We rarely learn the ins and outs of being a Jiu-Jitsu tournament referee. Some of the faces are well-known while others seem to only be known by their dressy attire on the middle of the mats when we compete.
Marcos Torregrosa, a black belt from GMA Yemaso BJJ Academy, entered the new realm of referees for the first time at the 2014 IBJJF Las Vegas Spring Open on May 3. The avid competitor travels around frequently and takes home gold at some of the largest tournaments in our sport. He also talks guidance to his students from the sidelines at the very same tournaments. Both of those roles can be physically, mentally taxing but some do all three.
Listen to the story of one brave man who stepped on the mat to referee for a day in Vegas and lived to tell the tale:
“‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – ironically a quote that seems to hold new meaning the more I experience. This past weekend I was approached to referee my very first IBJJF event. Sure, I had reffed many other events yet I consider the IBJJF events of the highest prestige and this was to be my opportunity to show how it’s done! I had high expectations of myself and looked forward to the challenge, anticipating minimal obstacles on the way whilst impressing my colleagues and earning their respect.
I had a long day..
Come 7:30 p.m. I was exhausted, beaten from a long and emotional trial that saw me going through every possible combination of situations as a coach, competitor, and referee. First off I could not compete as I was injured but I immediately recognized the incredible difficulty of being a ref and competing all in the same day. Regularly I witness Osvaldo Moizinho, Samir Chantre, Leo D’Avila, Oliver Geddes, and Kristina Barlaan ref and compete and the reality is that most people are blind to just how taxing this can be. I was drained from head to toe, my eyes red and dry from trying to keep them open for fear of missing some minuscule detail that could potentially determine a match. My lower back was sore and my knees creaked as I bent down. I had been approached on a couple of occasions by the head referee about certain calls and the unwavering assertion that I knew what I was doing had been clouded in doubt, further stressing my emotional stability. Throughout the day I had been yelled at, cursed, questioned, frowned upon, embarrassed, and quite frankly beaten. I had taken a group of 13 and could only catch a few of their matches, one of them to ref my own student and witness his first loss at a tournament first hand. Being that the event was in Vegas many were planning on enjoying a night out and I was actually contemplating just going to bed. Almost..
Much like the greatest inspirations my epiphany came from this “defeat”. I realized just how important it was to have a competitor and aficionado of the sport as referee. I knew the rules and knew them damn well but employing them was a different bag of chips. It was very easy for me to sit in the stands and say, “oh man, that’s a TERRIBLE call” yet as I reffed I heard the wisdom of my late grandmother ringing in my ears: “it’s not the same to call the devil than to see him arrive” she would say, meaning it’s easy to talk but hard to walk. As a coach I could not agree more. I had a number of up-and-comers this weekend taking 9 medals total and I drill them constantly on the rules in an effort to make them more aware both tactically and in general–a trait of any good martial artist.
Personally, I feel each and every coach should place it upon themselves to attend a referee seminar at LEAST once a year. It was criminal to see just how many coaches, many well known masters and colleagues of mine, not entirely versed on the rules. They, along with their student competitors, should attend these seminars and further discuss their newfound knowledge at the gym. If we are to play a game it is imperative that we know the rules. After this experience I am planning on attending a few in an effort to ensure my interpretation of the rules is spot on.
Finally, and in my opinion most important, I feel it is in the duty of those top tier competitors to get on the mats and show by example. It is VERY easy to hide behind titles and criticize profusely these men and women that have taken time away from coaching, competing, and their families to try and provide a safe and professional atmosphere for us all. No one is getting rich reffing and it is extremely difficult to swallow pride and commit errors but remember what it was like to be a fumbling white belt and the enjoyment of doing something correct.
Change what you are saying and you will change what you are seeing. Be the change you so eagerly solicit and If you feel our events need better refs go out there and give back, not just to your students but to the community as a whole.”
Follow more of Marcos Torregrosa’s endeavors at www.yemasobjj.com