At the two tournaments (shiai, taikai) I recently attended, I and all those with grades of 4th dan and above were asked to referee. I haven't acted as Shinpan at a shiai since before I arrived in Japan in 2011, as it is usually responsibility of those with 6th Dan and above.

For the most part, the shiai I took part in in Japan were large well organized events, with teams of high-school kids assigned to each court for score and time keeping, corralling fighters before their matches and assigning tatsuki etc. On top of this there were usually at least 6 Sensei per court acting solely as Shinpan. All dressed in the All Japan Kendo Federation uniform: Navy blazer, white shirt, red tie, grey slacks and dark socks, they were able to focus on judging without any other distractions.

Kendo Shiai-jo
Image : (http://driver.golf0.net/kendo/sinpan.html)

The US however, like most other kendo communities seems to lack the vast numbers of 6th and 7th Dan Sensei required to have a large group of referees for local tournaments (I cant comment on the national level events). Which means that the referees usually have to keep one eye on their judging responsibilities and the other on their own matches.

None the less, both the shiai I attended were well run and there were enough people refereeing and volunteers working the courts for multiple divisions to take place. Both events ran from early morning to late in the even (after 7 pm for one) so "otsukare sama deshita" to everyone for their hard work!

Although exhausting it was a fantastic learning experience for me. Being forced to focus 100% on a match, on the movements and actions of the two players was really eye opening (no pun intended).

I was able to notice things in the competitors kendo that I had been told were present in my own, small mistakes, errors in timing or not taking certain opportunities.
Love this image!
Image : Kendoinfo.com

For example, my Sensei in Japan and Irish Sempai have both told me to remain ready to hit men after hitting kote. I saw so many competitors hitting ai-kote at both shiai and the message my seniors had been repeating finally hit home. If one of the players just read their opponent and the situation a bit more and went for that ai-kote-men it would be a clearer opportunity than both just smashing each others wrists over and over.

Now that I have seen the chance so many times, I hope I can work this into my kendo.

I also learned that I need a lot more practice judging, and that I need to study the rules and regulations for ippon. I have some experience, but not a great deal, I think I know what ippon is, but I feel like maybe I was too strict in some cases, and too lenient in others. Most times I went with my gut and the other shinpan also raised their flags. But I would like to be more certain as to what constitutes an ippon.

First stop will be to check out all the articles Geoff Salmon Sensei has written regarding refereeing, next I should probably purchase a book or two!

Image : Mazkiya_USA (http://www.imgrum.net/media/1193783996803880326_585255676)