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How Drops Affect Scoring

Many Drillers who I have had the pleasure to meet over the last few years have talked with me about drops (when the equipment leaves the Driller’s hands completely- not on purpose) or hits (when the equipment leaves the Driller’s hand but is immediately recovered- also not on purpose) and how they affect scoring. Usually the thinking is a hit is near-death and a drop is death. I understand this thinking, but this is not so.

Here is a scoring example:

*I say “Old System,” but it’s currently used at almost every drill meet. Which is a shame since the scores really don’t mean anything.

Using the example above, one can see whee a Driller who drops his/her rifle (or sword, etc.) gets 30 or so points deducted with the Old System since there is an enormous amount of points. Now, looking at the WDA System (the point scale of 100, just like a school grading system) one can also see how drops are not scored as severely.

Back in 2009 the New York Drill Competition had at least three of the top five placements have a drop. The winner and second place both had drops! How did this happen? The routines were that good. Really. A drop is not the effect-killer that one may think and here is why:

With the WDA system the judges are looking at the four different visual categories, called “captions”: Overall Effect, Composition Analysis, Movement and Equipment. Having judges looking at single aspects creates infinitely better feedback for the Driller/team. The Driller/Team can view the reverse of the sheet and see a brief description of of their score range and they can also read the WDA Adjudication Manual to get an in-depth explanation for their score range. WDA scores actually mean something.

On the other hand the Old System has each (untrained) judge looking at and scoring the same thing and assigning numbers based on a briefing the judges receive ten minutes before hitting the drill pad or, at the most, the training is showing the judges a video or two of what a “first place” performance is.

It’s all down to judge training and having those judges be able to step out of the narrow vision of the military mindset. This mindset is excellent (and required) for the inspection and regulation phases (including color team), but it is not the view to have when judging exhibition drill. Is this a “radical view,” sure. But I’m speaking the truth. Like it or not, judges need training and How Drops Affect Scoring is just one example.

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Professional Judges for the Military Drill World- NOW!

The military drill world needs trained, certified professional judges!

I’ve been a trained professional visual judge since the late 1980s and have been judging the pageantry arts ever since. My goal is to educate others to drill and judge better. (See Certification)

We need to understand that the pageantry arts (marching band, indoor percussion, winter guard, step teams, drill teams and solos, etc.) are judged using basically the same visual caption system. There is one judge concentrating on only one caption. Initially, some have found this insulting with the following thinking: ‘I retired after 150 years in the Army and I’ve been teaching JROTC for 85 years. You mean to tell me I am unable to watch everything during a performance?’ My answer to them is a respectful, “Yes!” This system is new to the military drill world, and I understand that some people do not like change, others handle change very well. I’m not looking to club anyone over the head with this adjudication system, however this is progress in the right direction: we want educated Drillers, better performances and we definitely want better judging. This adjudication system offers all three; once Drillers, instructors and judges study this system and begin using it on a routine basis, the playing field will be leveled and raised considerably for everyone!

The military does not train anyone to judge anything. Sure, Training Instructors and Drill Instructors can evaluate certain aspects of training (Go/No Go), but that’s as far as it goes. This system will teach you exactly what you need to know when creating, performing and/or judging a performance.

Judging the whole

  • Overall Effect
  • Composition Analysis

Judging the individuals

  • Equipment (if any)
  • Movement (marching and body movement)

If performed (not recorded) music is involved you add

  • Music Effect
  • Percussion
  • Brass/Woodwind

There is also a Timing and Penalties Judge, but this is not a graded caption. An important note: The Adjudication Manual is for everyone, not just a select few judges.

The Captions

There is no other way to properly adjudicate a visual activity Neither is there a “quicker” or “easier” way to judge. It just doesn’t exist. Anything worth having involves work. One cannot step into a judging position without training. Period. Ask professional judges for any kind of activity (cars, singing, ice skating, the list is endless) and you will here them agree to that statement.

Overall Effect

How effective is the routine? What kind of effects were in the routine? What is the pacing like? Did the Driller pay attention to details? Was there creativity? What were the emotions generated by the routine? How was the Driller’s or team’s communication?

