Bad Judging Karate

I don't know how many times I have heard from a parent or a coach that a referee had somehow made a bad call and inexplicably cost their child 1st place.

What's even worse is that I myself have been one of those coaches questioning the referee's decision and I have been positive that I was right and they were wrong. That is not to say that judging errors don't happen, but to hear most parents or coaches tell it, their competitor was completely ripped off and the judges should be taken to the parking lot and run over a few dozen times. I have been tempted to use the response I heard one official use years ago when approached by a parent. The judge simply stated that he was sorry but when he had walked in the door that morning, he had decided he was going to rip one child off that day and her child just happened to be the first one he had seen. While the judge was joking it does illustrate a point that needs to be made. Most judges show up to volunteer their time at tournaments and are not there to make sure that your child or student doesn't win, they are simply doing the best job they can without a lot of thanks from many people. In my experience there are three areas that in most cases can be the source for most controversies in the ring; Experience, Judgment Calls, and Angles.


ProMAC Judges

Above: ProMAC Judges following an Official's Certification Course

While it would be preferable to have the most experienced referees in every ring at every tournament the fact of the matter is that with the time demands of home, dojo, and life it doesn't always allow every tournament promoter to have the best referees all of the time. In fact, most tournaments don't even know who their referees will be until thirty minutes before the tournament starts. This is horrible for the competitors who spend their hard earned money to compete and end up getting judged by people who have not seen the inside of a dojo for almost a decade. What is even worse is when I have seen promoters desperate to fill a ring with judges start enlisting the help of karate parents who themselves have never trained to sit in a ring. Just because they are at tournaments a lot and have watched their child train does not mean they are qualified to be a judge. Just as bad are the judges who pop out of the woodwork when a big tournament comes to town. They seem to show up to help with eight, nine, or ten stripes on their belt and nobody either knows them or they have not seen them at a tournament in over twenty years.


Bad Judging

This is probably the hardest thing about judging to explain to parents and coaches. The word judge actually describes the job that we as officials are required to do. Our judgment of a form or fight is based on our own unique experiences as martial artist growing up. While as an official I try not to bias myself to one form of thinking, I know that my experiences as a student and instructor do have an impact on me when I am judging. Having these opinions is not wrong, they are what make each and every one of us unique as people and officials. Basically it comes down to my opinion of what happened in the competitors form or sparring match. But, I alone don't make that decision. All tournaments have at least three to five judges in the ring so hopefully between all of the combined experience in the ring the correct judgment will be made.


Point fighting judge

I have lost count of the number of times I have been judging and I have had a parent or a coach wonder how I didn't see the point their competitor scored. Most of the time it comes down to angles. Sometimes the judges have a better angle on one technique than another. A good example of this would be years ago when I was attending a tournament in Omaha, NE. I had one of my students I was coaching during a sparring match. Every time he would attack he would hit the other kid with a clean back fist, but the judges would point to the other kid for the point. I knew two of the judges had almost as much national experience judging as I do and I could not believe they were missing that many calls. I was so mad when I left the ring that I immediately got the video tape from one of the parents and was preparing to show it to the tournament promoter. It was a good thing I looked at it first. The video was shot from the other side of the ring and what I found out when watching it was that my student was getting hit cleanly with reverse punch every time he threw his back fist. This really helped me to understand why there are so many questions about calls from parents and coaches. The old adage is call what you see. Sometimes that means that the judges have a bad angle on the fight but it can also mean that the coaches and parents have a bad angle also.

David Clifton has refereed over 1,500 MMA, Kickboxing, and boxing matches. He has also been the center official and training official for WAKO USA, NBL Super Grands, World Sport Karate Federation, World Karate Commission (WKC), and many NASKA national events.

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Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer Hayward Nishioka has been campaigning for judo in the United States to harvest more shodans (1st degree black belts) Shodan literally means student. It's analogous to being a freshman in college. It's not the end but the beginning according to Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.

A very dear friend and sensei of mine the late Allen Johnson, may he rest in peace made a home at Emerald City Judo. In Redmond, Washington.

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Destinee Tartuffe

My friend Destinee Tartuffe a 4th dan and Head Sensei at Good Time Judo in Santa Rosa, CA has always been a pioneer and developer in all her life endeavors. She first took over the judo program at Santa Rosa Junior Collegestarted by my old friend Terry Kelly upon his retirement then went on to complete getting her law degree, JD.

Recently Destinee contacted me about a new training tool she’s invented. Upon my investigation, I was so impressed with this product that I asked her to write something about it for this week’s Black Belt Blog.
Judo Equipment

Members of Good Time Judo using Judo Jaime Training Tools.

As judo practitioners we know judo is an exciting dynamic Olympic or recreational sporting activity that offers social interaction, stress relief, and tons of fun. However, we also know that judo can be a dangerous, and potentially deadly activity when used for self-defense or when not practiced safely.

