“Judges, you are being judged. If someone catches you looking at your phone, talking to someone, or otherwise not paying attention to the competitor, it looks really, really bad.” (paraphrased words at the Tiger Claw Elite Championship judges’ meeting)
It sounds obvious, but a lot of things that shouldn’t happen, happen. The organizers do their best to establish rules and review them at the judges’ meetings, but in the end, they can’t control what judges do.
This year was my first time serving as a judge at the annual TCEC in San Jose on May 21st. I volunteered to: 1) Gain experience, 2) Support the organizers who face a dearth of traditional judges, 3) Attempt to raise the standard for quality traditional martial arts, and 4) I didn’t have a desire to compete this year.
If you watched me, you’d notice I’d focus on the lower body for fundamentals: stances, root, body structure, body mechanics, and applications. However, most beginners and practitioners in general are still building their foundation so I did take into account their power and spirit.
Overall, it was a good experience but I’ll be open about some of the issues in hopes of improving future tournaments. I’ve had negative experiences as a competitor and this may help other competitors understand the process from a judge’s perspective.
- Our staff is on a volunteer basis and our head judge was called to another ring so a different judge took over, we were missing 2 judges (each ring should have 5 judges), the ring coordinator was only available for the morning shift, and we were missing a runner/timekeeper. There was a lot of confusion throughout the day.
- We had over 60 First Timers and by the time I got to the 15th or 20th competitor, it was impossible to fairly judge them with consistency. For this division, we only provided a score and did not rank the competitors.
- I tried my best to use a wide spread of scores but sometimes a competitor who had better quality in some areas would stumble and I’d have to lower my score. The spread became narrower than I intended.
- The judges sat together at the table instead of in the corners and sometimes the other judges spoke or made sounds of approval/disapproval that may have influenced my score. I stayed quiet and did my best to judge based on what I saw and felt from each competitor.
- Not having much downtime and being in a loud and stuffy convention center left me with a headache for a good portion of the day. Being an all day volunteer while judging with consistent fairness and attentiveness takes a different kind of endurance.
There were three other challenges directly related to my attempt to raise the standard of traditional martial arts. I struggled with compromising my integrity versus keeping the event light and fun, especially for the Beginners ages 7-8.
- Skewed scores: The pressure to give higher scores to encourage First Timers and Beginners to continue competing. I didn’t receive any direct pressure, but other judges mentioned it. I gave higher scores to the younger participants but I was harsher with the adults, who didn’t seem to mind. I stayed consistent within each division.
- Ties: We had two instances where there was a 3-way tie among the kids for first place and the rule book doesn’t mention how to handle this. (There is a procedure for a 2-way tie with 5 judges present.) In the first case, we had the top 3 competitors compete again and placed them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. In the second instance, we gave them all gold medals and didn’t award silver or bronze. I would’ve had them compete again if I had been head judge.
- No losers: The pressure to give all of the competitors medals if there were four kids in the division. The last place competitor started to cry and we ended up giving her a bronze medal which essentially negates the efforts of the 3rd place competitor and misses the chance to teach the kid how to handle losing.
I apologize to all the competitors and their families for the lack of organization at times. I was frustrated and would have done some things differently had I had the authority. I heard of even more frustrating and biased actions in another ring.
On the plus side, I appreciated the new experience and I saw a lot of good spirit and potential from the competitors. This far outweighs the negatives.