Learning on the Job – Part 1

Posted in NEWS on March 7, 2005

By Wizards of the Coast

I would like to preface this article by thanking Gis for the inspiration that allowed me to focus my thoughts into coherent meaning.

We all know that while a lot of study needs to be devoted outside the tournament to keeping one's judging skills and knowledge sharp, nothing beats hands-on experience at an event. Yet you should not limit your event experiences to answering rules questions that arise, performing deck checks and handing out result slips. There are many more ways in which you can benefit from the tournament experience.


One of the first concepts taught in kendo is mitori-geiko, which can be translated into “learning through observation”. From your first days in the dojo, you are expected to watch both the more and less experienced students and sensei to understand concepts, increase your knowledge and learn from their mistakes. This concept is easily applied to judging.

When at an event, observe the way different judging tasks (e.g. registration, result slip distribution, etc.) are handled by different judges. Additional insight is provided when you get to work with different head judges or team leaders. Working at events in different countries or regions can provide a lot of food for thought.


When you acquire knowledge on tournament proceedings, it is easy to fall into the trap of complicity by simply excepting the presented solution and adding it mechanically to your repertoire of judging skills. This is a big mistake.

Think about the tasks you or your team performed at the tournament. Could they have been done better? Faster? More professionally? More organized? Often shaving of a minute here and minute there will let you finish the tournament an hour earlier and I think we all can appreciate this.

Another way to look at it is a metaphor I was presented with. Think of all the variables that go into the tournament or your assigned tasks. Now try to figure out how you can tweak these. Picture it as a mental puzzle and look for different solutions, even outside the box.

A good example of this is the “tape dilemma”. Should you attach tape to the pairings at the judges’ station and then go hang them up or should you apply tape at the pairing boards?


It is time to let your ideas breathe and see the world. Question the way things are handled at a tournament, ask why a certain route was adopted. If you do this in a polite way, you’ll gain an understanding of how and why things work. Or maybe the judge you ask will not be able to answer. Maybe he’s been doing it that way, because he never questioned it. This could lead him to try something different, something better.

Propose new solutions to problems that have come up over the course of the day. However, be careful about suggesting new ideas during the heat of battle. If time is short or tensions are high, sometimes its just better to do something, even if its not the optimal solution, instead of discussing (or even worse arguing) about different approaches.

There are some good times to discuss the various issues. When the round is winding down and most players are done, the whole staff isn’t needed. Similarly, during the Top 8 only a couple of judges are needed to run the tournament. Then there is of course the team meeting and judge meeting. Also do not forget dcijudge-l, a place were many interesting discussions take place.


Adam Cetnerowski congratulating the winner of the Polish Nationals

The judge review is an important element of the tournament. This can be an informal discussion after a tournament, even something as simple a “Good job on handling that ruling”. It can also be more structured using the review forms provided by the DCI.

The benefits of the review to the reviewed are obvious, but how about the reviewer? When you review a judge, you have to consider his strong and weak spots. This allows you to see, if maybe you have similar weaknesses. It also gives you a good picture of what you expect from a judge. If I review someone as a team leader, I have an inkling as to what a team leader may require from me in the future.

I also think that it is a good thing and a polite thing to provide feedback to anyone reviewing you. If your team leader sits down to talk with you, have something to say about him. Not only will you help him grow, you will improve your reviewing skills, a requirement for attaining the higher judge levels.

Never be intimidated by the other person's level or judging experience. This is another tenet that can be easily ported from kendo. Everyone has something to teach to everyone else. Every judge at the event should be there to learn.


The best way to learn is to teach others. Explaining procedures and rules to other judges is a great way to test your knowledge and understanding. Since you have to provide a coherent explanation, you will be required gather your thoughts.

It also gives you the opportunity to perform tasks that you otherwise might have not done. I clock in a lot more deck checks than I would ordinarily do just because I sit down with judge candidates to teach them about the process.

A specific form of mentoring is writing a judge article. To expound on what I wrote at the beginning of this article, I had a lot of thoughts which needed structure to become meaningful. Finally sitting down and writing this provided that structure.

Disseminating knowledge among judges is an important issue. When sponsored to an event think not only about gaining experience, but also of sharing it with your local judges, when you get back.

I have always been a big advocate of a requirement for a PT report written by an experienced judge to share any interesting policies and procedures introduced at the event. I am happy to say that this is slowly materializing.

Broaden your horizons

Another trap set by complicity lies here. It’s one I fell into badly and the thought of it still hurts. You should always strive forward and upward. If you’re a floor judge at a PTQ, observe the head judge. If you’re a judging a GP, analyze what your team leader is doing. This advice applies once you’ve had some experience in a given role, but after a while it's easy to do what you know well and not worry about anything else.

I knew how to be a GP floor judge and team leader. I (pretty much) knew how a GP worked. Yet, when I was assigned to HJ one, I stumbled along noticing all the things I didn’t observe at the previous GPs I worked at.

Never assume that you will not improve, be promoted or won’t need some piece of judging knowledge or skills. You never know what awaits you in the future.

Part 2 will discuss the points mentioned above in the context of specific tournaments and roles. Look for it soon.

Adam Cetnerowski, Level 3