Christine WoolgerHow to judge Koi by Christine Woolger

Is it difficult to become a Judge?

It is not too difficult to become a Koi Judge with the B.K.K.S., and join the J.S.C., but is time consuming and does require dedication and commitment.

What Qualifications do you need to become a Judge?

No formal qualifications are required to apply to become a Trainee Judge with the B.K.K.S. but you must have a very good understanding of the criteria for the 13 Show Classifications and the varieties within those classifications.

How long does it take?

It takes a minimum of 5 years. 3 years as a “Trainee Judge” and 2 years as a “Probationary Judge” before attaining Full Judge status. However it can take longer if you do not make the required standard one year.

What type of things are you taught when you are training to become a judge?

You’re taught to always look for the good points of a Koi, before you start looking for the points that could de-merit it. You are also taught the finer points of the characteristics of various varieties and to be able to place any Koi no matter how unusual in its correct show class, as there are new variants of varieties appearing all the time from Japan. Koi Judging is not an exact subject and is evolving all the time with new information coming out of Japan each year.

Is it better to judge a Koi in a blue vat or swimming around in a Koi pond?

It is far easier to judge Koi in blue vats as they are in confined space and in most cases the blue shows off the colours of the Koi far better than in a pond. The conditions are controlled and the same for each Koi being judged. If you were to try and judge Koi in a pond each pond is different, for example, water depth, water clarity, shading, planting etc. and there is so much space for them to swim off into. It would not be practical.

What kind of light is it best to view Koi in?

It is always best to judge Koi outside in natural light. To show off their true beauty and colour. Judging Koi at an indoor show can be very difficult as some forms of lighting seem to drain the colour from some varieties of Koi and make them look dull, and do not show off the true quality of the fish.

Should you judge a Koi looking down on it, or try and look at it from different angles?

When judging, initially you see the Koi from above, which is when you get your first impressions, but you also watch the Koi swimming way from you, towards you and look a the sides as well. You have to take an overall impression of the fish.

Do you need to handle a Koi to Judge it well?

Judges do not under any circumstances handle a Koi while judging a show. The only exception would be if a Koi jumped out of a vat which is extremely rare.

What is the first thing you look for when you judge a Koi?

The first thing I always check is that the Koi is in its correct class, and it is complete i.e. has all its fins etc., if not the benching team have not done their job correctly. But from a judging point the first thing you look for is Body Shape. A Koi must have good body shape and good skin quality.

What are the other things that you look for when you judge a Koi?

After body shape and skin quality, the colours should be the same throughout the length of the fish i.e. the Hi (red) on the head of a Koi should be the same shade of Hi at the back of the Koi , this is the same for all colours not just Hi. The edges of the pattern should be clean and the pattern should be balanced and show the requirements of appearance specific to the class it is in. The fish should be swimming straight and level and create an overall impression.

What is the most important part of a Koi when you are judging it – skin quality, body shape etc.?

The most important thing is body shape and skin quality.

Does what you look for vary depending on the variety of Koi?

To some extent yes, for example a metallic Koi (Hikari Classes) the fish must have Lustre – but that is part of skin quality. If it is a Doitsu (no scales) fish then if it does have scales along the dorsal line they should be even and not scattered and irregular. Some varieties should have a clean, clear head. You take in to account the specific characteristics required for the variety.

Are the criteria for judging different sized Koi the same?

All criteria are the same for all sizes and varieties.

Is it easier to judge large Koi?

Yes it is easier to Judge the larger Koi, for a start they do not dart around the vat and hide under the larger Koi!, and they are easier to see, that is why you will often see judges asking for the small Koi to be lifted in a net – it is so that they can see them properly. Judges do not like this being done to the larger fish and will avoid it if at all possible.

What are the key characteristics that make up good skin quality on a Koi?

To have good skin quality, the skin should look bright and youthful and the colours bright. The skin should shine out at you and not look dull.

How would you describe an example of bad skin quality?

Bad skin quality looks old and tired, and does not have that youthful vibrant look, and the colours look dull and do not shine. This does not mean to say that an older Koi does not have good skin quality, it depends entirely on the fish, and you can have young fish with skin quality that is not good.

What are the key characteristics that make up good scale reticulation on a Koi?

Reticulation should be clean and not smudgy and accentuates the back edge of the scales. It is seen in varieties such as Goromo, Goshiki, Asagi and Kujaku.

How would you describe an example of bad skin reticulation?

A bad example looks smudgy and dirty and comes further into the scale.

What are the key characteristics that make up good body shape?

To have good body shape, the widest part should be from behind the gills to the leading ray of the dorsal fin – the shoulders. The body should then taper gently and smoothly towards the tail and should have a thick area in front of the tail fin (the peduncle). The whole Koi should be in proportion – head, body and fins. The Koi must be straight from nose to tail.

How would describe an example of bad body shape?

Bad body shape can be seen in many ways for example: - the widest part of the Koi is half way down the fish – this makes it look like a rugby ball. The head can be too big or too small in comparison to the rest of the Koi, the dorsal fin can start too far back down the fish, and the pectoral fins can be too small or far too large. This list is quite long.

How would you make the final decision between two very high quality Koi?

This can be very difficult. If you have two Koi, both with good body shape, excellent skin quality, even colour, balanced pattern and impact, and everything is correct for that variety of Koi, and there are no de-merits on either fish, it can come down to personal preference, that is why at U.K. Koi shows there is always an odd number of judges (3 or 5) and votes are taken, so the decision is democratic and not personal. Fortunately this does not happen very often, but when it does there is always a lot of discussion between the judges in case one has seen something that the others haven’t that could actually split the two Koi.

Do you make judging decisions purely on the quality of the fish or do you bear in mind any other factors, such as potential? How well the owner has looked after it? Which breeder it comes from?

All Koi are judged on “What we see on the day” we can not say what will happen in the future, we do not know who the owner is and do not know how they look after them, and as for as the breeder, the owner may or may not know that himself.

Does personal preference ever come into a decision that an official judge makes?

No personal preference does not come into a judging decision, all Koi are judged on their merits.

Have you ever regretted any judging decisions you’ve made or helped make?

I can not say that I have regretted any decisions that I have made. I have made wrong decisions, but that is why you are a trainee for 3 years, and during the time you are a trainee your vote does not count in any decision, and it is then explained to you why your decision was wrong – that is how you learn.

Are the rules of judging different in different parts of the world?

Fundamentally the rules are the same throughout the world, although each Koi organisation does have its own slight variances. Some countries have more than 13 show classes, and also have different sizes for the Koi.

Which country do you enjoy judging Koi in the most?

Other than England, I have judged in Holland and South Africa. I enjoy judging everywhere, and most of all the people that you meet, it is one big circle of friends who have a common interest - KOI.

In which country is it the hardest?

I would think it would be hardest to judge in Japan, but as far as the overseas shows I have been to it is no harder judging abroad than it is in England other than the language sometimes, but then there is usually a translator around.

Finally, what is the best advice you would give someone who wanted to start judging Koi, or just wanted to be able to judge their own Koi with an objective eye?

If someone wants to become a Koi judge, they should do it because they enjoy it, and want to learn more about Koi appreciation. It takes a long time and you must have commitment. You must be prepared to travel long distances with early starts in the morning and getting home late at night. As a B.K.K.S. Judge you can be asked to go to any Koi show in the country no matter where you live. Judges are not paid (other than a contribution towards mileage) we do it because we enjoy it and want to promote a better knowledge of Koi appreciation.

Christine Woolger