Issue 41: Judging with Hans

Warning – A word of warning to begin with, this is not a recipe for judging! It is just my analysis of my way of judging. Of course I hope other judges, either beginning or experienced might benefit.


The technical routine first, because it makes it easier to explain how I work, then on to the compulsories.


I will have to be concentrated for 5 minutes, and to prepare I follow a routine of talking a bit, walking a bit, taking a sip of water and forgetting what I just have seen. I write name and numbers on my score sheet and when the pilot is about ready to start, I walk over to my usual place, about 10 meter behind the pilot. I look around at whatever is moving in the wind (always hoping to see some single line trains) to get some feeling about strength, variability, direction. The feeling in my neck tells me quite precise the wind direction on the ground, so I use that to guide me to the right spot (for me). The Field Director is raising her hand, to signal the coming “IN”, I can hear the “IN”, the hand goes down, I start watching.

Watching is just what I do the next 3, 4 or 5 minutes. I don’t take my eyes off the kite(s), I don’t write. I walk only if necessary, if the pilot moves a lot, just the necessary bit if the wind direction changes much. I focus only half, keeping as much as possible of the wind window in my field of vision. I try to omit drawing conclusions or abstracting. Only if the kite seems to go into a crash-like move I have a short look at the pilot to have some notion about “intention” and “control over the kite”. I don’t talk, unless I know the other judges well, or if I assist a shadow judge, but even then it will not be often or much, and never has anything to do with the quality of the routine. I might smoke my cigar, stamp my feet a little, but that’s it.

The “OUT” has been called and I turn away from the FD, the pilot, the other judges. I now need about 90 seconds to “replay” what I have watched. I try to make it the first time I “see” the routine. It is not uncommon to remember just the start, the sensational 10 seconds in the middle and the last 20 or 30 seconds of the routine. With the “replay” I try to avoid that. I try to characterize the whole routine using key-words or better key-impressions. No numbers yet. I know that as soon as I start abstracting what I have seen (say “nice circle”) I will loose a lot of the replay image, so I postpone that.

First “rhythm”. How regular is that “spacing in time”, or how understandable the irregularities. Only a very few flyers use rhythm consciously, for me it is like a “time line with hooks”, a piece of music paper with just the key and bar lines. Quality of timing fits here.

Difficulty. Not simply the degree of difficulty of tricks and other stuff, but also circumstances, improvisation, adjustments by the flyer (because we judge control over the kite).

Pattern. Is the routine more than a bundle of moves, is there cohesion, a beginning, an end? Is there a kind of story maybe? Is it possible to fill in notes on my “music paper”?

All these characterizations are about the whole routine, and I know they don’t seem to follow the judging criteria in the rule book. For me this is the necessary phase between having the “raw data” (the replay image) and starting to score, according to the criteria.

The last step before that is assessing the quality of flying, lines, curves, corners, tricks, window use, speed control (see also note on pair/teams) etc. again for the whole routine, so again, but now even more so an impression, a summary.

Scoring is the really tricky part. I do not compare with the other routines I have seen in this competition, and of course not even with the ones I haven’t seen yet… Based on the thousand or so routines I have already judged, I think I will recognize the “perfect routine”, the “perfect moves”, so if I compare at all it will be with those imaginary “perfect” ones.

I start with writing down, on the execution part (of my score sheet): the number of ticks I have noticed, and then l, wu, s, c, tr, var, diff.

l (lines):

How “clean” and recognizable are straight and curved lines, are there low pass, vertical, diagonal, at the left, at the right? Do they have a beginning and end or
are they just connecting other moves?
wu (window use): control over the kite everywhere? With every kind of move?

s (speed control):

Any speed changes, other then caused by wind changes, any sign of controlled speed changes.

c (curves, corners, close):

Are closed curves closed, in 3 or in 2 dimensions, are curves there as curves or just connecting parts between other moves.

tr (tricks):

You could call anything else than “straight”flying a trick, but I look for the things that take a lot of practice, and look especially to the entrance and exit of tricks, since these are telltales for the control over the kite. I might add a “c” if complicated combinations are shown.

var (variation):

Not as a summary of all other elements, but the extra of “nice variations”

diff (degree of difficulty):

The difficulty of the elements of the routine, regardless of circumstances. This is based on my knowledge, so I am careful with this. To assess it properly you need to look around much outside competition and talk to pilots. Flying a kite now and then might help, but there is the risk it only tells you what is difficult for you!

I forget about “taking risks”, just a hint of a difficult move is no more than that, it only adds a touch of chaos to the routine.  A well performed difficult move is just that, and will add to the score!

