What I Learned From My First Time As A Referee

Credit to C Huber Photography https://www.facebook.com/pg/CHuberPhotograph

Over the weekend, I had a first time experience: I refereed my very first jiu-jitsu tournament at Fuji BJJ in Columbus, Ohio.  Having never been a referee before, there were all sorts of details I noticed about the experience that I didn’t realize existed.  Here are some of my observations/thoughts:

  1. It’s exhausting.  No, really, it’s absolutely exhausting.  By the end of the day, I was having a rough time.  I’ve competed in competitions were I had over ten matches; this made those look like child’s play.  It’s not so much physically exhausting (though standing all day is tiresome) but rather mentally, especially when watching competitors stalemate.
  2. I really wanted to see clean submissions.  This isn’t because submissions are more entertaining but rather because they’re easier to score (very few controversies over submission wins.)
  3. Scrambles make scoring very difficult.  So difficult.  I had one match that ended in some controversy.  One competitor took the other’s back, while escaping the back mount, and the losing competitor wound up in side control.  From my vantage point, no clear guard had been established; therefore, no guard had been passed, but of course his coaches felt differently.  In hindsight, I honestly don’t know whether or not I made the right call, but as a referee, it’s important to stand behind your calls.
  4. An honest competitor is the best kind of competitor.  I had several instances in which competitors displayed true sportsmanship, working with me and their opponent to better the playing field.  As a competitor I always appreciate these kinds of opponents; as a referee, this elevated these individuals in my mind.
  5. Bracket woes are the worst.  I’ve seen it happen so many times as a competitor; someone screws the pooch and messes up bracketing.  Seeing it happen first hand a couple of times throughout the day was awful.
  6. Competitors need to report to their tables!  I never really respected tournaments trying to get people to check in; I always felt that it was a waste of my time.  However, after having refereed and seeing the effects of people not reporting to their table, I now know that the competitors themselves are the ones who make the tournament go smoothly or not.
  7. Decisions are hard to make.  I had several matches go through the regular round and through sudden death overtime with no submissions or points.  These matches were then left squarely in my hands.  Chances are, if you make it that far with an opponent without a submission or points, the match has been very equal.  And as a referee, picking the winner is not a simple task.  I needed to abandon any biases (for example I believe that the guard player is always in a more dominant position than the top man, but I couldn’t let that belief taint my decisions.)
  8. Resets are a pain in the butt.  Because of the mat space allotted to each ring, I had to reset most of the matches at least once.  It was really annoying.  In one instance, a competitor had passed the others guard right when I decided to reset the match, but I could not see that from where I was standing.  Fortunately, the competitor who had his guard passed was honest and didn’t protest.  These sorts of situations happened all day to me.  As a referee, it was hard to decide precisely when to reset a match.

These are just eight examples of refereeing that I had no clue about.  I compete on average once a month, sometimes more, but never noticed the intricacies of one of the most important jobs in the room.  If you’ve refereed, what are some things you have noticed that you didn’t know before?

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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 (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo (www.Northcoast-Cryo.com) NottaRookie, YM (www.cbdyoume.com discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap (www.defensesoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


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