Composition Analysis

This caption can be difficult to judge since most everyone is very familiar with the immediate reaction to what is happening in front of them. Composition Analysis has nothing to do with reaction and analyzing the ‘whys’ of the performance. Construction of movement/marching choreography, staging, design, sequencing, orientation and style, etc. are just a few of the items that Composition Analysis judge watches.


Why isn’t this caption entitled, “rifle” or “weapon”? Because this caption pertains to anything I drillers can carry as stated in the subheading above. Phrase length, control, creativity, achievement and accuracy, etc. are all part of this caption.


This caption is like the equipment caption in that the judge looks at the same type of things, however, the judge is looking at the body and its movement and does not consider any piece of equipment. Body orientation and orientation in the drill area, arms, legs, head, hands and feet, etc. are all under scrutiny in this caption.

Judging the “What” and the “How”

The two subcaptions of each caption:

The ‘What’ refers to what is being performed. The ‘How’ refers to how it is being performed. When judging a performance there has to be some kind of ‘what’ in order to have ‘how.’ Here is an example of a poor routine: a Driller performs a routine where he looks like he’s thinking about the next move and routine seems disjointed. He also has quite a bit of repetition and does not move around the drill area very well or very much. In this example there is something to be judged; there is a ‘what,’ however, this ‘what,’ leaves very little room for excellence or, what we are calling the ‘how.’ You cannot have much ‘how’ without the ‘what.’

The Arguments

‘You mean to tell me that NCOs cannot judge more than one thing at a time?’ Yes. Unless you are settling for mediocrity. No one can watch and take in every aspect of a performance all at once. I’m telling you that no matter what your experience, in order to be a thorough judge, you must be trained to be a through judge. No one in the military is given any kind of training on judging in the context of what we are talking about. It does not matter that you’ve been on the honor guard or have been a drill/training instructor or even a JROTC instructor for 150 years combined. What matters is the knowledge of how to assign a number to the performance that is going on in front of you; how to explain what needs improvement* and how to explain what went right and why.

*This is especially important with Exhibition Drill (XD)! Marking a team down for “breaking Attention” is NOT meaningful feedback! XD, is NOT RD that has been “exhibitionized.” Not every team is going to perform the same routine as the USMC Silent Drill Team. If your thinking is along these lines, then you are doing a disservice to the teams/Drillers you are judging; your paradigm is most likely in recruit-type training, which is fine with recruits, but not at a competition.

‘Yeah, but we’re going to try something simpler.’ or ‘We’re beta-testing this simpler system.’

Right. In this case and every case like it, simple does not equal thorough or educated. Use the whole alphabet for your tests, shortcuts do not work. Drillers work hard to perfect their routines. Shouldn’t the judges be trained professionals?

‘This competition has been judged like this for 30+ years!’

You’ve been consistent! What’s been the basis of your judging? Is there no room for improvement? Are you not open to a system that has been created and vetted in other pageantry arts for decades and has now been adapted for the military drill world?

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Shoes for the Driller and How to Shine Them

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DrillMaster’s Ceremonial Shoes

Poromeric Shoes/Boots
The term, poromeric, refers to a class of breathable synthetic leather.

Corfam (not “Corfram,” “Clorfam” or Clorfram”) is made by the DuPont Chemical Company.

Clarino, manufactured by the Kuraray Company, is another synthetic high-shine leather found mostly in flagstaff harnesses.

Patent Leather, first created in England in the late 1700s, gained popularity after inventor Seth Boyden of Newark, New Jersey created his own version with linseed oil.

Whatever you wear of what is mentioned above, it’s all synthetic resins of plastics.

Pros: Never shine shoes again! Just keep the heel sole, and welts black with high-gloss edge dressing. You do not “shine” poromeric leather shoes, you clean them.
Cons: They can get HOT! If you are facing the sun for a long time, you may need to treat the tops of your toes for burns. Really. Wear two layers of thin dress socks or a thicker dress sock to protect your feet.

Note: to clean poromeric shoes and equipment that have scuffs or run marks, use Brasso.


If wearing leather boots and you want the mirror shine without the constant maintenance, use Leather Luster. Here are the directions to use it.

Shining Standard Leather Shoes/Boots
They can be tough to shine but, polish, a little water, cotton balls or an old cotton t-shirt are perfect for making leather shoes like mirrors.

