Clifton's Corner: Rules vs Technique in Competition

Sandra Sanchez
As I get ready to board a plane for the Amerikick Internationals I admit I am both nervous and excited to be going to a large tournament for the first time in almost two years. The nervousness comes from not only the new strains of Covid-19 and being around large groups of people, but also the fact that I haven't been able to judge at as many events over the last two years as normal. Fighters refer to it as ring rust, but its not just the competitors that have to shake it off but the officials too.

Just because I have decades of experience at martial arts tournaments doesn't mean that I don't need to brush up on current rules and requirements for the divisions I will be judging. Most of the time those rules are put in place to keep one person from gaining to much of a competitive advantage over the group or it was put in place because the violation was deemed against the ethics or tradition of the division. Since I am headed to the Amerikick Internationals I will share one of the rules from the National Black Belt League (NBL) that I know the origin. Years ago, the NBL had a rule for traditional kata that said no jewelry allowed in the division. Bob Leiker, who is one of the promoters of Amerikick, was getting ready to compete and a fellow competitor tried to get him thrown out of the division for wearing his wedding ring. Bob's response was that the ring was put there by his wife Jill and it wasn't coming off. Eventually this led to a rule change that wedding bands could be covered by tape and not be considered for disqualification.


While many divisions have rules in place for a good reason, I feel that many leagues get so hyper focused on those said rules that they forget the basic rule for any division, technique over almost anything else. Technique in both fighting and forms should be the overriding factor in any division for the basis of any win or loss. I was once asked what I was looking for in a kata when judging. The simplest answer for me is do you look dangerous. Do you make me believe that you are in a fight and that I really wouldn't want to be standing in front of your techniques? Now that is an over simplified answer to the question because you must have many other things such as proper balance, timing, focus but even if you had all of those things the overall bottom line is do I believe you could hurt someone with your techniques. The same exact thing goes for point fighting. While the techniques for point fighting is controlled the goal is still the same in that the competitor needs to demonstrate a technique that is capable of inflicting damage were it not for the control. One of these techniques that is different between the leagues that I judge in is a backfist to the body. NASKA does not score this technique as it is deemed to not have focused control. WAKO, on the other hand, consistently allows this and it is hard for many North American fighters to get used to using it when they travel overseas. My personal feeling is that a focused jab to the body should be allowed to count for a point but a backfist should probably not, but I follow the rules laid out in front of me.

Wako Judges

My point with all of this is that we as officials have differing opinions on what we look for in both forms and fighting based on our backgrounds and experiences. What shouldn't change is someone starting to look for every single little nuance in the rules to deduct for or enforce over what should be the overriding factor of technique. I once had a very heated argument with the head of a prominent league here in the USA. We had a meeting every morning going over rules for the traditional divisions that focused solely of the rules violations that we needed to look for and never on technique that we should be looking for. I got so frustrated that I told him in front of 30 of the other judges that he seemed to be much more concerned with how many patches someone had on their uniform than if they actually had a proper stance. Needless to say, it didn't get things changed that day but eventually the promoter heard from enough of the other judges that felt the same way that he started having discussions on not just the violations but also what proper technique should look like.

Competitors will always look for any competitive advantage that they can get. It is our job as officials to make sure that not only the rules are followed, but to also make sure we interpret the rules correctly to allow fairness for all of the competitors and make sure that the divisions are not always being decided on every technicality that someone can find in a rule book.

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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