IMCF Retrospective Part 2, My experience reffing and why everyone should Marshal

This week I want to talk about my experience Marshalling at IMCF. It was an intense, fun, and eye opening experience. I’m gonna start with my conclusion, everyone participating in IMCF should sign up for a shift next year. Failing that get some experience under the yellow hood or in the striped shirt at home. It won’t quite be the same thing but I guarantee that it will change how you see the game for the better. I’ve reffed a number of chapter matches as head ref and also as a counter for duels and yet my appreciation for the challenges the marshalls face increased. As did my understanding both of the rules and the different ways those rules could be interpreted. The way I teach, the way I fight, and the way I coach will all change in accordance. I highly recommend everyone else try this so they can get similar insights.

Overall, despite a number of complaints both from mine and other countries, I feel the marshalling was fairly well done. This was the biggest IMCF tourney to date, with the number of fighters doubling over last year and marshalls only adding a few to their total. And while some of the marshalls seemed very experienced there appeared to be alot of newer marshalls, all with differing levels of English, the lingua franca of IMCF. Add to this that every country seems to have developed slightly different ways of calling certain rules and the fact that there was any uniformity at all seems miraculous. Instead though, while there were issues, as there are in every major sporting event that refs play a part, it seemed like calling was at similar standard for the most part and on point for most of the rules.

A thing I found odd though, was the lack of active fighters in the Marshallate. By active fighters I mean fighters fighting at IMCF, instead of a marshall who also fights back home. While this would be entirely standard at a professional tournament like the Olympics or even a mature organizations amature events, we are niether. This is a 4 day event at which most fighters are only fighting 1 or 2 days. I would have thought to see 1 or 2 fighter representatives from each country at least doing a morning or afternoon shift. Perhaps this is my SCA Mentality where a significant number of the marshalls for the sport are primarily fighters and will fight and marshall different days at multi day events.

A goal of having no active fighters(or even active team members from a country, so coaches or support staff) marshalling would be a good one for the IMCF to try and achieve, as it would mean we have matured enough as an organization that we have a large enough pool of refs we can utilize outside of the fighters, which would speak well to how we are doing. But for the next few years, I personally would like to see the opposite. More Marshals would be better for dividing the work and reduce the mental fatigue that sets in after a day in the sun intensely focusing. In addition it would greatly aid the communication between Fighter and Marshall expectations and interpretations. Even between fighters or between marshalls there exist great gaps of understanding, which become far greater in comparing one set against another. Add in the differentiation of countries and one might wonder if we are actually playing the same sport.

That was supposed to be a 1 paragraph intro…good job Ringo, nailed it. Anyway enough with the general’s, time to get into some specifics. Let’s talk about counting. Right from the get go I ran into a difference in the way it gets called on the international level. In America, at least as I’ve been taught, we need solid but not killer blow. Basically if you land clean with good mechanics it will count. Without them, putting any snap should deliver enough. Basically split the difference between Dagohir and SCA, if you know those games. If not but you know boxing we basically count a jab as a point. This scales up slightly in Longsword and slightly more in polearm since they are heavier weapons they are expected to hit harder. However we’re still talking essentially the force you can generate with a good snap cut from the wrist. International…not so much. After talking with a group of marshals and doing some demonstrations, I came away with the impression you needed to land with enough power to rock the head back if the blow landed on the helm. The edge of good in SCA and up(provided you are in a thicker region ala East or Atlantia) or the equivalent of a straight or hook.

Once adjusted to that standard I found my counts matching most people’s, so I’m fairly confident that was the standard used over the course of the event, scaling depending on event. There were a few more hiccups though. I found myself once in a discussion about whether the power level should be considered lowered for women. I did not lower my own judging and I believe after checking with Steve Chessman that is the official policy but I can’t remember if that conversation was with him or another senior marshall. There was also a discussion where I did not want to count a larger polearm fighters blows due to a complete lack of follow through. The result of that was that when I had adjusted up it had been on the assumption that what other counters were looking for was good form plus power, but in actually they just wanted a higher force level.

The discussions exposed some problems to me in our power measurement system. Obviously counting a good blow is subjective, but the factors we use to tell do not seem to be standard. It’s more everyone has their own way of judging based on having seen a good blow being demonstrated a handful of times. That personal system will improve as counters get more practice and feedback doing the job and comparing their counts. However there isn’t enough comparing style. My judging takes into account 5 factors: the sound of the blow, the mechanics of the fighter delivering, the reaction of the fighter receiving, the speed of the weapon, the effect of the collision on the weapon and the armor. What I’m looking for in each of these factors changes based on the type of weapon, the type of armor, how and where the blow is thrown.

For example the sound of long sword hitting a helm with the weak of the blade is very different than the sound of the same sword hitting a splinter leather cuisse with the strong, even if delivered with the same force. The mechanics will be mostly the same in the hips and body, but the arms and wrists will change drastically, as will the fighters reaction, the return arc of the sword, and very possibly the speed of the blow coming in. The problem we have here is that when we teach and standardize we do it by demonstrating mostly with speed of the weapon and sound and then leave it up to the counters to figure out the variations. So despite coming to a consistent standard on what a good blow was in good circumstances, counts could still wildly vary if a fight spent alot of time in edge cases.

Speaking of edges, I never realized how hard finding edge alignment could be. Most fights it was fairly obvious but there were a number of fights where my view of the actual landing was completely blocked and all I could see was the weapon moving and hear the sound. I tried to judge off of body position…but when someone with lightning speed like Marcin starts spamming shots, just keeping up on the number is difficult enough, trying to find the edge when your view is obstructed becomes next to impossible. Counting high level sword and shield fights was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a marshall. I almost think every corner should have two counters, for a total of 8 counters. Blows and bodies move so fast that if you spend a half second trying to think if a blow was good, you’ve missed 3 shots. Which can lead to the wild variance I mentioned earlier.

That’s the last of my counting problems. It seems that we have no real guideline for how to handle wild variance. Mostly it seemed to be done through committee which seemed to work for 90% of the cases. One counter would say they thought the others count was more likely or through explanation certain blows that either were or weren’t counted would be corrected. However even after these corrections you might have a swing of 5 or more. Which is fine if both scores are lower or higher than the other two counters scores…but sometimes the discrepancy left no clear winner. Should the head ref just average the two then? Should they weight to the counter they have more faith in? I often heard the best option was to guess based on the head marshalls internal count…but without clickers keeping two counts can be difficult especially if both fighters are in the high teens or even higher. These edge cases are rare but they are going to come up in a tournament the size of the IMCF championships and I saw a number of head refs struggle to determine what to do in that situation. I would too. It’s a tricky problem, with no clear solution in my mind.

So with over 1500 words on this I think I’m gonna have to break into 2 pieces. I still need to cover Melee fighting, weapon and armor inspection, and go a bit more into the generals as an overall conclusion. That’ll likely come next Friday, depending on whether or not I get the sudden urge or inspiration for another topic. So till then, see you in the lists.


One thought on “IMCF Retrospective Part 2, My experience reffing and why everyone should Marshal

  1. Pingback: IMCF Retrospective Part 3: Melee Marshalling and Miscelaenous Musings | Life As A Swordsman

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