For all the fun and benefit that judo provides an enthusiast it seems to be the world’s best kept secret from the general populace. My coach and mentor taught me that judo is an inclusive, not an exclusive activity. So, I look for ways to get more people interested.

One of the biggest issues relates to the very idea of inclusiveness, which for me translates to one dojo cannot be everything to everybody. The age old saying jack of all trades, and master of none comes to mind.

Recently, I watched YouTube videos of three respected Judo coaches discussing the state of Judo in the United States. One of their common observations is that students who come to train with them lack the fundamental skills which would allow them to actually help those students reach a level of Judo expertise whereby the student could compete at an elite level of competition.

While I was disappointed to hear their dire opinions, they were similar to what I was experiencing in my college classroom. Honestly, I have been concerned for many years about how to continue when so many of the students come to class with an attitude of being a “super ninja” when in actuality they are often uncoordinated and seemingly unwilling to follow even the simplest of instructions. This creates a situation or environment where “bullies” prevail, injures occur, and students are lost. This attitude seems a direct conflict to the principle of Mutual Benefit and Welfare, and it made me think about hanging up my judogi.

Then, COVID caused programs to close, but as a college Judo instructor I was tasked with creating an online curriculum for my students and doing so within one week! I knew my students did not have the proper safety equipment in their homes to continue with the rolls and falls that we were practicing in class. We spent the last eight weeks finishing out the semester via Zoom class. I found the biggest challenge to be communicating to the student how they needed to correct their postures, or their ability to visualize the skill and apply my instructions for any given lesson.

The last night of class of had a vision of how these issues could be addressed. That’s when I created the Fundamental Directional Movement Mat and a Proximity Training Device that I call Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke. These tools can be used together or separately. The benefits conferred to the user by using the tools together can greatly excel the beginning students understanding of the application of Judo.

These tools are not just for beginners, it is important for even the most experienced judoka to review the fundamental movements regularly. Think about it there are pre-arranged forms (katas) that specifically address movement!

The Fundamental Directional Movement Mat is a durable vinyl mat with an elliptical design (mapping the movement of the Judoka in the plane of applied Judo). The instructor whether in-person or in an online class can assist the student by directing them to orient either along the horizontal or vertical 180 degree lines, which are also used to demonstrate and solidify 90 degree turns/pivots that are important to the fundamental movements for application of Judo. The mat also has indicators for the student to see the 45 degree angle of technique application easier.

Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke is a proximity training device that allows beginning Judoka to develop the proper posture and understanding of the proximity for applying judo techniques without the resistance, frustration, or fear that working with a partner initially brings. My years of teaching adults have shown me that despite what the student says, they often approach contact with another with fear and the mistaken belief that over-powering or resisting their partner is the proper thing to do; however, one-half the goal of Judo is that someone falls down! With Judo Jaime the student has the opportunity to develop the confidence and skills to make an actual attack when they are ready to engage with a person.

The device weighs no more than five pounds and is approximately 53” in height (when assembled). It is easily transportable and fun to use vs. the usual training dummies which are awkward, heavy and unsafe to use without proper instruction or direct supervision. While either product can be used alone we recommend using the tools together. This allows the student to fine-tune visualization skills and apply techniques, here again, without resistance from a partner. The student will develop an understanding and integration of the techniques for proper response timing more quickly.

The Fundamental Directional Movement Mat and Instructional material is copyrighted by Destar Productions, Inc.

Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke is a proximity training device with a patent pending by Destar Productions, Inc. For questions regarding orders and other product descriptions email Destinee Tartuffe at or visit our online store directly.

Judo Jamie

Judo Jaime

Fundamental Direction Training Mat

Fundamental Training Mat

Good Time Judo Outdoor workout with Judo Jaime

Outdoor Judo Jaime2

Judo training Without a Partner/ Introduction of Training Tools for Standing

This video introduces some new training tools for practicing, maintaining and gaining skills for application of Judo technique.Be sure to check out the Demon...

Demonstration of Judo Jaime: Your Training Uke

Demonstration of Judo Jaime: Your Training UkeBe sure to check out our video Judo training while social distancing.

I’m always looking for new subjects to write about regarding judo as well as contributions from my readers. Please send them to, thanks.

Gary Goltz
Xiaolin Gruv
Photo Courtesy: Carmichael Simon

Title Image: XiaolinGruv Masters 2005 : Nigel Bolton, Carmichael Simon, Kory Watkins, Anthony Gooch, and Jeriel Bey

During the 1980s as BBoys (Breakers), Poppers, and Lockers share their creative spirits within the New York City transit line, Los Angeles nightlife, and media platforms such as Soul Train, we travel a few miles from Bruce Lee’s nostalgic school where the “Arts & Soul” of Oakland, California harmonize. Orchestrating the culture of their roots, heritage of movement, and diversity of social economics, we find the Alice Arts Center.

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