Behind each “key” I write pluses or minuses to qualify mainly the relative (within that routine) merit of these elements. Later I will use those “remarks” when I answer questions of the competitor. At the end of the competition I will have forgotten most of what I have seen, these notes will bring back a lot of it. (so I will need my sheets back from the scorer!)

But even with all these “objective” notes I can only partly avoid the need to interpret what the pilot wanted to show, the “meaning” of the routine, the ideas. (you all know the example: is the wobbly line, a bad straight line, or a bad wave)

This is where rhythm, a story, a well placed trick and lots of other details, give me the context needed.

On the content part I basically write down the same letters (usually not all of them), again with pluses and minuses. But the meaning is different. To use the analogy of the music paper again, I now decide how much of these moves/elements are fitting notes. And this again is where rhythm, a story, a well placed trick and lots of other details give me the context needed. If I can guess what the whole piece of music should be like, I can recognize the notes, the ones that fit, the ones that are “false”. Not just the notes, also the orchestration, the swinging sax (Axel) the long down stroke on the violin (diagonal), the shifting tone on a steel guitar (stop). Yes, that looks very subjective, but every serious judge will recognize the – very few- precision routines that look that way. Judging is far more difficult with “elevator music”!

Then I give the scores. To a large extend intuitive, not based on “gut feeling”, but based on the same kind of intuition that lets you (me) pick a route in a maze, or the way to solve a mathematical problem. Hoping (and knowing a bit too, from experience) that the subjective way in which I judge is steered, or channeled by the more or less objective steps I have taken.

This is also why I don’t judge creativity or originality, since that is based far too much on my knowledge, not on the flying abilities of the pilot.


Compulsory figures are different. A prescribed test, I only have to check if it is done well!

My place is 10 meter upwind behind the pilot, 5 meter aside, usually on the right side, even if pilot and kite don’t line up with the wind direction (see also note on “definition”). It is fixed that way for me, because I need to do calculations about kite positions. I will notice the signs of the FD about timing and “mirrored” figures, but I just wait for the “IN”. We judges have discussed the figures before (and picked the “right” ones to fit best the circumstances) so I will not be surprised. I usually don’t focus on the kite, and keep my head still. The field of vision needed horizontally (in theory) is just 106 deg. for the flyer, far less for the judge.

Judging a figure begins with assessing the test involved (see also note on pair/team), I will use a well known old/new figure (Split Figure Eight) to illustrate that.

The basic test is having the proportions right, a second, less important one the relative placement of the two “straight” lines, the least important one the place in the wind window. The pilot can make it easier on her/himself by changing the figure a little (smaller curves, higher start of top curve, more horizontal diagonal) or more difficult (the other way around). I will deduct in the first case, not change my score in the second case (if the changes are little; otherwise I deduct too).

The first corner will define the place in the wind window, that is easy to judge, the second “vertical” gives some possibility to suggest a different position, but I will only check the – constant- distance between the two “verticals”. It helps to have the ground crew in middle window, as most pilots know too, to judge that, but a pole of the fence or a tree will help also.

The size of the first, top curve will set the size of the whole rest of the figure, I measure the size of the top one in “kite widths” and will do the same with the bottom one.

The small “straight” at the end of the curve is there to make it a little more difficult to get the proportions right, it means steering twice in a short time, not forgetting the size of the curve. I will deduct between 5% and 10% if both “straights” are not there. I now know if the pilot can finish the figure the right way, all measures are set now.

The pilot knows that too of course and the diagonal will show how “smart” the pilot solves the problem. It is hard to judge the angle between diagonal and ground precise, and since the top curve (almost always) is too big, a “flat” diagonal will give more room for the bottom one, without distorting the figure too much. It is a good telltale for the judges, and I will deduct if it is the only mistake (otherwise it will be in the other deductions).

The bottom straight and curve can only have the already set size of course, but usually there is not enough room. A “flat-bottomed” curve is the best solution (to avoid touching the ground, as well as starting the second vertical on the right spot) but is not done often by pilots. I will deduct in both cases seriously, actually the quality of the bottom curve sets the basic score for me, since that part shows the quality of almost the whole figure. If the vertical is on the right place, I check it’s distance with the first one over its length and wait for the “OUT”. I forget about the top corner, the diagonal symmetry with the bottom one is almost impossible to judge. Only if the second vertical line is seriously short, I will deduct something

Contrary to the routine I compare what I see directly with what I know (diagram and description). I make small notes on the score sheet (see picture) that will make it possible to explain my score to the competitor. They are just the differences with the “perfect” figure, not all lines etc. It’s quicker, and it works for me (and the competitor) If there are no touches, or other problems I will need about 10 -15 seconds; knowing – all- the details of a figure well means I score while I watch. (To have consistent scoring for all judges in the same competition, and over more than one competition means though that all judges know and understand these details.)
Plenty of time to position myself for the next figure…


Getting Prepared again…

If it is a competition in which I had a hand in organizing, team ballet will be the crowd-pleasing Sunday afternoon event, and I will be prepared as soon as it starts!

