The reason I bring this up is that some of the best advice I received as a competitor and coach throughout the years have come from judges who were willing to share their time and experience with me. Frankly, most of the judges in the black belt divisions are hopefully the ones with the most experience also. So why is it that we have gotten to a point where you need to be mute or give generic answers to a simple question of "what can I do better". Can you imagine getting a performance review at your job and the boss telling you that you weren't getting a raise and you can't know what I marked you down for and I am not talking to you about it? This is similar to what judges are being told to do all the time.
In one of the leagues that I frequently judged in we were encouraged to keep notes of what we saw for deductions during the form. I would tell competitors afterward that if they wanted to see the notes after the division all they had to do was ask. While I generally didn't have conversations afterward with them it at least provided them with some insight into what I was seeing when they performed. The funny part of that is only a few competitors ever took advantage of being able to look at those notes. I did find it interesting that the ones that did take advantage of it were generally the top three in the division, which is one reason they were probably on top.
One of the reasons I believe the mentality has gotten this way is because too often there have been overzealous officials that have gone to competitors unsolicited trying to tell them everything that they were doing wrong. This has happened to several of my students at tournaments over the years and usually it came from someone that I didn't know at all or someone that had an over inflated ego and felt that they knew everything. What also gets lost in translation a lot is when the judge says one thing and the student runs back to their instructor with something completely different than what the judge said. I know that as a young judge I got chewed on more than once for something I supposedly told someone's student that was completely different than what I had actually said.
So, what is the right answer to whether advice should be given or not? I would normally say that in most if not all under belt divisions don't even go there with the student. Try to up lift and encourage them to keep working and improving technique. Within the black belt divisions, I try to make sure the person is really asking from the proper perspective and not simply "why did I lose". Generally speaking, I try not to have conversations with competitors at ringside in the heat of the moment because I find that after a tough division when emotions are high things get misconstrued even if you have good intentions. If the competitor wants feedback and its allowed by the league try to have those conversations later in the day with their instructor present, if possible, to avoid any confusion if they must happen at all. Advice can be both good and bad depending on who it is coming from and that should always be determined by your instructor if it is helpful or not.
I will leave you with this, I spent last weekend judging at the Amerikick nationals in Atlantic City. I have trained in Shotokan Karate for almost 30 years at this point and I was judging another hardstyle that had a few differences from what I am used to training myself. After the division, I found one of the current WKF competitors and asked about a specific way that a position was being demonstrated and how it differed from what I practice myself. I am always trying to further expand my knowledge of what I am seeing and if I need to adjust my way of thinking on technique. If the advice is valuable and comes from the right place it only furthers our development as martial artists.
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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