SO YOU WANT TO BE A REFEREE? polls have found that 80% of viewers either have competed or plan on competing within the next year. Having attended dozens of BJJ and grappling tournaments, it is obvious that referees can either make a break an organization as often their decisions determine the outcome of a match. Below we asked the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) what was involved in becoming a qualified referee.


Who are the men and women you see on the mat directing match after match at a NAGA event? What exactly does it take to be a NAGA Referee?

The men and women that represent the NAGA Referee staff are first and foremost Submission Grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Judo and MMA practitioners. The minimum belt ranking requirement is a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A Referee must be able to anticipate the direction and thought processes of the athletes that are competing. This will ensure the safety of the competitors and give the Referee insight on the upcoming possibility of points and submissions. The ability to anticipate a competitor’s movements is only possible if the Referee is very well versed in competition and submission fighting tactics.

An individual that is interested in becoming a NAGA Referee will be given rules documents for both the No Gi and Gi divisions held in NAGA competition. The No Gi rules are unique to NAGA competition. These rules were created and refined with years of competition from NAGA’s founder and President, Kipp Kollar. The Gi rules are based on the rules created and used by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation. The interested individual must then study the rules at length to prepare for the Referee Certification course. The NAGA Referee Certification course is a six plus hour comprehensive discussion of the rules, etiquette and expectations of a Referee. The tests given are both written and video based. To pass the tests, an individual must score a 90% or higher.


The next step in the quest of becoming a Certified NAGA Referee is to actually work at a NAGA event. The applicant will work the tables with bracketing and scorekeeping. The applicant will also apprentice as a Referee for the Novice and Beginner divisions for both Adults and Children. A highly experienced NAGA Referee will watch every match the new applicant officiates. The experienced Referee will overturn any mistakes made by the aspiring Referee and will explain the points of discussion after each match. The new Referee may become a Certified NAGA Referee based on the confidence inspired by the officiating crew. This may happen during the applicant’s first event, or it may never happen. Once an individual becomes a Certified NAGA Referee, they will most likely be asked to work future events that take place in their home state.

A NAGA Referee is expected to know the rules extremely well. This is a very normal expectation for someone to work as a Referee. However, even more importantly, a NAGA Referee is expected to be a professional, hard-working, focused, compassionate and patient individual. A person must be able to calmly and patiently handle adults, children, parents, coaches and competitors. Unfortunately, most attendees of tournaments are disillusioned with the notion that they truly know the rules of competition. In most cases, the individuals are very much behind on their understanding of the rules. Even the most distinguished coaches are not always complete in their understanding of both No Gi and Gi rules. Being a Referee can be a very stressful job. You will have two competitors moving from one dangerous position to another, while coaches and spectators are yelling at you. Remaining calm and professional while accurately depicting the “story” being told on the mat is paramount in NAGA competition.

“The NAGA Referee Certification course is a six plus hour comprehensive discussion of the rules, etiquette and expectations of a Referee. The tests given are both written and video based. To pass the tests, an individual must score a 90% or higher.”


Many people contact NAGA each month in the quest of becoming a Referee. Only the very best will be chosen to represent the NAGA organization as we continue to expand our dominance worldwide. The very best team members have the opportunity to travel the world. Destinations like Hawaii, Canada and Paris make the job even more exciting. Of all the tournament organizations in the world, NAGA is also the highest paying monetarily of all the Referee positions. Traveling the world while making a good income is definitely why this position is in such high demand.

As NAGA continues to expand, the drive for excellence is always present. Next year, 2012, will have even more stringent requirements for the Referee staff. If you are interested in stepping up to the challenge of becoming a NAGA Certified Referee, contact NAGA Vice President, Joe Cuff, at If you are interested in competing in the World’s largest and most exiting grappling tournaments, visit to see when NAGA is coming to a city near you.


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