Friday, December 17, 2010



 I've been refereeing Jiu Jitsu for a couple of years. Several hundred matches, at least. It might look like an easy gig, but it's not.

A good BJJ referee requires:

  •  Ability to concentrate and observe
  • Ability to work closely with the scorer, timekeeper, and other officials
  • Excellent knowledge of the rules and of jiu jitsu itself
  • Ability to make FAST decisions based on knowledge if the rules
  • Confidence
  • A high tolerance for abuse, both in the local language and Portuguese
Depending on the size of the competition and the size of the pool of referees, you'll probably be refereeing between twenty and fifty matches in a day at a reasonable sized competition. The largest competitions I've refereed at have had about 300 competitors. Even with six mats running concurrently, that's a long day of competition. Keeping the a high level of concentration to see every point and advantage is hard, and it's taxing. There is talk of "mat madness", where it becomes too much, and it's true. By the end of the day, my brain is floating in the stratosphere. Make sure you get the occasional break, especially if you are feeling stressed.

You also need to work closely with the scorer and timekeeper. The scorer should watch the referee like a halk to ensure he picks up all the referee's hand signals; the referee needs to watch the scorer closely to ensure the scorer awards the points correctly. I had a scorer once miss six points I'd awarded during a match; but when I swapped roles with him, I only missed doing the same thing because he kept checking what I was doing. As a referee, award points verbally, "two points white - takedown", as well as using the hand signals. As a scorer, watch the referee rather than the match. If there is a separate timekeeper (the electronic scoreboards keep time themselves), they should also watch the referee and make sure the scorer misses nothing.

I've been fortunate enough to avoid the competitions that are poorly organised, schedule matches on the fly and end up running late into the night. I have been at well organised competitions and know that it doesn't have to be a dog's breakfast.

The rules aren't as complex as quantum mechanics, but they aren't always logical and consistent. There are a few quirks and grey areas, especially regarding their interpretation and determining the difference between points and advantages. There are a few unwritten rules as well, things like what is required to get an advantage when passing from full to half guard, and what you can and can't do when applying straight footlocks.

Decide on points quickly, but make sure you do not award points too early. Positions normally have to be held three seconds for positional control. But make a confident decision and award points - or not - confidently.

Competitors' coaches, teammates, crew and hangers-on will get in your face about your interpretation of the rules, and yell at you when they feel their guy was treated unjustly. Knowledge of the rules is your best defence - you should know the rules better than they do, or why are you refereeing at all? Often those who argue the most have a sketchy or nonexistent knowledge of the rules.

You will make mistakes. And you will remember them. The aggrieved parties may get in your face about it. Many seasoned competitors will tell you they have benefited as often as suffered from referee's mistakes, but few complain when a bad decision goes their way (though some do, to their credit). Apologise if you feel you should (or even if you feel you're right, but the argument will end earlier if you pretend to concede), and move on. I usually tell anyone with a problem to see the contest organisers, who so far have always backed me up, should anyone bother to take it further. Move on. The next match is ready to go, the last one is done and dusted. As a referee, you must live totally in the Now.

The sport need more good referees to grow. Some instructors require their students to referee a number of matches, maybe fifty, to be eligible for promotion to the higher coloured belts. Fifty matches is probably only two or three competitions. You get to see jiu jitsu from a different perspective. It will improve your ability to coach jiu jitsu.

Put something back into the sport we love. Be a referee!