After having judged the rest of the weekend I will need to stretch my legs a bit, and may feel a bit tired, but that will go away as the first music starts. Just quickly write names and numbers, look around to see what the wind is doing. Then find my place on the field, which will not differ that much from the precision one, and wait.

I prefer to have the competitors call “IN” with ballet too, so I will watch and judge, just like the other disciplines, only between “IN” and “OUT”. Makes it also easier for competitors, especially if they want to start flying.

There is sound coming from the speakers, “IN” has been called and I watch and listen. That is all I do, watch and listen. Well, actually I usually move my feet a bit with the music (would not call that dancing), whistle softly with what I recognize (so quite often), and I might even smoke a cigar again.

Once or twice during this competition I might sing along with the music or text, if it does not annoy the other judges or the pilots. I enjoy (team) ballet!

Reasonably familiar with rhythm and structure of most western-style music I try to find out if what I hear and what I see have anything in common, I listen to text, if it is there, maybe it contains clues, but mainly I try hard not to draw any conclusions at all, yet.

When pilots ask me what a ballet should be, in my opinion, I explain it usually in the following way:

In a routine, either with or without music you should show a poem. Since nobody knows your language, yet, you must first teach us (the ones who watch you) your language, or at least prove you use a language. Then you have to teach us the words you use so we can understand your poem. It is also the way I look (and listen) to a ballet. Ballet has the advantage of a context (the music), so teaching the language and the words might be easier. That works only, of course, if the connection between music and flying is understandable, at least at the end of the routine.

But if it becomes only clear at the end I, as a judge or spectator, must keep in my mind all that has been done before in the routine, without drawing premature conclusions.

I enjoy – judging – ballet, but it ain’t easy…

Then, after the “OUT” I stare at the grass, the sky, the fence for a minute or two, to find out if the end had something to do with the beginning, if the middle was something special, if I can assume I understood, some things.

And start writing, first the execution part. Basically the same list as with a precision routine, for the same purpose, but with ballet I add (r) rhythm and (ti) timing. With timing I assume the real cues are in the music, so even if pilots watch each other (-s kite) to “time” their moves, I compare that timing with the music. I use pluses and minuses again to mark strong and weak points and go on with choreography.

Here I start with…

(m) mood:

Is there a connection, similarity (or maybe a strong contrast) between sound and image, between the “mood” of the music and flying

(th) theme:

If the music has different themes are these treated differently. Either in time or by one kite, compared with another.

(b) beat:

Is the beat used, how (just the beat, two bars) and how well. I make a note here if only the beat is used, because is it a real ballet if any piece of music with that beat would do?

Then I write again the technical marks (lines, w.u., sp, tricks etc.) and value how well these… technical means are used to get the overall picture. As analogy: the way paint is used by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Appel, is totally different. With paintings the final resulting image may be the most important, not that much the painting technique. With kite flying we want to decide on who is the best pilot, the quality of the use of the technical means is – at least as – important. (see note)

I don’t judge the music or the music choice (like “does that music fits a team routine”), nor do I judge or score missed opportunities, they are not there anyway..

The score I put down for the technical part are based on the quality of flying, obviously, as analyzed in the above way, more or less without taking into account it is a ballet. And because I value much the use of technical means to get the end result, part of the score for choreography is a bit a technical score too. The main part of the choreography score is based on how well I recognized the poem. I don’t care, and how could I, if that is something else than the pilot(s) meant.

If the score is initially above 90 I will add points if I was touched emotionally and or if I laughed because of the routine (happened 4 or 5 times in 13 years) otherwise I’ll leave it as it is.

More than with precision there is the problem of (my) knowledge. I will always try to look at a routine as if it is the first time, but the music brings it own meaning, for me, that I can’t ignore. I listen much to music, often with kite flying in mind (ever since I flew in a team) and many pieces carry a kind of image with them.

In talking with pilots afterwards I normally don’t ask why a piece of music is chosen, or what was the idea behind.