Brand new leather shoes are perfect for shining. Sometimes there is an oil coating on the shoes that will hinder a shine. If so, it is best to remove it with some rubbing alcohol and a rag. Now you are ready to begin.

I first learned how to shine shoes from my dad, but to shine them to a mirror finish, Old Cadets taught me when I attended New Mexico Military Institute. We used Kiwi there and it always worked really well for us.

How to shine: Using shoe trees helps. Lightly wet a cotton ball, dab it in the polish and work the polish into the shoe making little circles. When the cotton ball starts to make scratches, get a new one. It takes many hours to build up a base coat of polish and then have it shine like a mirror, but once you have the base coat, you can easily touch up your shoes. If you are going to make all of the shoe mirror-like, be aware that as soon as you take your first step, where the shoe naturally bends with your foot, the polish will crack and flake off. So, you may want to limit the mirror parts to the heels, the sides and as much of the toe as possible, highly shine the rest- including the tongue!

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Like the Tomb Sentinel said in the video, it is all about building up a base and when you first being it will seem like it takes forever, but as you progress, it will take less and less time to shine your shoes. If your shoes have leather soles, you will be able to sand the outside of the sole and shine it with shoe polish as well. If your soles are rubber or some sort of synthetic material you will have to use edge dressing.

Edge Dressing: Kiwi stopped making their Honor Guard Edge Dressing years ago as soon as the military transitioned to suede boots. Honor guard units now use Angelus Brand Roll Call Military Grade Edge Dressing which is available at Glendale.

How to Remove Edge Dressing: After a few coats with edge dressing, you will need to strip the welt (where the sewing is) and also the sides of the sole so as not to have that buildup that eventually looks terrible. For the outside of the sole, use steel wool to scrape away excess, a putty knife works well also. For the welt, you can use the putty knife corner, but be careful. Sometimes the edge dressing will flake off or come off in small chunks. If not, you may have to use Leather Luster Remover. Sand (very fine sandpaper is best) the sole and the side heel tap (if attached) so that it is even and then reapply the Angelus Edge Dressing.

The Sole
The man-made, synthetic lighter soles are not the most desirable for the military Driller but are the most prevalent. Leather soles are desirable. Make sure to blacken the sole if it is a lighter color.

Pros: Break-in period can be shorter than synthetic shoes/boots
Cons: Shinning them over and over and over and over.

Horseshoe Heel Tap
Horseshoe Heel Tap Closeup

Side heel taps
(“Cheaters” or “Clickers”) are great whether you execute closed-toe movements or use the traditional 45-degree angle. You can get different colors: silver, gold or black. Silver and black are great if you want shiny and black will need to be coated with the Angelus mentioned above. Note: if you have black and put edge dressing on them (which you should), it will chip off and you will need to strip the metal and reapply so it doesn’t ‘cake’ up. Attach them with black wood screws.

If you have cheaters that are shiny gold or silver in color, keep them shined and attach them with the same color sheet rock screws.

When attaching cheaters, you can put spacers (washers) behind them or screw them solidly into the side of the sole. Since these taps are curved, you can either match your heel curvature or put a space between the tap and the heel to see if there is better sound quality.

Horseshoe taps can be dangerous and mark up floors, but sound awesome- especially in a large formation. Ask any farrier, horseshoes need to fit a horse’s hoof exactly all the way around the hoof. Ask any cobbler, horseshoe taps don’t. As a matter of fact a cobbler usually offsets the tap into the center of the heel by 1/16 of an inch from the back and keeps a gap of 1/8 of an inch on the sides. Horseshoe tap sizes are for smaller and larger feet (heels) and nothing else.

Toe taps are excellent for creating sound marking time.

All of the taps and cheaters are available at Glendale!

