Judging Scorecards – August 3, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

I was just asked about Iaido judging scorecards, what they look like, how they are used, pass-fail, out of ten. So here is the situation as we do it in the CKF and as I approach judging.

First, if it’s kyu gradings, only 1kyu has any sort of assessment from the CKF. Grades of 2kyu and below are considered club grades and while we encourage clubs to do them, they are not required. It’s nice to see students come to an ikkyu grading with some experience in front of judges, it gets rid of a lot of the nerves.

Shodan is the first grade where we require a minimal time period and we give five free choice kata to assess. (I might be wrong on some of our specifics, you can check out the exact Canadian requirements at kendo-canada.com). So shodan has a somewhat minimal set of requirements and therefore ikkyu must be even less than that. To give students a hint on how to pass ikkyu, make sure your uniform and etiquette is up to snuff, and that you can convince us which kata you picked.

How can I not know our rules? I am not required to as a judge and I don’t care as an instructor. As a judge I only need to know what grade is being challenged and the required kata, I don’t need any more than that to do my job. As an instructor I figure it’s part of the test that you know you’ve got the time in to do the next test, and what’s on it.

What’s a judge to judge? From my judging seminars I can tell you that up to 3dan we are asked to look for reasons to pass the students. At 3dan the students are expected to know all 12 kata to the correct standards as set out in the book (yes “THE BOOK” about which some folks have stated “hey, there’s not all that much in the book but we don’t do it the way they do it in… “

Yes you do…

So, at 4 and 5dan you are working on the technical aspects of the kata that you know well from when you passed your 3dan. That means we are looking at the kata more closely. Five dan is the end of the technical journey, from 6 on up we look at other things as well as the technical which should continue to improve.

I said that we were asked to look for reasons to pass up to 3dan, does it switch to looking for reasons to fail at some point? Not that I’ve ever heard it stated in a judging seminar but lots of stuff isn’t said. I have my personal view on this, and I look for reasons to pass people no matter what grade they are challenging. That doesn’t mean I ignore fail points, but I am always, always upset when anyone forces me to fail them.

So a more or less three part set of things that judges are supposed to look at. I will tell you now that while I listen at judging panels, I really can’t see judging to a formula, and the intent is not that you do. What works for me is having sat on grading panels for 20 years and I doubt there’s a judge out there that doesn’t rely more on their experience as a judge than on a set of checkpoints and a theory of judging. A judge that worries about someone who limps or has to modify the way they sit in tate hiza is a judge who hasn’t been around for very long.

It would be a boring old world if everyone was the same.

When does it start?

Students often hear that the grading assessment begins when they walk in the room. Sure, but I’m not that good, by the time I’ve seen the 60th set of the same 5 kata I’m having trouble counting to five so my noting of behaviour in those not actually grading is confined to looking up to see who has started the fight in the corner. In other words, “the nail that sticks up”.

Keep your head down and if you pick your nose absent-mindedly I’m not likely to put that on a scorecard. Flick it at someone on the grading floor and it might be another story.

While we’re on pre-grading, the nametags are covered or removed during gradings for a reason. I do not know who your teacher is, I do not know what you’ve done before and I don’t care if you have a medical condition which is perfectly obvious, like an inability to kneel down. I assume that you aren’t kneeling down because you can’t. Now, if you have had a stroke and have trouble with your hand position and you fumble a grip I may just remember who you are at that moment and “not see it”. But generally, you will pass or fail on how you perform your grading kata at that day and time. I don’t care who your teacher is, how much beer you poured down my throat the evening before or how much money you owe me, you pass or fail at the grading, not before.