Another problem is the fact that a ballet is, for a large part, homework. Improvisation is difficult, so the second, third time I see a ballet, it will be the same “design”, and I will probably recognize large parts of it. If I want to treat a ballet, or precision routine, as “fresh” I need to know as little as possible!

A third problem is the music itself . There is much music I like, and even more I dislike, but both feelings should not make a difference, and they normally don’t. I treat any sound produced by the speakers between the “IN” and “OUT” as ballet music, and all ballet music as sounds escaping the speakers. (well, I try hard) One problem remains: if I really like the music, and the flying is lousy I might be a bit hard on the pilot.

An advice (just one) to pilots: don’t try to please the judges (it should not be necessary, allowed or effective), just try to fly as good as you can, and that will be better the more you enjoy the flying itself!

Notes on Precision

Test. As was written in the old rule books, and a bit hidden in the current one, a compulsory is a technical test. To work well, what is to be tested should be described precise. The description should also give information about how to value non-perfect flying..

Many of the old, and so quite some of the new figures I designed or co-designed. Of these I know what is meant to be tested. It can be speed control, proportions, window use, tricks. For pairs there are also things like spacing, timing, how well can fly near 2 independently (in “Split Pair Square”, or “Meet Again”). The same for teams, but also, as in “The Basket”, change of the leader, or being a team, as in “Knit One, Purl One”.

Pair/team routine

For the execution part of the routine I add to my notes

(sp) spacing:

Consistent, variable with a meaning.

(f) following:

Is nr. 2 (and 3,4..) following the flight paths nr 1 is doing, or suggesting.

(t) timing:

How precise are pair or team members in their moves and turns when it is their turn.

(patt) pattern:

Is it just follow the leader or is the team showing more variations (3-1; 2-2).

For content I will add spacing and timing (how successful are these means used to get a “piece” of music) and

(asym) asymmetry:

Is a pair one plus a mirror image, or does nr 2 also know how to fly without calls, is it a pair, not two individuals, or a small team, I want to be convinced flying with two, and not one or three, was the right choice. For me the difference between a pair and a team is like the difference between a duet and a choir.

Basically the same for teams. If I miss a fourth person in a 3 person team I will write a minus.

Being head judge

I prefer to talk to (shout to) the field director as little as possible. With the FD’s I know I use a few hand signals that cover most situations. I press my judges to use not more than set-up time to do the scoring, judges are always ready, flyers do not have to wait, and the FD just can call the time till the „IN”. Smooth, simple and silent, so I can concentrate on the judging.

Discussing with competitors

Notes on my score sheets are very important, not just for the way I get to my scores, but also to inform competitors. I emphasize to competitors that the scores are only important for the competition, if they want the “real results, real advice, want to improve, they should make good use of the trained observers behind them. At the end of a competition I don’t know much about all routines anymore. But seeing the face (or back!) of a competitor, a few words about what they liked themselves, and my notes will bring back the routine, not completely what I have seen, but what I concluded, and why. Then I can do the better and more important part of judging.

Rules and the definition of compulsories should be followed by the judges, of course. As long as possible, and as long as they make it possible to have a fair and honest competition. Judging things like the intentions of the pilot should be avoided, questions like “where is the grid” or “does the grid moves with the pilot” should be answered before if possible, or prevented by good definitions. There is some work to do there I think

A sample European score sheet:

The second figure in this competition was the Split Figure Eight. (first Launch, Circle and Land, third Stops)

The pilot had the first corner already on the right (instead of the left) side of center window, and tried to correct it by going left. Both verticals though were on the right of center, and too close together. Despite flying the diagonal too much in a horizontal direction, the bottom curve was too small. The little straight parts were there, since there is no note about it. Not very good.

The routine was not bad, a great variation especially in tricks. But “var” is not put down in content because they were done on “random” times. The three ticks were from badly executed or suggested ground work (I think)

Note on ballet.

Tricks in ballet are often seen a bit as a special case. Early 95 I saw a ballet (by Michael Seehorz) with a lot if axels in it (I think it were more than 30). All exactly timed on a note on the guitar. Quicker ones on a short note, slower ones on long notes. A brilliant routine! These axels fitted the music, the choreography. Since then I treat tricks like any other move, if it fits its good, if not I’ll wait for the next good move…

Best winds,

Hans Jansen op de Haar

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Author:Hans Jansen op de Haar

A long time international kiter, Hans is a regular visitor and chief judge at events all over the world, and has also served in various major capacities with STACK and IRBC.

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