The Iaido Journal  Jan 2002EJMAS Tips Jar

Judging Criteria during Iaido Gradings and Taikai

By Kim Taylor,
Copyright © EJMAS 2002. All rights reserved.

The following judging criteria are the viewpoint of one judge only (me), and not all judges will look for the same things. Nonetheless, for a competitor at a tournament or a challenger at a grading, there are always two more or less exclusive goals. At a tournament the object is to get noticed, while at a grading the object is to become invisible. Iaido tournaments are side by side knockout format so a competitor wants the judges to notice him and raise the flag on his side. On the other hand, during a grading the judges, while not actively looking to fail people, tend to take note of "hitches" in the performances of the challengers, so the idea is to go unnoticed.

That said, all iaido students should always strive to do their utmost no matter what the occasion.

Some of the factors involved in a good iaido performance include:

  1. Technical competence. Of course the first thing needed is to perform the kata correctly. All the correct movements should be done, and in the correct order. The student should also be consistent in his movements, and all cuts of a certain type should be on the same angle and stop at the same place. Variation within the kata or between kata is a sign of lack of practice.
  2. Smooth movements. All the motions should feel and look natural. There should be no "hiccups" in such things as the cut. Sufficient practice must be done so that whatever movement is made, it looks comfortable.
  3. Timing. Students must understand the concept of correct timing. This does not mean that everything is done fast or slow or all at the same speed. Certain movements are done at one speed, and certain others are done at a different speed. There should also be a feeling of acceleration in certain places. Timing is what allows you to avoid an attack and counterattack during the time when the opponent is recovering from his failed attack.
  4. Imperturbability. No matter how much distraction, or how bad the mistake, the performer should not allow a perceptible wavering of concentration.
  5. No added flourishes. Every movement must have a purpose, and there must be no purposeless motions in a kata. It is not enough that a movement "looks good," it does not belong in a kata unless it has a meaning beyond appearances.
  6. Seme (pressure). There must be a feeling of danger that extends toward the imaginary opponent throughout the kata. Motions that do not threaten the opponent are wasted motions. The tsuka kashira (pommel), kissaki (tip) or monouchi (cutting surface of the edge) must be aimed at the opponent at all times. Any time none of these are threatening, there is no seme. Wasted motions such as hands adjusted on the hilt, feet that shift around for no reason, eyes that twitch side to side, heads that tilt and twist are examples of lack of seme.
  7. Kasso tekki (imaginary opponent). There must be a sense that the performer knows where the opponent is and what he is doing at all times.
  8. Metsuke (gaze). The gaze does much to fix an opponent in place, and so the eyes must not only be fixed on the opponent, they must also focus on the imaginary point where the opponent would be. Since a blink means that your eyes are unfocussed for about half a second, enough time to miss a strike, blinking is strongly discouraged.
  9. Posture. It is impossible to strike forcefully from an off-balance position, and the effort will leave you open and exposed to a counter-attack. The posture must be under control and in balance ("centred") at all times, no matter what is happening in the kata. The back and head should be over the hips, the hips should be between the knees or the feet. The rear foot must be in a position to push forward, even if the rear leg is straightened.
  10. Breathing. The judges should not see or hear the performer breathing.
Of course we need to see movement from the hips and centre, the techniques donít work without them. Such nuances get more and more important the further up the food chain you go. Indeed, at higher dan levels you can actually make mistakes in the kata and still pass since the judges are looking for something other than "put this foot here and then turn there". For example, I've heard complaints about a grading panel passing people who went down on one knee when that wasnít part of the kata. Well the explanation is that the person making the mistake did it so very well that the judges didnít notice it. Remember that theyíre looking at 3-5 people at a time, and so itís easy to forget that the kata the guy started isnít the kata that heís finishing. Thus you think, "Yep, thatís the right way to go down on your knee," and it never occurs to you to think, "Hey, you arenít supposed to go down on your knee for that one!" (Beginners, not knowing what else to look for, tend to look for the dance steps while the panel is looking beyond that.)

This is mentioned as one reason why itís hard to grade your equals or those at a higher level unless you restrict the judging criteria to the stuff you know. In other words, a judge with a more trained eye may be judging using different criteria. Still, as long as the judge is consistent and not intentionally biased toward or against a school or style, then there should be problem, whatever criteria he uses.

Kim Taylor is a 6-dan in Iaido under the Canadian Kendo Federation. He sits on the national grading panel for both jodo and iaido.
TIJ Jan 2002