Roger Hamilton (second to the left) with his fellow League Officials at World League Finals X

Roger Hamilton (second to the left) with his fellow League Officials at World League Finals X

The LEAGUE’s REFEREE SPOTLIGHT highlights Sport Martial Art Referees and gives Fans & Athletes an opportunity to learn about the Official outside of the Competition Arena. The impact and contribution of referees in Martial Arts Competition is as important as the players and coaches, and this is a great opportunity to reward them for their contributions.

Featured in the first spotlight is ROGER HAMILTON.


1) How did you get you started Officiating?

First in the sport of Wrestling through pee-wee, junior high, high school and college. You just grow accustomed to being the referee in practice, etc. Since I was captain of the team or a leader in many instances, I would always take the point. Later, I was coaching college wrestling and doing even more referee work. Karate and Martial Arts came later. As a Karate Brown Belt in ’79-’80 I started getting versed in officiating as part of the training, but also because I was interested in fair play and observing the action. It’s always exciting to watch your peers execute technique and play the game. Later, while attending Karate tournaments as a Black Belt competitor, I was asked to referee and I agreed.


2) What’s the best part of Officiating Katas? Point Sparring?

Kata’s: It’s as though you established an unspoken relationship with the competitor immediately. They introduce themselves (most times), then you accept the introduction, then they go about the business of reaching down into their soul and offer you their sense of personal expression; their personal identity in many ways is offered through their physical action. I cannot help but think about the relationship between instructor and student being presented as well. (Someone took time to teach this person the historical aspects of their chosen art). Finally, this competitor is delivering another message…that they practice; for many hours and many repetitions. And, as we know… (“Repetition is the Mother of Skill”). The more you do it, the better at it you become.

 Sparring: For me personally, my body and my personal spirit absorb The Enthusiasm! It’s like you are drinking in the spirit of the moment from the air. (It’s enriching and perpetuates youthfulness). You can witness the entire Martial Arts competition environment change when sparring begins; as the Personal Desire starts to gain a new presence. It’s like a singer who has practiced and finally gets to sing! Or a dancer who finally gets to dance! I also enjoy The Speed and the Precision! Even for the juniors, when a technique is executed or a counter is presented, it is an acknowledgement that your art has foundation and quality. It takes some time, before we as martial arts competitors become proficient, so being in the center, moving with the action is a great honor in many respects. In some ways it’s a spiritual and personal confirmation of one’s self. If you are a dedicated practitioner, you are effectively in your element; at home; at peace in some ways.


3) Why is it important to you to have Quality Judging at a Martial Arts tournament?

a. To provide a general sense of Order!

b. Maintain Player Safety – (Which includes checking of equipment, etc.).

c. Offer a sense of Reliability – (Enforcement of the rules effectively).

d. Neutral point of view – (Either side will always have a slanted perspective – moderate where necessary).

e. Sportsmanship – (help others remember the human rules of honor). Even warriors have code!

f. Effective use of time and rhythm in the matches – (Slow and minimally attentive Judges inhibit the quality flow of the encounters, and leave more room for doubt by the observers); “Doubt is more cruel than the worst of truth’s.” Create a professional look and feel to the event. Make the audience and players feel that they are attending an event worthy of respect and dignity; in spite of what else may be going on in the world. (When you’re in here, we leave the crazy world outside and operate with quality and order). We are all creatures of habit, once the habit is changed to see nothing but professionals as referees, we won’t accept it any other way!


 4) What are the 3 best traits of a Quality Judge?

a)     Engagement – Fully invested in the event; without wavering or wandering or having his/her attention elsewhere. When mental lapses do occur (which will happen with human beings) conceal this from observers. Take the responsibility seriously based on personal commitment. 

b)     Neutrality – To operate within the rule structure and not any personal slant on the action or competitor. (To Be There, but not be there). Effectively the most important people are the competitors. If possible “Be seldom seen, but never missed!” You do not interrupt the event; you help execute it, as if you were blended inside.

c)     Decisiveness – When a call or a judgment is made, it should be based on what is observed and firmly believed until proven otherwise. (**However, Receptivity to Arbitration Rules should be built into the individual, so he/she can accept when an error is made or a new determination has been concluded. This should be considered the exception not the continuous norm, however). Generally, you wish for the action to continue effectively without arbitrator intervention in most cases.


