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The hardest job in kendo...?


  • The hardest job in kendo...?

    When I wrote this, the FIFA World Cup was in full swing. Apart from the early exit of some of the highly regarded teams, and the fantastic showing of the underdogs, perhaps the biggest on-going stories at this competition surrounded the glaring mistakes made by the worlds top football referees. What about that goal scored by a blatantly offside Tevez in the match between Argentina and Mexico? Who can forget the goal scored by Lampard against Germany that bounced over the line and out again, but was not awarded by the ref? I can only imagine the intensity of profanities screamed out simultaneously in Old Blighty that very instant. It could plausibly have been the first four letter word audible from outer space.

    These, and many other incidents put life in to an old debate. If we have the technology, why not use it? How hard would it be for an extra official sitting in a booth to check dicey decisions on a video screen and report by radio back to the ref? Not only would it avert potential international incidents, perhaps the threat of citation afterwards might even stop some of those deplorable cheats who take an orchestrated dive for the team. Still, some are of the opinion that hullabaloo is an important part of the game. Even the Brazilian coach Dunga said If there is no controversy in football, you wouldnt be there and I wouldnt be here.

    Im sure that most people would prefer to avoid the same kind of controversy in kendo. Still, being only human, shinpan in the kendo context are also bound to make a few mistakes. Obviously this is not ideal, but it is inevitable. I remember one 8-dan sensei told me he only gets it right about 90% of the time. So why not use technology? Interestingly, this is an issue that is rarely considered seriously in kendo. There are just too many factors that need to be taken into consideration, not just a simple issue of whether or not the ball crossed the line. First there the stipulated requirements for yūkō-datotsu which include of datotsu-bui (accurately striking the target), datotsu-bu (with correct part of the shinai), hasuji (correct direction of the cutting edge), kyōdo (adequate strength of the cut), sae (crispness of the cut), ki-ken-tai-itchi (unity of sword, body and spirit), and zanshin (continued physical and mental alertness). Then, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. These are shisei (posture), kiai (vocalization), maai (interval), tai-sabaki (footwork), kikai (striking opportunities), and tenouchi (grip). The role of the humble kendo shinpan is a complicated one indeed, and it just got a little more difficult for fifteen of the worlds best.

    Most readers will be aware that newly renamed SportAccord, the former General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) held the first SportAccord Combat Games in Beijing from August 28 to September 4, 2010. The competition showcased thirteen Martial Arts and Combat sports, both Olympic and non-Olympic events, and there was also a Cultural Program that was intended to reflect the social and cultural values of these sports and Combat Games as a whole. In the kendo event, 32 male and 24 female competitors selected from around the world, plus 24 demonstrators participated in an individual kendo tournament, East versus West demonstration match, and 8-dan demonstrations of kendo, Nippon Kendo Kata, iaido and jodo.

    Not all AJKF officers were initially enthusiastic about participating in this momentous event. However, it was quickly realized that the potential to showcase kendo to the rest of the world and the prestige through taking part was too much of an opportunity to ignore. One aspect of the competition vital to its success was the level refereeing. Fifteen referees were selected and all converged in Narita city on June 21 and 22 for an intensive seminar. Due to the restricted time for the events, it was decided that each match would be four minutes in duration with an additional two minutes enchō (time extension) if no winner is decided. If after two minutes of extra time the scores are still level, the outcome will be decided by hantei (referees decision) in which the three shinpan raise either the red or white flag to indicate who they thought was the better player overall.

    This system was used in the All Japan Kendo Championships until 1986, and it is stipulated in Article 7 of the Regulations In pronouncing hantei, shinpan-in shall take into consideration, first the skill of shiai-sha, then their attitudes in shiai. In Article 9 of the Subsidiary Regulations, it states Hantei prescribed in Article 7, Item 5 of the Regulations, shall be based on the following criteria: 1. In case shiai-sha has made datotsu nearly equal to yūkō-datotsu, his or her skill should be regarded as superior; and 2. In case shiai-sha is predominant in posture and movements, his or her attitude should be regarded as superior.

    Once again, I was in the privileged position of interpreting for the seminar. Okushima Yoshio Sensei from Kyoto, who was the Shinpan-chō at the event, served as the main instructor and his explanations were concise and to the point. The main thrust of his instruction was as follows. As the whole premise of kendo matches is to try and score valid points in the opponent, the first hantei criteria of nearly equal to yūkō-datotsu goes without saying. This does not mean strikes that touch or come close to touching the target should be considered, but genuinely close attempts that have the referee wanting to put the flag up, but not quite able to Furthermore, even if one referee puts their flag up for a point, this should not be taken into consideration in the hantei process because it could have been an error of judgment. According to the rules, if the hantei cannot be decided by the first criteria, the second, superior attitude will become the deciding factor. This factor takes into consideration hansoku or penalties. Again, just because one shiai-sha commits hansoku, this does not necessarily mean that they automatically lose the hantei, as there may be mitigating factors.

    In essence, the responsibility of hantei draws on the level of understanding the shinpan has regarding every aspect of kendo. Rather than just adjudicating valid points as they happen, hantei requires the shinpan to do this, but also be constantly assessing the entire match from start to finish (not just the final two minutes of enchō) evaluating the superiority in skill and attitude demonstrated by the shiai-sha. It doesnt get more demanding than this, and is in many ways similar to an examiner in a promotion examination. To make the wrong hantei judgment could be viewed as a reflection of the shinpans lack of understanding of the essence of kendo. Okushima Sensei concluded that as long as you are able to judge yūkō-datotsu correctly, correct hantei should be a matter of course.

    For many of the shinpan at the seminar, this was a first-time experience in making hantei calls. Overall, the judgments made in the practice matches were consistent, but the pressure seemed even greater than the buildup shinpan seminars to the World Championships.

    In many ways, the SportAccord Kendo Tournament in Beijing proved to be an historic event, and it was the skills of the shinpan which were an important part of its success. You can see all of the videos on the KW homepage, and close analysis will always show the odd dicey call. My friend Jesus Maya-Martinez scored what looked to be a nice men against Japan champion R. Uchimura, which was not scored. You can see the video here. (The attached photo shows the point I am referring to. Jesus is on the right.) But that is the nature of the beast, and the fact that video remains on the internet for all to see and dissect makes the role of shinpan an unenviable responsibility, but somebody has to do it. Still, it must be remembered that some aspects become distorted on video, and what seems to be a valid ippon on screen was not the case when watching the match live at courtside. Whatever the case let us not condemn, but learn.

    It also got me thinking. Wouldnt it be interesting to have competitions in which matches were decided not by sanbon-shōbu, but by hantei?

    (Adapted from the Kendo World Journal Vol. 5.2 Editorial)
    Attached Files

    • Hisham
      Hisham commented
      Editing a comment
      The question at the end of the article is interesting indeed, it reminds me of another article i've read where a sensei talked about time constraint vs pursuing a clear scoring opportunity.
      If my memory serves me right, he was comparing today's kendo with kendo before the 3 minutes shiai rule.

    • hl1978
      hl1978 commented
      Editing a comment
      If Jesus can't score men on a japanese champion, who else would be able to?
    Posting comments is disabled.

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