little bit less only qualifies a little bit of a score difference. If competitor "B" comes up and blows the 1st competitor away then score him accordingly… with at least a 9. If you only give a slightly higher score than the 1st competitor then you make it very difficult to spread out the field for the competitors who deserve 2nd and 3rd place. This also does nothing to tell the first competitor that they need work on their kata, and if they are there to learn (we try to promote this, correct?) then we are there to teach.

Make sure you remember who has the highest 3 scores. If you don't, then chances are the real winners won't prevail. It is so important that you remember these scores and don't go beyond them unless who-ever does really deserves to. This statement sounds ridiculous, but I bet we've all done it! I've heard it said many times that the 1st person up stands the least chance of winning. This should not be true if all the judges were to follow this rule. I would like to see note pad score cards for the kata judges for this very reason.


There are 2 major problem areas.

1) A point is awarded because an aggressive opponent executed a technique or flurries of techniques.

2) A point was missed because the judges didn't see the follow up to the initial attack.

The 1st problem occurs due to of a number of reasons. Sometimes we are too quick to call what might be, or what could have been. Others simply don't appreciate a good counter fighter or defensive fighter because they are not that type of fighter themselves.

The 2nd problem occurs when the judge only follows 1 single technique. Many good fighters will throw a set-up technique to gain range followed immediately by the key technique. If the set-up technique does its' job it will likely be blocked. Thus, it is important to maintain eye contact with the complete attack.

Competitors, I can sympathize with frustration to a certain degree, but make sure your know what to be frustrated with. Usually it turns out to be our own strategies and techniques that need improvement. I think our judges are very good over-all. How we (as a competitor) actually perceive what is happening and what actually does happen can be very different sometimes. Watch yourself on videotape and you might see why you didn't get the point you thought you should have had. Chances are you'll make fewer excuses in the next tournament and you'll start working out the real problems.

Take heed, I have seen many tournaments within and outside our organization. Believe me, I think our judges for the most part give a lot more respect to the competitor than many of the open competitions I have attended, even on an international level.

Judges and soon to be judges, keep in mind that we all have room for improvement in our judging skills. Our organization will be implementing judging clinics as mandatory requirements in the future if you wish to judge in a tournament. I think this is a great step in the right direction. Most sports require this type of certification at an entry level of competition. Within the Grimsby and St.Catharines clubs we have inter-club tournaments and sparring nights which can really help. Take advantage of these clinics.

Kyu belts, start learning now! Sit beside a corner judge in a competition and see if you see what they see. You have to have the same angle they do. By actually looking at a match from their angle, you will start to understand why a point is or isn't scored. Have a friend go to the opposite corner and do the same thing. After the competition talk about what you saw. You'll be amazed at the differences you'll see from opposite corners of the ring. This is why there are 5 judges. This will probably also help with your competition skills. It will give you a better understanding of why using the whole ring is to your advantage.

To summarize briefly this potentially huge topic, judging like competing is a skill that takes practice to learn properly. You can't expect to go to 1 tournament a year and become a proficient judge or competitor. Practice your skills in class even if it is not a special clinic simply by watching people spar and score it in your own head. Listen intently to the critiques from the instructor while you or your classmates are performing kata and this should give you an idea of what the judges are looking for. The more we associate judging with competing, the more it will make sense for us when we are in a judging situation.

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