5) What message can you give to Young Adults who are hesitant to judge?

 First, practice the activity in your school environment! Practice makes Improvement. (I have all my student’s even the white belts judging early in their training, so they understand the process and get invested in the importance of their role). I also forbid them to EVER yell or scream at a Referee as a competitor! I have told all of my students over all of the years, if you conduct yourself that way at even 1 event, you or your family will not be allowed to travel with us again! I am serious about how we conduct ourselves as human beings from the HMA Family at an event. Who I am and my Dojo Brand is always important to me and my sons. (However, cheering on your Dojo mates, and coaching intently is perfectly accepted; that’s just teamwork and passion)!

 Study and learn the rules! This will guide you through the exercise. As long as you execute the rules properly, you can’t go wrong in the end.

 Avoid being distracted when you are judging! Just pay attention and follow the flow of the action.

 Accept and understand that mistakes can happen, get over it and keep learning! Note that ALL Referees have made mistakes; nobody died, and the issues were resolved.


6) Do you have to be a Black Belt to be a good judge?

 I don’t necessarily think you have to be a black belt to be a good judge, but I absolutely believe that you have to be familiar with good technique, be invested and enthusiastic about the arts and make the agreement that if at any time you are not effective a change needs to be made.  I think there are some parents who watch action very closely and have done so for years. They could be considered for the position.


 7) As a judge, what are the main things you look for when you’re scoring a Kata? When you’re scoring in Point Sparring?

a)     Kata: Initial enthusiasm – Eyes wide open, a sense of energy and involvement in the present situation.

b)     Stances – Quality Martial Arts Stances, no matter what style: front stance, back stance, horse stance, good Dachi’s always look solid.

c)     Balance – Executing a move in an upright or unwavering manner. Nearly falling over without intention is not an acceptable sense of balance.

d)     Strength of technique – (Kime) Depending on their body size or weight, a general sense of Power in their execution. (While relative to the individual) you want to see them execute good martial arts precision, focus and power.

e)     Quality Technique – A Kikomi Side Kick will always look clean, with good posture and extension and landing and breathing (even without kiah). Clean technique is very visible to the eye and has a sense of order and understanding of it by the player.

f)     Transition from move to move – This is a tricky proposition because the Kata could be strong, and with good technique, but if the player struggles between moves, it inhibits the flow and the overall quality of the form.

g)     Weapons: Orderly Beginning; Solid Ending; Focus on Target; Quality Grip; Effective Strike; Relaxed Flowing Movement; Overall Confidence and Comfort. (Same rules of stance and balance apply as well).



a)     Point Sparring: Who is showing “Ring Generalship” – the ability to set the tone of the match and execute effectively.

b)     Who is operating with the most significant sense of purpose and urgency, (on getting their points and getting back to the line for the effective use of time).

c)     When movement become running. (Some competitors use lateral movement more than others, but sometimes there’s a thin line between moving effectively and running from exchange).

d)     Who looks uncertain and afraid. (I like to exercise caution and a little more attention when a competitor looks nervous or afraid to avoid un-necessary injury or bad result).

e)     Actual contact on exchanges (Especially to the body). Careful not to call just because it was near.

f)     Avoid calling a strike when the opponent being struck has his back to me! (This is a significant issue, because just because the kick was executed, or another judge calls it, if you do not see contact, you should not reasonably call the point.

g)     I look for calmness! In my opinion the calmer the competitor, the more order the ring is likely to have.

h)     Snap and recoil on technique! For all techniques, this helps you see the point clearly. Especially on Blitzing. Just because a player takes off, does not guarantee the connect. Sometimes there is more block than strike.

i)     Neat and orderly uniform, equipment in good order. (Safety is always an issue), but well organized, dressed and ready, on-time competitor presentation is an excellent way to start the match.

j)   I like to honor good defense and blocks! Sometimes poor calls are made because of an enthusiastic advance. Clean blocks represent good martial arts to me.


8) What’s one stereotype about Judges/Referees you would hate?

