Obukan’s Mark Hirota Reports Back As A Referee At The Pan American Sub 15 and Sub 13 Championships

Pan American Sub 15 and Sub 13 Championships, Oct 1-Oct 2, Panama City, Panama

I would like to thank the USA Judo Referee Commission for giving me the opportunity to participate in this event.  From this, I was able to gain valuable experience in refereeing and interacting with fellow PJC Referees.  The following are my notes on the tournament as well as various observations.

Participating Countries

The following countries participated: Argentina Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, USA, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela.

Referee Commission and PJC Officers in Attendance

The Referee Commission consisted of Julio Clemente- Puerto Rico, PJC Referee Director and Efigenio Braafhart- Netherlands Antilles, PJC Referee Commission Member.  In addition, the following officers were also in attendance: Manuel Larrañaga- Mexico, PJC Director of Sport, Jorge Armada- Puerto Rico, PJC Vice-President and Luis Chevez- El Salvador, PJC Treasurer.

Referees in Attendance

In addition to myself, the following referees worked this event:

Michele Leone- VEN (IJF A), Francisca Moran-ECU (IJF A), Kay Asenda- NIC (IJF B), Marco Sabero-VEN (IJF B), Paulo Ferriero-BRA (IJF B), Ramone Ayala –PUR (IJF A), Zalma Rivera- COL (IJF A), Rafael Surga-VEN (IJF B), Luis Araya-CRC (IJF A), Herminia Guillen-VEN (IJF B), Rona Carranza-PAN (PJC).

Travel and Transportation

I provided my travel itinerary to USA Judo and they contacted and made arrangements with the Panama Judo Federation for airport transportation and hotel accommodations.

A bus was scheduled for airport pickup of the US team at 2:30 pm on 9/30.  A private vehicle picked me up at the airport and transported me to the tournament hotel (Hotel Soloy) to pick up my credentials.

For the return trip to the airport, a bus was arranged for transport back to the airport on 10/3.

Tournament Headquarters/ Accommodations.

Hotel Soloy, the tournament headquarters, is located in downtown Panama City, which is a 30 minute ride from the airport.  The referees were housed in a hotel across the street at Hotel 2 Mares.  Hotel 2 Mares is a bit rustic and Spartan, but clean. Each room did have its own TV and bathroom.  This portion of downtown is urban and gritty.  When I asked one of the Panamanian Referees, if this was a safe area, he said “so-so, be careful”.  I walked around quite a bit without incident, but chose by direction carefully.

Meals (lunch and dinner) were available to the referees in the adjoining restaurant.  For breakfast, you could ask for most standard breakfast items, although there was no menu and you needed to know a bit of Spanish.

Dinner was from the restaurant’s menu, but was limited to either baked chicken or fried chicken.

The Panama Judo Federation graciously paid for the hotel and meals.

A note on currency: Panama uses US paper money for currency.  They do mint their own coins, but I also noticed receiving some US coins as change.

A note on electrical current: Panama uses US standard electrical current.  No adapters necessary.


Weigh ins were held at the tournament hotel at 7 am each day.  No referees were assigned to assist in weigh ins for the first day of competition (Sub 13).  Upon receiving complaints from several coaches, referees were assigned to assist with weigh ins for the second day (Sub 15).  I was one of the assigned referees.


The tournament site was easily within walking distance and was only 1 ½ blocks away. The gymnasium had the typical open air ventilation.  Seating for contestants and spectators was upstairs on level 2.

The Commission mentioned several times (at the pre-tournament referee meeting and prior to the opening ceremonies) that parents in the crown will make the refereeing more difficult.  There was a concerted effort by the Referee Commission, to keep the crown on level 2.  Only on-deck contestants and their coaches were allowed near mat side.  Several matches during the day were halted due to crowd control issues.  I did not notice anyone acting in an unruly manner.

Technical Notes

Referees were asked to dress in uniform for the pre-tournament meeting on 9/30.

Bear Hug: From the front only.  1st offense is Matte, subsequent are Shido. Hands to do have to be interlocked to be a bear hug.

Leg Grab: Ok to touch legs briefly (incidental contact).  Penalize simultaneous attack and leg grab with Hansoku Make.

Stepping out: Penalize stepping out without action (once both players leave area).  Ok to penalize both if both leave area at the same time.  Signal toward infraction location and then award shido.

Gi Control: Do not penalize for an incorrect Gi, after the match has already started.  This is on the referee and you cannot penalize the player.

Negative Judo: you must penalize when it occurs.  Do not wait until the last half of the match to start penalizing.  You cannot give Tori a false attack penalty, if Uki is in Jigotai.  Tomoe-nage is a typical technique that is frequently overlooked for a false attack.

Osaekomi- Toketa: Toketa during an osaekomi can occur if Uki can inter-lock their ankles.

Golden Score Hantei: If the match goes to Hantei, the referees have done a poor job at officiating.

Technical Observations

General technical observations of the refereeing on my mat:

  • Appreciation: Strong
  • Time given for newaza:  way too short.
  • Communication: poor, infrequent eye contact.
  • Negative Judo: inconsistently called, but much better on day 2.
  • Procedures: Good.
  • You were not allowed to referee or judge when your country was on the mat.  Therefore, there was not a set rotation.
  • There were approx. 80-90 matches per mat, each day.

Lessons Remembered or Learned

The conditions were very humid.  I was in a full on sweat before the tournament started.  I hydrated 1 week in advance of going, which helped me.  I forgot to bring a hand towel and there was not one at the hotel.

There is no guarantee of toilet paper in the Banos.  Bring some from the Hotel. Bring hand sanitizer.  By the afternoon of Day 1, the Banos were horrifying.

There is no guarantee of a lunch break.  We ate breakfast at 8 am and did not have a break for lunch until the conclusion of the day (3 pm on Day 1 and 4:30 pm on Day 2). Bring powerbars and some hard candy to share with your fellow referees.

No guarantee of interaction with English speaking people.  Learn some basic Spanish to get by.

Although Panama uses US paper money, there is no guarantee that every vendor you deal with will have change.  Bring small bills to avoid change issues.

Bring small gifts to give to friends you meet.  I brought several lapel pins from Oregon.

-Mark Hirota