This is the Judo blog of Lance Wicks. In this blog I cover mainly Judo and related topics. My Personal blog is over at where I cover more geeky topics. Please do leave comments on what you read or use the Contact Me form to send me an email with your thoughts and ideas.

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Judo refereeing, why is it as it is? 

Judo is (in art at least) a sport. We have referees and they affect the result of competitions. In fact, I would argue that the referees are the single most influential element in Judo today. Personally I think that this is wrong and would like to see Judo experiment with new concepts in refereeing

Explains A Lot
The problem
In Judo, there are 5 people on the mat, 6 or 7 people involved in the "game" if you include the scoreboard and clock officials. So of these only two are players. That's less than 30% of the people involved are actually playing the "game"!

Lets compare that to Rugby Union. 30 players on the field, 1 referee, 2 linesmen and a video ref. 4 officials to 30 players. In Rugby a cast majority of the people involved in the game are playing the game.

So, the basic argument is this, each person involved influences the outcome of the game. Do you want a sport that the outcome is influenced mainly by referees (as in Judo) or by the players (as in Rugby)?

Sure, the referees/table officials are not as important as the players and in ways serve teh players, but the fact remains that there are more of them than players and that seems wrong.

One mistake by any one of those officials can change the result of the match, potentially changing the result from if just the players were involved.

What I am talking about here is Risk Management. The risk of an official changing the result of a Judo match is considerably higher than that same risk in other sports like Rugby.

So what to do?
If you/we accept the idea that officials are a risk to the true outcome of a match being lost, then we must change the shape of Judo to remove the influence that officials have on matches.

To do this, we need to change the rules of the game to remove the officials from the equation.

Ideas for new Judo refereeing.
The following are a number of ideas on how we might change Judo competition to address the idea that officials have too greater influence in the final result and should have this infleunce curtailed. These ideas are also ideas that might just change the sport of Judo to make it more interesting or increase Ippons, etc.

Finally, none of these ideas are well thought out proposals, they are the mad ramblings of a Judo coach with a blog. :-)

. 1 referee, 3 scorers/judges
Borrowing from boxing, we could remove the job of scoring points from the referee. Make their job simpler, make it solely to control the match and ensure a safe match.
Scoring would be done by judges off the mat, possibly 3 keeping score independantly with the final result being decided at the end of the match by averaging the scoresheets.
Alternatively all three must call every score and a recorder writes down the averaged score.
Penalties perhaps are given in scores only, without Matte.

This approach does two things, it simplifies the role of the referee. It also balances the scoring across three poeple and by having them all score all throws perhaps it ensures that a more consistent scoring is given.

. Seismic scoring
Again we take the socring job away from the referee. This tijme we give it to a machine. We place sensors under the mat and then record the shock of impact of throws to score them.
Would take calibration and might not work at all, but a scoring system based on impact force is appealing.
This would potentially mean that Ippon becomes a objective measurement finally. You slam someone hard you get the score you deserve.
This might encourage bigger throws and the visuals would be appealing for TV too.
Of course, it might not work and the costs might be prohibitive, but given my laptop can act as a seismograph device, it is not "that" crazy this idea.

. Playing "advantage"
Taken direct from Rugby Union this one, when a player breaks a rule in Rugby, the referee can call "advantage" and indicates which team has was penalised against. The play continues and the referee makes a decision at some stage as to if the team penalised against has gain and advantage. If so, play continues. If not, the whistle is blown and the team gets a free kick, to ensure a tactical advantage is given.

Rather than give a score, in rugby they give a tactical advantage.

In Judo we could try this approach, you take a illegal grip perhaps. rather than Matte and a shido, the referee simply shouts "ADVANTAGE".
At this point you lose the ability to score, so your opponent can attack without fear of counters. Also you can't take a attacking position on the floor perhaps. So in effect, your opponent gets a free attack.
The referee perhaps lets play continue for a few seconds and then calls "ADVANTAGE OVER" if your oppoenent makes that attack or if things have returned to a equal state. (Of course you'd have had to stop penalising).

This approach could decrease the number of Matte calls and also give a tactical advantage to the player offended against. I think this is better than dishing out result changing points to players. The referee goes from changing the score directly to simply giving a player an advantage (after we should add, they have lost the advantage due to illegal methods from their opponent). This balances the match and leaves the actual scoring in the control of the players not the coach.

. No referees at all.
Do we need them? Maybe we should scrap them, maybe other players in the event should score the fights? Maybe the players on the mat decide when they have had enough?
In some "Extreme Sports", the scoring is done by the other competitors; in golf players score for themselves.

. Rounds
Rather than one fight, make players fight one another 3,4,5...8 times in a row. This decreases the risk of a "fluke" deciding the result or of course the referee. This would average out the result over several rounds.
Multiple rounds might also mean more strategic Judo, conditioning becomes more of a factor. Equally, it allows for "come backs" in the later rounds. Imagine Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle if it was all decided in the first round?

It may also be an opportunity to alter the format of Judo competition. Three rounds perhaps, one tachi waza, one ne waza, one with both? that would give "specialists a better chance to shine". Maybe bring in a Kata round (somehow?).

This also raises the idea of cummulative scoring, which people have discussed in the past.

If we agree with the idea that referees have too much of an influence on the outcome of a Judo competition/match then the ideas presented here may be ways of decreasing this influence and returning the control over who wins and loses to the players in the event.

Of course those are some big "ifs" and "buts", all the above needs exploring more fully and testing in experiemental conditions. The results of those tests needs discussing and a rational discussion had based on the ideas and evidence from tests.

So for now, these are just ideas to spark more thought, enjoy!


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