The internet argues about referees, but really it’s about respect

The internet argues about referees, but really it’s about respect
By Stuart Gibson

Recently on Facebook, I became embroiled in a minor argument with someone (proving once and for all that the internet is, in fact, only for pictures of cats and arguing with people you have never met) who had posted a video, presumably made by someone Japanese, that highlighted the behaviour of the Korean national team in the final of the 2012 WKC in Novara, Italy.

I don’t often these days wade into this sort of thing, I’m getting old, but the comment attached to the video, asking why someone doesn’t show a video that shows how the Japanese competitors get all the advantages, ignored the heart of the issue, which was not the refereeing, but the behaviour of the participants. My first reaction, which I still stand by, was that the Korean players can control their behaviour and reactions, but the Japanese players do not control the referees raising flags. This of course then lead on to a great internet brawl between various participants, but for me it was always about what I stated in my first response, behaviour.

One of kendo’s big ideals, as stated by the AJKF, is to improve the character of the people that practise it. While human beings are just that, human, and reactions to pressured situations are a part of being a human (an argument postulated by people decrying the very existence of this video) does that excuse this behaviour? Where is a line drawn? Should a line even be drawn at all?

In a competition with as high stakes as the WKC, and especially in a Japan versus Korea final, pressure situations develop this kind of response, but my belief as someone who hopes to have grown as a person in large part due to kendo and the introspection that it has finally encouraged in me, is that if we allow ourselves, not just the people in the video but all of us, to lose to the moment and bring out reactions like this, perhaps we are missing the point a little, or a lot.

An example of missing the point was a post further on in this argument where someone said that this is why we should consider electronic scoring to avoid it. However, in my opinion, doing so simply legitimises this type of behaviour. By bowing to this type of pressure, we show that this behaviour can affect changes in kendo, thereby setting a precedent for bad behaviour to be in some way acceptable. That is not correct and is not what kendo is ultimately supposed to be about. By changing the very nature of what we do and the way in which we do it, and as a result of things like poor the reactions of competitors towards referees, regardless of the validity of the argument about the standard of the decision, you remove a core part of kendo: respect. Respect for the person in front of you, the referees (regardless of their decision), the other participants, and the people watching. When I was there, watching it all unfold myself, I felt disappointed. Kendo is not, and should not be, about standing in the shiai-jo, eyeballing the referee. Not now, not ever, no matter what the occasion is.

Now of course, people differ in opinion, especially, it has to be said, a few Korean participants in this particular frank exchange of opinions, but rather than continue on this path, I would prefer to finish with two points. One, is that when a friend of mine from Kyushu came to Tokyo last year, his strict adherence to proper reigi, even in an informal company practice where they are more relaxed about it, prompted a couple of the people there to actually change their view of how they practised it, and, in their own words, to “do it properly”. This is a heavily shiai focussed practice, so I will hold on to this particular experience for a very long time because it stands up to me as an excellent example of having a positive effect on people through correct reigi, not least because the friend was a foreigner, and the person who was influenced was Japanese.

The second point is to encourage all you who have taken to time to read this far to consider your own everyday reigi in your own practise. Not about right or wrong, but are you happy with it, and do people around you notice it? Think for a moment on it, think about the value of reigi in what we do, and how it and respect for each other sets us apart from being involved in just any other sporting activity. If you think you need to make a change, have the courage to do so. I personally hope that at the next WKC, all the participants are able to have the courage to do the same.


  1. Thank you for this article. I know the shushin for the finals. I believe he acted with great restraint especially at the attitude of the Korean senpo who refused to properly retire from the shiai-jo for quite some time. Those who do not think so should read carefully the shiai rules regarding disrepectful behavior and its consequences…and note that they do not say “except when the competitor feels it’s justified”

    The answer to problematic refereeing is not to show disrespect to those who perform this extraordinarily difficult task, but to work for more improvements in the referee education system.

  2. The lack of restraint shown from the kenshi in that match came across to me as simply “ugly”. I cringed to watch it…

    Thanks for the article, I agree with all that you said.

Comments are closed.