International Umpires Course – Cardiff 2019 [Review]
Written by Mr Adam Swain (4th Degree – Bournemouth)
I have competed through pretty much my entire Taekwon-Do journey, entering my first competition as a very recent yellow belt, through to winning a European Silver medal and representing England at two ITF World Championships. At competitions I’ve seen some good refereeing, some bad refereeing and some exceptional refereeing – when I was a colour belt Mr McCabe always made it look like an art form.
In the past couple of years, I have started to enjoy refereeing more and more, it feels good to give back to competitions, and there is still a buzz from standing in the ring as a ref rather than a competitor. I’ve been a qualified PUMA referee for a number of years, and also asked to support officiating overseas a few times, so thought it would be good to try and improve my skills and knowledge – through an International Umpires Course. And that is what I did on the 9th and 10th March alongside Mrs Swain, Mr Lammin and 55 other attendees from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Cyprus and Romania. The official ITF write up can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/InternationalTKDFederation/posts/2633743409973537
The course was led by Master Katz (Chairman of the ITF Umpire Committee) and Master Wallace (Member of the ITF Umpire Committee) with a special guest appearance from Grand Master Bos (ITF Director, and former Chair of the Umpire Committee). The three P.U.M.A. representatives were all quite nervous before the competition and we were quizzing each other on rules and referee hand signals on the drive to Cardiff on the first morning – as experienced competitors/coaches we thought there would be a lot of pressure on us to know exactly what we were doing, but we were very wrong!
We arrived with plenty of time, registered, caught up with friends and met some of the other attendees. To start the course we were lined up, bowed in, and those leading the course gave some opening speeches. Master Wallace was keen to state that refereeing and judging are “perishable skills”, and that to give the competitors the best chance for a fair result, officials need to keep themselves up to date and practice officiating. Master Katz then took us through a quick novel warm up as a group – getting us to perform the hand signals for different warnings/fouls in sparring (so glad we’d quizzed each other on the drive down!).
The majority of the course was spent recapping the rules and procedures for each event (patterns, sparring, power, special technique, traditional sparring), with time for questions and discussions – and of course practice. For patterns they had some lucky volunteers up (often Mrs Swain and I) and judges scored their patterns, or sections of a pattern, with a quick discussion on what deductions were made when and why. Master Wallace also gave some key areas to look for in different patterns where competitors often make mistakes, or cheat to make techniques easier. For sparring Master Katz had lots of different drills and exercises to test and improve skills. Quick response warnings/fouls in a group – throw a ball to someone in the circle and call a warning, they do the hand signals and throw the ball to someone else; using balls and foam swords to represent hands/feet in short combinations to test our scoring; and then some live practice with volunteers sparring and a centre referee and four corner judges practicing their roles. Mrs Swain and I were again volunteered to help out, and Mr Lammin even dusted off his sparring gear for a few rounds!
As regular attendance at these courses is a requirement to officiate at World or European Championships, we were also taught the standardised way for officials to enter/exit the ring, bow in/out, take their places, check sparring equipment and where the centre referee stands to bow competitors in.
Overall the course was very enjoyable – the Masters running the course were passionate and knowledgeable, but also open to any questions we had – even if they were suggestions for future rule improvements. It was clear that Master Katz and Master Wallace want the officiating at International events to be professional and world class; after all competitors spend months training hard, multiple times a day to prepare and don’t want to go home empty handed because of a bad decision.
Without officials, competitions can’t run. If you don’t want to compete, but still want to get more out of your martial arts journey it’s a good place to look – PUMA hold a training course every year for umpires and referees. I would encourage anyone who is qualified to make the most of the free refresher courses to keep your skills sharp and stay on top of any rule/procedure changes.
I’d also recommend that everyone step out of their comfort zone (you might be surprised that it’s not too uncomfortable) and to find an area of their martial art that they can be passionate about and aim to excel in.