When the Contact is Hidden
I was young — someplace between 12 to 15 years old and an instruct trainee at the local martial arts school. I had actually been given the chance to teach without an instructor present. I had keys to open and lock up the school for my classes. Because of this status, I was frequently called upon at local tournaments to judge some of the lower ranking competitions.
Higher ranking competitions started early in the morning. The gymnasiums would start rather quietly with only 4 or 5 of the 25 individual “competition rings” running. As the day progressed the tournament would look like a chaotic ant pile. Competitors would pay attention to the announcements and move from the stands to the floor with regularity. Rings filled with a total of five judges (two being merely time and score keeper) began to look like small taped out boxes of confinement. For my own competition, I would shift between youth and adult based upon how many had signed up. There were advantages and disadvantages in both departments. However, I don’t recall how I performed at the competition in memory. But I do vividly recall my experience judging.
I had shifted around in my judging for the day. Quite a bit of score keeping was performed. But then I was moved to a ring to perform actual judging. The competitions start with a forms competition and then conclude with a sparring competition. During the forms competition, each participant stands up and performs their form. The judges determine a score for artistic expression and then if necessary present deduction scores for missteps in the form (missing a step or performing an incorrect move). The first three participants are unique however. They perform and then sit to the side without receiving a score until the first three are done. Then the three stand up and receiving their score. This allows the judges to determine a base scoring system for the competition. I gave generic scores. I was always too timid to give a good score which tilted my scores on the lower end. But as long as I was consistent, I was behaving fairly. That was the purpose of the judging method. Tournament sparring is a completely other paradigm. And on this day, in the sparring competition, I received an experience I will never forget.
In tournament sparring, two participants face off against one another. They will bow to one another and take a fighting stance. The scoring system was simple enough. A point for a punch or kick to the body (waist up from side seem to side seem). Two points for a kick to the head. Punches to the head were a strike against the participant. So also as were any combat moves to the back or below the belt. The first person to five points was declared the winner. The opening stance one took was a strategic decision. Intelligent fighters ensure that their primary scoring zones are hidden from the judges. They will flip their leading leg to ensure that the judges are doing their work to move around the ring. The longer the judges are looking at your back, the longer your chances to sneak out a point. Of course, to optimize this strategy, one must be decent at quick strikes with either leg.
In one particular match — I do not recall which round or importance —I found myself constantly in the back position only monitoring one participant's scoring zone. I attempted to move myself into better positions, but the other side judge had taken it upon herself to move across the ring to cover the larger scoring areas. In this particular situation she was not in a bad position. The two fighters were in an open stance — each with a different leg in front. This reduces some of the scoring zones but also permits the judges to have a great view of the scoring regions. With their backs turned towards me, I was as involved as possible but essentially worthless.
Quickly a back leg round house kick went up from a participant. Now, back leg kicks should not typically score. The movement required to twist one's body through a back leg kick allows an opponent time to throw a solid counter with their front leg. But these were lower ranking participants and the helmet of the closer fighter shifted visibly. In fact, most of the head gear came off of the participant's head. The visual cues affirming that the kick had made contact with the headgear. The head judge called for a score from the judges. It is at this point that the side judges would indicate view a stick and fingers which side had scored and how many points were given. The expectation in this situation was that two points had been scored for a successful kick to the head. But with the head judge's request for points my hands stood still. I looked side eye and saw that the judge beside me had also stood still. Only the head judge had awarded two points. On this technicality no points were awarded. The Instructor — whose name is irrelevant — was furious and called for a stop of time from the time judge. Asking the participants to turn away, he called us up to the judges' chairs and verbally ripped into us.
He started with the judge beside me. She had the clean sight and had apparently missed an obvious score. I do not recall much of his criticism of her. But then his gaze turned upon me. He asked me if I had seen the helmet move. I told him that I had. He furiously asked why I had not scored the point. It is worth noting that he was correct to be angry if the points were valid. It was a great disservice to the competitors that such a score went unmarked. But I calmly told him that despite seeing the helmet move, I could not determine if the kick had landed in a legal scoring area (the headgear) or and illegal scoring area (the unprotected face). I could only affirm that the strike had eventually hit the headgear. Still visibly upset, the head judge returned us to the match. I don't recall who won.
This memory has been of value to many areas of my life. Seeing the helmet move, I could not determine the cause. And the cause was of incredible importance. The Instructor who had established his position over the other judge went silent to my retort — I had seen the result and not the cause. There was a gaping hole in the logical sequence that kept me from scoring. I wish people would see this today in their conversations and criticisms. They see the helmet bounce and scream about the obvious logic.