I’ve been to karate tournaments as a spectator, a competitor, and as a volunteer. When I earned my brown belt last summer I became eligible to try for a judging license. This past weekend was the culmination of over a year of preparation. For the last year I’ve been reading the World Karate Federation rules and auditing referee seminars. I’ve watched officials at tournaments. I tend to be a “whole to part” learner, so it takes awhile for details to settle in. I spent January hammering in as many details as I could and hoped they were the right details. I got my criminal background check and SafeSport certification done in plenty of time for the seminar and subsequent exams to earn my USA National Karate Federation Judge D license. I took practice tests and hoped for the best.
I won’t go into detail about what I did wrong in the first tests on Saturday. But I will say that I am now far more familiar with the format of each test therefore I now know how to study for each of the first tests. There’s more license testing in my future! My poor performance in the preliminary exams called to mind my experience with the SAT (a standardized test for US high school students who are planning to go on to college). My grades were quite high so obviously I knew how to function in the context of high school academia. But when I took the PSAT (Pre-SAT, administered as practice a few months prior to the SAT) I scored poorly. After receiving my scores I bought a book that was full of tips, practice questions, and practical advice. I did much better when it came time for the real test and scored highly enough to get admitted to the colleges I was applying to. I may have done poorly on the first tests for my judging license, but I will do better when I re-certify or try for a higher license.
I redeemed myself during the practical part of the exam. The day after the first tests us candidates were assigned to rings for the actual tournament. For kata (forms) there are five judges who each get a vote, and for kumite (sparring) there are four judges and a referee – in other words, I was part of a team that made decisions. Candidates for licensing were mixed in with more experienced judges and referees so we had a lot of support and feedback. We were evaluated as we worked as parts of the teams we’d been assigned to. Mostly the examiners were discreet as they observed us candidates, although I did laugh silently to myself when one of them took the role of referee and I was, therefore, part of his panel for a few bouts. He absolutely was looking at my judging then – he had to! But this was later in the day so I didn’t think anything of it. By then I’d hit my stride and he’d probably done enough evaluating and most likely was giving someone else a break.
After the last competitor received medals us candidates were called over to receive our patches and certificates. I felt like crying with relief but of course I didn’t. That one moment when I knew I’d earned my license meant just as much to me as winning a gold medal in competition. USA-NKF Judge D is the lowest of the low, but that’s OK. It’s a start, and until I earn my first degree black belt, this is all I’m qualified for. Throughout the tournament I had a generous helping of support and feedback from one of the sensei (instructors) from the karate organization I belong to. He’s leading a workshop on judging and refereeing tomorrow (2/17/18). It’ll be worth the three-hour drive to get there. I’m sure there’s more I need to know about judging and I’d like to practice refereeing even though technically I’m not eligible for that role yet.
Here are some highlights of the weekend.
One part of the exams on Saturday involved us going one by one into a room alone with the three examiners. While we were waiting, someone quipped, “What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?” Of course several of us also started quoting the movie (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) and telling funny stories involving quoting that movie during karate. Being rather silly while waiting our turns was a great way to let off some nervous energy.
Men’s blazers and shirts have all sorts of pockets everywhere. Women’s blazers and shirts don’t. I had to hide my whistle under my tie because I didn’t have a shirt pocket. I have to figure out how to affix my judge patch to my blazer – no problem for the men, they have cute little flippy magnet things that fit in the breast pocket that my blazer lacks! At one point I fumed, “It doesn’t have pockets. When I went to my fitting at Chez Alison, the one thing I forgot to say was ‘Give me pockets!’” Yes, there are more than a few karateka who are Doctor Who fans.
The very first division I had to judge was kobudo (weapons). I’ve had a few classes in bo, a few lessons in Filipino Martial Arts, and zero experience with using a point system to judge. There’s not much in the way of guidance for kobudo judging in the rulebook. I was able to think on my feet with the point system, but what about judging something that, for all intents and purposes, I have never done myself? And what about judging a division where there were 3 bo, 1 set of canes (“sticks”), 1 set of nunchaku, and 1 eku all competing in the same division? How do you judge different weapons against one another? I already knew that looking at the lower body helps tremendously when judging empty-hand kata. Weapons are no different. Beyond that, I have to thank my online acquaintances and fellow martial-arts bloggers Jackie Bradbury and Brian Johns. They’ve shown me what good weapons-work looks like. I’m not saying that I have nothing more to learn about judging weapons, it’s just that I wasn’t completely floundering when I was put into that situation.
The last division I judged were elite level athletes. I was assigned to that ring because one of my examiners thought I could handle it (this was a very high complement considering my dismal performance in the preliminaries the day before). I was judging young men in the peak of physical condition all of whom had more years of training than I. I’m sure they’ve been to more than just local tournaments. Total and complete contrast with me, a slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron who’s only been training for four years. And yet, there I was – sitting in a chair and holding flags for signaling my opinion. But yet I wasn’t nervous. By then I’d been judging all day. I reminded myself that I’ve been watching and evaluating kata at tournaments and in the dojo for quite some time. Not to mention I’ve been fixing my own bad habits and polishing the little details of the kata I’ve learned. So I sat back and enjoyed having a front row seat to some really good kata performances. I had to get very nitpicky with these competitors. Winners won by a hair most of the time.
After all was said and done, someone asked me about my weekend. I replied that it was nerve-wracking, exciting, and educational. I was both prepared and unprepared. I have a lot to learn and I know I will have help when I need it. As far as judging is concerned I consider myself to be the equivalent of a new orange belt (10th kyu – the first belt one tests for in our system). Judging at tournaments is another new role I’ve begun playing since I earned my brown belt (“low brown,” 3rd kyu, three more tests before black). The title of my blog site, “A Beginner’s Journey” is still very relevant!