The story of Ground Tactics by Chad Johnston

imageWhy would someone be motivated to create a judging system for flatland?

First off, Ground Tactics is not a subjective judging system. It’s an objective scoring system. There are two objectives: high score single trick, banger and high score set of tricks, connectors. It has been developed to offer an alternative to opinion-based competitions (it is not meant to replace the current systems). This project grew into Ground Tactics, the initial goal wasn’t a battle-type concept. It started as TRIKtionary, a complete trick list.

I started collecting every flatland trick and name. When I told others what I was doing, the project began to snowball. I was getting tricks and names from people all over the world! The support and interest overwhelmed me, and I began to think how this list could benefit all riders. I wanted to share it with everyone. I drew a stick figure sketch of every trick on an index card, and tacked them to three walls in our studio (over 400 tricks). This enabled me to stand back and look at the similarities and differences in these tricks. I saw patterns and began organizing them into families of like-tricks. In the process, the BMX Matrix revealed itself.

I studied how tricks evolved from other tricks. I wasn’t expecting to get this deep into it, but I don’t like to do anything half-ass. I’ve become obsessed with documenting and sharing the BMX Matrix. I decided to do two things: 1.) Develop an in-depth guidebook and 2.) Edit a sample version, on video to display how the Matrix could be applied to a scoring system. I know I should have put the guidebook out first, however, the video was necessary to help me explain to others what direction it could go. Nothing is set in stone as far as Ground Tactics goes. The guidebook will take another year to be complete. Currently, it’s in a very rough form.
image Back to the Matrix, which is really the heart of Ground Tactics. You can’t see it, but the scoring system is based on it. In sports, scores are based on measurable facts. This is something that flatland lacks (only because it’s a relatively new sport). With the Matrix, all tricks are listed by degree of technicality. The most basic, like the common bike ride is valued at zero. With variations, the value increases. The most technical tricks are valued up to 25, plus upgrades (packers, trucks, etc.). The Matrix and TRIKtionary do not include combinations, only base positions. The links are left for the rider to figure out and create.

Freestyle has always been about being creative – taking what has been done to the next level. This became obvious when I studied the cards covering my studio walls. So, with this in mind, adding values to the tricks seemed effortless. Starting at 0, followed by 1, then 2, and so on, as the tricks progressed. There were a few exceptions, which were studied and discussed in detail with others. Hundreds of people passed through the studio, so there have been many conversations regarding the topic. I’ve heard many opinions, and have absorbed every one. In my research, I have contacted riders requesting input, and have referenced boxes of magazines and videos spanning over twenty years, in order to be thorough.

This effort was meant to help progress flatland and share the knowledge I have gathered. It was not a path I ever imagined I would take. It has been over four years of work so far, and I have been paid nothing. It is a labor of love and a way for me to share something I am passionate about. I realize that many riders consider flatland art, not sport. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an artist and see the art in flatland. At the same time, however, flatland is diverse and many riders seek to compete.

imageWith so many riders training for contests, the need for an objective system has never been greater. Ground Tactics is an example of what that could be. Similar to basketball, a two pointer is the same two points for everyone. Someone doesn’t get more points for popularity. People knew of my passion for flatland and that I didn’t care to compete. As a result, I was asked to judge and consult for many events. I was flown all over the globe, and am very grateful for this, but part of me felt guilty. People trusted me, and I did my best every time, but when it came down to it, there was no system to refer to, and no solid explanation for contest results. I started turning down offers such as C.O.B. Tokyo, and Moto Ground Force Singapore (my sincere apologies, thank you for the consideration). I started thinking about a solution, a way to back my actions and stand accountable for my decisions. Since flatland is so complex, I knew some of the details might be lost in translation. I thought it best to put the experiment out on video (all inTRIKat titles are experimental).

The purpose was not to offend anyone, but to give back to BMX. Ground Tactics is the first video I’ve done where the riders got paid. All travel expenses came out of my pocket. Flat Clothing and Flatland Fuel put up the $1000.00 purse. With four years of labor behind it, I will never recover my costs completely. Although I would love to give away copies to everyone, I can’t afford to do that. Thirty to thirty-five riders interested in providing feedback, received advanced copies. I thought I would sell some at a low cost to give everyone an opportunity to see it. Unfortunately, the price at Flatland Fuel is inflated – 110%. Highlights will be on in August, and the complete DVD will be available for $14.99. Currently, there is a rough copy of TRIKology. Look for the complete guidebook next year.Details of the scoring system may not be apparent in the video. There is a lot of information. Visually, the screen might look like a video game or any modern sporting event. There is a lot going on in my mind when I watch a rider and I wanted to give the viewer a sample of that. You will notice the round number (Ground Tactics is based on 5 rounds), also the number of attempts the rider is on. There is no time clock. I want to promote a low-pressure atmosphere where riders don’t hold back and do safe tricks. I want to see cutting edge riding. In the lower third area, subtitles provide the viewer with trick names. Sometimes it flashes too fast to read, but each variation, direction, and modification is being calculated. If the rider faults on an attempt, the penalty flashes. There are eight degrees of faults from dabs to slams. You will see everything, faults and all. For those that find it too difficult to watch the faults, the “replay” version is provided in addition to “play all”.

