Judging Criteria

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In koi keeping, body shape, color, and pattern are judged in that order. The body shape takes priority because, irrespective of the standard of color and pattern, a body that is too long, too short, too thin, or too round will constitute inferior quality. The bigger and better the body shape, the better the impression; and the better a koi's movement will be. A koi with a pot belly cannot have a graceful swimming motion. Deformities demand immediate elimination (although it is questionable whether the koi should have been entered at all).

Faults and flaws are tolerated according to the degree of severity. For example, the complete absence of barbels is a serious fault, whereas missing barbels is a flaw. Blindness in one eye or a missing eye is a fault but an eye showing a white or red film is a flaw. A head that is too round, too square, or has a "pinched" look will detract from the koi's appeal.

Fins must be in proportion to the body, not too large, too small, too square, or too rounded. It is considered a fault if the fins of small and medium-size koi are too long or short, while similar fins on large koi will usually eliminate them from top rankings. The absence of a significant part or a whole fin is a fault; healed or partial damage is a flaw.

In evaluating color, judges will search for an even hue with out weakness or fading. The white ground must be pure and thick, the hi and sumi must have depth and brightness, and metallic ground colors must be even, without any smudging. The sought-after luster of the skin can be visualized as a thin layer of high-gloss varnish.

Judges are especially attentive of kiwa (the hid edge of a marking, see page 39) that is sharp and attractive. The pattern should be typical of the variety and balanced along the length of the body. In smaller koi, the pattern should be appealing. Young koi should show elegant, refined patterns, while adult koi must have splendor and presence. Two further criteria used in judging are gracefulness and character; and here subjective preferences come into play. Gracefulness can be equated with elegance, tidiness, and refinement; character is the overall impression, the undeniable presence of a superlative synthesis of all the koi's features.

Traditionally, judging starts with the jumbo and bigger size bu from which a Jumbo Champion, Reserve Grand Champion, and Supreme Grand Champion (overall winner) are selected.

The judges then go to the smallest bu (size grouping) and work their way up to the biggest bu to find first, second, and third places from each variety. From among all the winners in a specific bu, a Supreme Champion for that size group is selected, and the process is repeated for all the other bu. 

With all the Supreme Champions in separate ponds, the judges vote for a Junior Grand Champion and Baby Grand Champion from amongst the smaller bu. The judges may be asked to select a single koi in each bu that they would rate a tategoi (a young fish with the potential to achieve excellence as it matures).

The chief judge has the right to overrule any decision, even if the judges and trainee judges have made a choice by ballot.

The relatively short history of koi-keeping in the West is no excuse for not aspiring toward quality. Judges should not adjust their criteria to compensate for lack of quality. It is not a case of judging the best of what is available, but of measuring entrants against the standard. Therefore, should the judges decide to withhold an award, their decision must always be accepted and respected...


From the book Koi - A handbook on keeping Nishikigoi by Servaas de Kock & Ronnie Watt that can be ordered here.