Always respect the ref…

At my last two tournaments I saw a couple of incidents that made me think a bit about the role, responsibility and authority of the referee.  I wrote an article about one of these incidents in which a referee tapped for my opponent in an expert division, sparking that opponent’s ire expressed through a loud and abrasive rant.

Over the weekend, I participated in another tournament and during one of my matches the ref’s scoring was a bit inconsistent with the rules of the tournament; there were several moments that I thought should have yielded me points or at least an advantage which did not.  Eventually in the third overtime round, my opponent took me down and was awarded two match winning points (it was a sudden death round.)  As the ref was about to raise the opponent’s hand, the opponent began to yell at the ref that he should learn to score takedowns (a rant laced with obscenities) and he was immediately DQ’d.

These two incidents got me thinking a bit about what a referee’s real rights and responsibilities are…

For starters: always respect the ref.  You don’t have to like what the ref is doing or how he or she is scoring the match, but they have absolute power during the match, and can DQ you for perceived infractions.  Your chances of bullying a referee into doing what you want them to do is very low.

If you are unhappy with a ref’s decision, remember that it is their responsibility to stand behind it.  If you feel strongly about it, take your grievances up with the head referee or tournament organizer; someone who has the power or ability to override the ref.  In most cases this action will be futile, but if you try to argue with the ref that argument will almost always NOT go your way.  Many tournaments, particularly the IBJJF, will ban you if you are disrespectful of their referees, make sure that any issues you have are addressed quietly and respectfully.

The referee has a few of important roles in jiu jitsu competition.  For starters, they are there to keep both competitors safe.  Secondly their judgment and discretion ultimately determines who wins a match.  If you want to take that decision out of their hands, submit your opponent.  However, remember that until you are off the mat and the match has been recorded as your win, the ref has the power to take that win away from you.

I always thought that these were items of common sense, but my recent experiences have proven otherwise.  Martial arts focus a lot on discipline and respect.  Competition should be a place where we showcase that discipline and respect.  If we choose not to, we may find that grey areas don’t end up going our way…

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo ( NottaRookie, YM ( discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap ( discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


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