Ground Tactics works on a par system. Rounds 1-4 are par 5, while round 5 is a par 10. In other words, a rider is given a certain number of attempts before being penalized. With the “Fresh out of the Box Factor”, riders are rewarded for complete sets on first, second, and third attempts. After said par, slight deductions come into effect. There are two classes: Professional and Amateur, with two distinct differences between them. First, Pro’s get paid, Am’s get products. The main difference is that a professional rider only earns credit for tricks valued at 13 and over. “The Filler Factor” is designed to address the issue of doing a couple of safe tricks over and over to accumulate points – not here, maybe in Tony Hawk’s video game (I’m not sure, I’ve never played it, ask P.J. Terry). “The Broken Record Factor” kicks-in when a rider repeats the same trick, consecutively, four times or more. A rider will receive credit for the first, second, and third repeated trick, but the fourth, fifth, sixth, and so on, will not be rewarded. A rider may perform these reps, but will not be able to milk them for more points after the third. There is much more that goes into evaluating a run than just accounting for flashy tricks. Some people believe that a measurable scoring system is unnecessary. I am not trying to sway any opinions.

However, before criticizing this effort, consider for a moment why the AFL/IFL was put to rest. Do you wonder why ESPN eliminated flatland from the X Games? Do you wonder why flatland will not be considered for the Dew Tour, the Olympics, or any other reputable event? It is due to the lack of organization, unity, system and seeding/ranking. If we can provide for these challenges, flatland will gain the level of respect it deserves. Among other benefits, this will attract sponsorship dollars that will go into rider’s pockets. It would be nice to see this in our lifetime, so the next generations could benefit. Everyone including non-riders can enjoy flatland. The common person can appreciate the skill and dedication involved in flatland, it’s visually stunning whether you ride or not. Why not take it to the next level with organized competition, where the riders benefit. Organizers like Mat Hoffman and Steve Swope, along with Zeiss (Circle of Balance), Verberg (Flatground), Ito/Uno/Tanaka (KOG), Massabova (Flat Ring), Jumelin (Ninja Spin), Prantl (World’s, Master’s), Adams/O’Brien (Voodoo), and Day (AFL/IFL) deserve much love for what they did for flatland events, I thank you. I am very grateful for your support and showing me my dreams of putting flatland in the spotlight. It reinforces in my mind how incredibly awesome flatland is.

The future for Ground Tactics is Internet competition, where riders submit footage. Membership fees go to pro purse, and members get a Ground Tactics DVD.
Nobody will be forced to join, buy, or watch the DVD – nobody will be required to write a review. Internet competitions will open doors for those who are unable to travel to international events.

Thanks to those that have supported this project. The input and constructive criticism is much appreciated. Free annual membership will be given to inTRIKat alumni and Ground Tactics DVD purchases from

cyclone to fakie pedal rope-a-roni to fakie pedal straddle truck to walk over. Photo by Jeffery Garland

How are the internet competitions going to work ? How do you want to make sure people don't cheat ?

My bad for not being more clear on that issue. For the internet competition, amount of attempts are not taken into consideration, that's for the "live" competitions (the form displayed in the dvd). That's the main difference between the two forms of the system. Everything else is basically the same. For the online competition, riders may submit 5 clips, up to 4 times per year. They will be scored and the top 10 in each category will be posted with the video clip and a trick break-down plus score. Professionals win the purse (membership fees) and imageAmateurs win product. The deadline for the first one is December 31st. We'll see what happens next year. More details are on Go to the "Guidelines" cell. We are setting up the membership database and pay pal.

The judging system sounds quite complicated. How long do you need to judge a longer combo ? Do you think it's possible to use it for a normal contest where decisions are sometimes made within a few seconds ?

I know it may seem like that, but really it's not too complicated, the more I explain it, the more I see the simplicity of it and the more I believe in it. It sounds complicated because it's so different. Currently it takes about 20 minutes to judge a combo 20 tricks deep. I know that sounds like a long time but, consider this: First, this is just the beginning. With time and access to higher technology it will become faster. We have had a couple brief meetings with a software designer who has given us advice as to what path to take as far as digitizing the system. Second, this is not meant to replace the current systems, so I don't see a normal contest using this system anytime soon. It will be experimental for some time before it can even be applied to a normal contest. Eventually I would like to see at least a couple events adopt this system or something like this but, that isn't my goal. I'm not trying to change other peoples idea of how to score flatland. Third, the idea here is accuracy and consistency in scoring. It my take a few minutes longer but, it will be accurate and consistent from rider to rider and event to event. I've waited up to 2 hours for results before (from the perspective of a rider plus the perspective of a judge), only to be left confused or surprised.

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Sequence 1: switch foot rocket five to jump lash.
Photos by Jeffery Garland

2007-09-04 - Chad Johnston