How about the mechanics of judging? We have a CKF sheet that includes space for notes on etiquette and uniform and each kata. How each judge uses this is entirely up to them. At the side we have a pass/fail column which each judge fills in, along with their name at the top. For myself, I generally don’t start writing down points until about 4dan, up to then I won’t have much to say. At 4dan and over it’s going to be pretty cryptic because I can either watch the grading or write, I can’t do both. I don’t put scores on each kata, or note parts that are pass or fail. As you’ll see below there’s no reason to do it, I’m required to give pass or fail, my abilities as a judge are tested elsewhere, in judging seminars and informally all the time I’m around my seniors. I won’t have my grading sheet in hand to not give feedback later either. (Wait for it).

The judging sheets are collected by the secretary, tallied and only the identification numbers of those who pass are released to the public. There is no discussion of results, and the judging sheets along with the record of numbers of pass/fail go to the chief examiner. Only the chief examiner should know who passed who, and this is strictly as a quality check on judges. A judge who is wildly off from the rest of the judges, or who seems to be showing a bias toward or against a particular dojo for instance, will be spoken to by the chief examiner. Beyond that, all anyone needs to know is who passed. The administration needs to know who failed so they can refund their money.

In case you missed it, there is NO discussion of results at all. In the case of the CKF jodo section (I’m the chief examiner) this is a strict rule. I am not interested in a discussion and the official word is that it doesn’t happen. Am I naive? Of course not, but when discussions happen in either iaido or jodo I want them short, sharp and restricted to a fast decision from the head judge. Reasons why, discussions of theory or what have you, should happen later over beer.

The official word on how a grading is run includes keeping the judges completely away from the students on the day of the grading, they are informed by the chief usher as to how the grading will happen, they sit, they judge and they leave. Judges will not say “good luck” to students, they will not coach them, they will not even slap them on the shoulder. All this can be taken as showing favouritism and asking for votes from the other judges.

Does it happen this way? No of course not, but if Canada ever gets huge numbers of students, and those students ever start taking all this too (in my opinion) seriously, we’ll go to that system out of necessity. Same goes for requiring a doctor’s note for medical problems. At the moment this is completely unnecessary but if people start to “cheat” I’ll maybe change my mind. Actually if our students ever make it necessary to do this sort of stuff I’ll be retiring, grading will have become the goal and rules something to push or even to break just to pass. Not my budo.

So, if there is no discussion of results, and the panel is supposed to go away after it’s done, what about feedback to the students?

Feedback? What other feedback can there be than you passed or you failed. You are at the minimum requirements or you are not.

Specific things to work on according to this judge? “Go practice more”. Seriously, I’ve never run across a failed grading that wasn’t a result of a lack of practice. If the entire dojo full of students are doing the same mistake they’ll usually pass and the panel will have a little chat with their sensei. Did I mention that most of the other judges have also been doing this for 20 years? We don’t punish students for a teacher’s mistake if we can avoid it.

Advice on how to answer a student who asks for feedback after a grading? “Go ask your sensei”. And I like that one too.

Look, I understand that all moments are teaching moments but you don’t give advice when it won’t be heard. You just failed some fellow for his 5dan test. He asks “for feedback” which means “tell me why I failed”. I say “your hand was too high on your first nuki tsuke” which might even be true. He hears “I failed you for an inch”.

Well, yes I may have at 5dan but seriously, I will be able to find a lot more than that to bitch about if you really want me to go into it. You failed because you did something completely obvious to you, like missing a kata, or you failed for a generalized unreaching of the bar. You need more practice, and if I say “you need more practice” you’re going to tell me you practiced every day for four hours for the last year. At which time I’m going to… what, change my vote?

You failed, go practice more. Don’t ask me for feedback, come see me in a week and ask me to teach you. I’ll remember what you need to work on.

Arrogant? Sure I’m a judge, that means I judge, I’m judgemental, I got reasons and I’ll tell them to you, just not the day I fail you. Remember that I’m pissed off that I had to fail you, I might just give you an earful, especially if you’re challenging a high rank.

So what happens if a kyu comes up and asks for feedback? I give it, of course I do. But feedback is not part of the panels I’m usually sitting.
So that’s some stuff on the mechanics of judging. Read my past writings to get more on the topic, I seem to write about it a lot.

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