Refereeing Observations: Battle Cries and Verbal Taps

I have been refereeing on and off since I was a purple belt. I probably average about one tournament per year. My wife Hillary and I met at a tournament when she was refereeing, but that's a story for another time (but still a really good story).

Anyway, Hillary and I spent this weekend in Virginia refereeing a local tournament. We were originally planning on heading out to California for Pans, but we had been traveling a lot the last few months and decided against getting back on another flight. When one of our referee friends reached out and asked us to come down to Virginia and ref, we saw it as a good excuse to visit some friends without switching time zones again.

Big tournaments are great. I love the big stage of multiple day tournaments, but small regional tournaments held at high school gyms will forever hold a special place in my heart. They bring me back to the times when I was a lower belt traveling up and down the east coast to compete almost every weekend.

This weekend, I got to watch BJJ from 10 am until 6pm, and I came out the other end with a few observations:

  • There were more female competitors. All of the women’s divisions that were held in my ring had plenty of competitors. This was great to see. I remember my female BJJ friends would struggle to get matches at regional tournaments. Even cooler was the fact that the ladies had some of the better takedowns I saw all day, both very good wrestling and judo style takedowns. Not sure if this was a regional thing, or a side effect of having Ronda and Meisha on TV for the last few years.

  • The open guard of blue belts and teenagers was ridiculous. I witnessed an impressive display of open guard, both de la Riva/bearimbolo and X-guard combinations that personally I was miles away from when I was a blue belt. It’s going to be exciting to see some of these young guys down the road.
  • We need to do more to educate people about verbal submissions. I had two separate incidents of people screaming during submission attempts. Both people were completely unaware that this counts as a tap. One even argued with me that it wasn’t a tap because he didn’t scream “tap!” but an “ahh!” which is actually a battle cry. Not joking. A battle cry. This has already become one of my favorite stories.

  • Takedowns and sweeps could use some clarification. Many times over the weekend I had people screaming at me over points. Most of the disputes came from sweep scrambles when the bottom player would get countered when he came up to finish a sweep which is explained here in the IBJJF rulebook:

    3.4 Athletes who, in defending a sweep, return their opponent back-down or sideways on the ground shall not be awarded the takedown-related two points or advantage point.

    Also when people would be “taken down” from turtle, which is explained here:

    When the opponent has one or two knees on the ground, the athlete performing the takedown will only be awarded points if he/she is standing at the moment the takedown is carried out. An exception may be made under circumstances addressed in item 3.4 and respecting the 3 (three) seconds of stabilization.

    These two rules, which are somewhat hidden in the rulebook, are important because they deal with situations that both come up pretty often, and bring some clarity to what can be really chaotic back and forth battles for position.

  • Refereeing is hard. Paying attention to so many things for that long period of time is tough. Everything gets a bit hazy toward the end of the day. While I tried to do my best, I am sure I missed something somewhere. Maybe I was late on giving points, or maybe I missed an advantage. You never truly know how hard refereeing is until you do it. 
Please give your refs a break. They are not actively trying to screw you. They have probably just been standing for hours on end, under pressure from competitors, parents and coaches. It’s not easy, but someone has to do it. Next time a ref misses something at a local event, cut them a break. Lots of us don't do it for the money but as a way to give back to the sport we love so much.

Unless you are letting out a battle cry. Then battle cry on.

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