Bias – this one of the most disruptive and infectious concerns of all! If players, schools and teams do not feel they are getting a fair and level playing field, the idea of honor, code and equity go out the window. This makes for more complaining afterward and a continuous tension between participants.

Not invested, (Barely Paying Attention) – This is an unacceptable problem. If an Official takes on the job, they should do so with enthusiasm and pride. However, this is personal, and just because one is a martial artist, it does not always make him/her think and act with personal excellence and accountability. (This was a sad and unfortunate thing for me to ultimately learn about this business).

Absence of Courtesy and Customer Service Skill – Being mean or rude or indifferent to students, families and players is just wrong! The nature of Martial Arts Tournaments is that they are public events. Keeping this in mind, we should always at least try to be cordial and helpful; especially to the kids!!!

Does not run a good ring – For all intents and purposes: Is not strong in his/her decision making and offers shaky point calls or kata numbers continually; does not move when officiating from the center referee position. (Often I don’t think people always notice the movement from Center Ref thing, but getting a good angle and vision on a given strike is very helpful to running a good sparring ring)

Does not know the Rules! (Speaks for Itself).


9) Why is it important to you to have Judges in appropriate Officials Attire?

 For the same reason Police Officers and Military Men/Women and NFL, NBA and NHL and all the others wear uniforms! This distinguishes them from everyone else at the event. This says that the buck stops somewhere and that there is a sense of organization to the proceedings.  Whether people know it or not, we have been held back as a sport on the American landscape, because we began to have so many tournaments, in so many places, with so little order, that we grew accustomed to the mess and accepted it for what it was. My personal feeling is that National T.V. does not take us seriously, because they do not see the pride, order, reliability and accountability necessary for them to present us cleanly. I notice that when ESPN Airs the US Open they show Kata and Breaking as a rule. There is always something to be said about the absence of order in any environment! (This one is simply my opinion due to what I have learned about Marketing in my professional business positions over the years. National T.V. likes what they think is generally marketable to the masses; and that they can control with commercials and sponsors).


10) Whats one think Kata Athletes can do to get “extra points” from you when performing their Form? Fighters can do to be more visible for judges to score their points?

 Kata: Quality Introduction! (Sorry, I know that introduction is not mandatory any longer, but to me the way you start a task may speak to how well you’ll do it)!

Kata Next: several points in the presentation where I can see them execute a clean, powerful effective looking martial arts striking/kicking technique! Flowing is great, but I love the nasty technique done well.

Kata Final: Ending the performance on balance and in good position. (Generally where they started, but can vary based on styles).

Fighters: In many cases a little more follow-through with a technique. (Our arts have turned into a glorious game of Tag. For what it’s worth when I first started in 1976 and certainly before that historically, we were fully intended to execute good martial technique each time. With absolutely due respect to those amazing current athletes who do an outstanding job in their respective rings, there are many who are content to simply get the point, not execute martial skill).

 Historically, I think that back when kids did not participate in the art, and it was first Men only, (often Military Men) then strong purposeful women, it seemed that many rules were required to change to accommodate youth. (For the safety of the competitor; for parental intervention and for universality). While I understand this, I also think that many of us have become victims of this as instructors; in that we cater a little to these facts and changed our teaching. For what it’s worth, I always tell my students, I want them to understand point fighting and full-contact BOTH! Even the kids, I talk about executing effective technique with CONTROL, even if they don’t get the point! This is just to keep them honest and with the hope that they will be full-fledged strong, effective Black Belt Martial Artists one day.

Fighters Final: Please, and I beg of you Please…I gain tremendous respect for a fighter and his/her team when I do not see them consistently yelling and sometimes uncontrollably at the officials! Kids are watching, parents are watching, our forefathers are watching! If you have a dispute, absolutely, say it quickly and let’s stop the action. But the manner in which I have seen quite a number of top ranked competitors behave leaves me cold. Elegance, self-control and professionalism are truly great things to learn and to perpetuate in any exchanges with other human beings; most especially the referee who is officiating your match. In Boxing, there is no tolerating of this kind of behavior. Say what you want about the problems of Boxing, but that aspect is consistent.



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