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How to Become a Certified Visual Judge

The World Drill Association and DrillMaster now offer a training and certification program for judges for the military drill world. All aspects of military drill come under the visual category and should be judged as such. That is where the program comes in. There are four visual captions:

1. Overall Effect
2. Composition Analysis
3. Movement
4. Equipment

Also a judging position, but not a caption is:

5. Timing and Penalties

To become a certified judge, here is what you have to do (this is all at your own speed):

1. Purchase The WDA Adjudication Manual
2. Read it
3. Pick a caption on which you would like to concentrate and get certification and study it over and over
4. Study that caption, begin watching videos on the internet of teams and solos and make commentaries based on your caption on that video (use your computer to record yourself- yes everyone’s voice sounds strange to them- but you need to be able to talk about your caption during a performance!)
5. Use the WDA score sheet for your caption to score that performance
6. Repeat steps 3 through 5
7. During your study, submit your commentaries to get feedback for necessary improvements, if needed
8. When you think you are ready, you will be given a short multiple-choice test and also shown several preselected videos in which you must make a commentary and give scores
9. When you pass, you will be given a certificate that says you are a certified WDA Judge for the caption you chose, you then have the option to repeat the steps above for each caption

When you have been certified, it will be time to obtain Continuing Education for the WDA Judge. This book takes you through a more in-depth study of ranking and rating.

When do you want to be a certified judge? It’s mostly up to you. How long will it take? At least six months of study and practice. Can I do it quicker? Probably not. There is no immediate short cut: Study. Practice. Repeat.

So then what? The WDA already has some drill meets where the adjudication system is used, is always looking to add more competitions and will be sponsoring competitions in each state. As more judges are certified and word spreads of real feedback being given to performers, more competitions will want to use certified judges. It will all take time.

The plan is to have groups of the WDA Adjudication Corps in each state with judge coordinators and trainers.

Are you a veteran? The WDA and DrillMaster have developed the Veteran Adjudication Program. The only difference from then above information is that, with sponsorship, the books will be free.


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Your Command Voice

Have you considered your command voice? Have you looked at your service’s manual and actually read about what it says on the proper way to call commands? No, it doesn’t say monotone is OK, it doesn’t say the gravel-in-your-throat style is a good style, it says use inflection, be clear and more! Read! Don’t rely on a senior cadet to tell you what you need to do (as with EVERYTHING else!)- read it for yourself!

“Well, I call commands like this.” “At my school we, [fill in the blank here].” Ever hear of standardization? That is what the military is about, standardizing. Your personal style, what you may think is really cool, does not matter. Stop it.

Click here to listen to some examples of commands in MP3 format and how to call them.

Also read this article, “Root Step” and Command Pronunciation.

When calling commands your voice should have inflection and NOT be monotone (some Navy cadets do this and I cannot figure out why). You should also enunciate each syllable and not leave off the first or last letter or substitute letters:

  • There is no such thing is “Righ, HACE“.
  • The USAF does allow, Forward, HARCH, (it’s in a picture, not text) the other services use MARCH.
  • There is no such thing as “A-Ten-Hut”, or any other number to bring a formation to Attention.
  • There is no need to growl your commands- that means you are calling from your throat. Stop, or you will have problems later in life.
  • There is no such thing is “Orward, ARCH“.

Here is a snippet from my book, The Honor Guard Manual.

•The ability of your voice to reach whatever distance necessary without undue strain.
•Voice is focused on the person farthest away.
•Assume the position of Attention, breathe properly, relax throat, open mouth and push the air out of your lungs from the diaphragm (place your hand on the top of your stomach, just under your ribcage and try to make those muscles tighten when giving commands).

Distinctness (Clarity)
•Distinct commands are effective; indistinct commands cause confusion.
•Clearly enunciate; use tongue, lips, and teeth to form words and word parts.
•Develop the ability to give clear, distinct commands. Practice giving commands slowly and carefully, prolonging the syllables. Gradually increase the rate of delivery to develop proper cadence, still enunciating each syllable distinctly.

Note: Honor Guard cadence is slow; approximately 90 beats per minute

•The rise and fall in pitch and the tone changes of the voice.
•Starting at a normal speaking voice, pronounce the preparatory command with rising inflection.
•A properly delivered Command of execution should have no inflection.
•Command of execution should have a higher pitch than the preparatory command.

•Expresses confidence and decisiveness
•Expresses knowledge of commands and proper execution
•Commands are called at the proper time and in the proper manner

So, now that you have the info, straight from the manual, you will be able to properly call commands!

Happy drilling!