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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A comprehensive to Martial Arts Tournaments for Newbies: "Forms competition"

In our first 2 sections of this guide, we discussed the pro's and con's of martial arts competitions, and tips and tricks for training for competition. In this section, we will discuss forms competition. (A few tips from section 2 will be touched up again in this section).

So, your Teacher thinks you are ready for your first martial arts tournament, and you decide on competing in forms divisions. You've trained hard for months, you ironed and packed all your stuff just right. Its the day of the tournament, and you've gotten a good night's sleep, had a good breakfast, you're early at the tournament venue to check in (since you pre-registered)......



  • Most likely, the tournament will be held at a large gymnasium. When you enter the the gymnasium, treat it the same way as your Dojo, Dojang, Kwoon, etc. Bow at the entrance as you normally would at your school. You might see other people not doing this, but this will prepare your mind for the task at hand by an action that is very familiar
  • Choose a main "meeting spot" and seating for your family and/friends first. Don't leave your family and friends high and dry while you run around nervously.
Most likely, other members of your school who are competing and the coaches/teachers, will sit together. You should sit with your classmates and teachers to keep the comraderie and morale up with each other.
  • For many tournaments, forms divisions are run off first, followed by sparring. So don't put on your sparring gear just yet!
At registration/check in, you may be given bracelets or tags with your division numbers or division names on them. KEEP THESE WITH YOU DURING THE TOURNAMENT as they will help you remember your divisions (especially if you compete in more than one division).
  • Get to know the dimensions of the forms competition rings. For open tournaments (that allow all styles to compete), you'll probably find that all the rings are cordoned off as large squares. The size of the rings may vary from event to event, but they are usually between 18' X18' and 20' X 20'. "Hard style" forms (Karate, etc) are usually ran in these rings.
Soft stylists (Wushu, Kung Fu, etc): In the event that there is not a regulation Wushu ring or Wushu/Kung fu carpet, you will need to address the judges to request extra room to do your form. This is so the judges can temporarily halt the action in adjacent ring(s) so you can have the room to do your form. Wushu stylist frequently do this. (more about addressing the judges, asking for more room, etc later in this section!)
  • Be in a clean, pressed uniform. I know, you're probably thinking "Duh!", but I've seen many competitors come into the ring with dirty wrinkled uniforms. I drop points when I see that!
  • Don't try to change your form at the last minute to include fancy moves just to get an edge on your competition. That should have been done months ago with your teacher or coach, don't try it yourself on the day of the tournament. What you didn't have yesterday, definitely will NOT manifest today (unless you are a very seasoned competitor)!
  • You are responsible for listening to the announcements for forms divisions. These announcements will state the division name and ring location. Some tournaments will have you go to "staging" well before your division to make sure everyone is present for your division. Staging is just check don't panic yet!
If staging has indeed been done, that's your cue to really warmup and get focused. Don't pay attention to all the other people warming up in your division, and try not to get intimidated by their show of skills. Believe it or not, some people will actually try to "psych out" their competitors by doing difficult moves or jumps while trying to make it look effortless. Don't fall into the "warmup trap". Warmup on your own or with your group, and STAY FOCUSED.


Division ring presence:
  • Sit quietly with your forms division. Be respectful and conduct yourself with good manners. Do not splay your legs out sloppily, and don't talk while someone is in the ring performing.
  • Most tournaments will state the name of the next competitor, and the name of the person "on deck" (i.e., the next after). For example...."John Smith next performing! Kate Johnson on deck!" Upon hearing your name as "on deck", raise your hand and nod in acknowledgment.
  • Upon hearing your name to perform, stand up smartly, turn around to quickly adjust your uniform if need be, and smartly approach the edge of the ring. (if its your first time, watch the others). Bow or salute, walk confidently to your starting spot.
  • You may start your form after finding your starting point, or you may choose to "address the judges". This address introduces yourself, the school your represent, your teacher, and the name of your form. Address the judges confidently but without cockiness, speak loudly and clearly, and salute the judges when given permission to begin. Example:
"Good morning, judges, my name is Jane Smith, and I represent the Metro Martial Arts Studio and Sensei John Doe from Anytown, USA. Today I will perform the kata "Jitte". With your permission judges, may I please begin?"

Your Form performance:
  • Upon getting to your starting spot, take a couple of deep breaths to compose your mind, then start when you're ready. Don't take forever to ready yourself.
  • When performing, keep your eyes focused on your "opponents", don't let your eyes wander. Do your form just as practiced, keeping aware of good stance, good power, confident demeanor, etc.
  • When your form is complete, stand quietly in attention position, and await the scores from the judges. As hard as it might be after a strenuous routine, try to control your breathing so you do not looking like you're huffing and puffing. When given your scores, the judges with call out each judge's score, then the Final Average Score. Salute the judges, walk backward to the edge of the ring, salute again, and walk smartly back to the group to sit down again. You might encounter a few competitors congratulating you on a job well done....say "thank you" quietly and sit down. (give your group members the same quiet kudos when they are done with their forms as well.)

  • Make sure your weapon is free of defects. Swords must be securely peened or screwed into the handles. Staffs and spears and other long weapons must not have cracks in the shaft, spearheads securely screwed on. Always have a spare weapon on hand.
  • Do not wave your weapon around carelessly before your division. Keep a controlled demeanor .
  • If addressing the judges before your form, allow the judges to examine your weapon before your performance: "Judges, do you wish to inspect my weapon?"

Oops! I made a mistake in my form! What do I do???
  • Don't panic. It may happen at your first real tournament. Hopefully you've practiced hard enough to not mess up, but sometimes things happen and you lose your concentration. No worries......when you realize you are "lost", make up some movements to keep you moving while you find your place in the form again. When you find your place, pick up where you left off. (during your training phase, you should practice your favorite moves and "slow dramatic postures" for times such as this)
  • The trick here, is to NOT let the judges see that you made a mistake. Do NOT look at the floor. Do NOT snap your fingers or touch your head in the "trying to remember" actions. If possible, do not ask the judges if you can start over. Although most tournaments will allow this, your score will be reduced significantly if you start over due to forgetfulness.
  • If you do have to start over, its okay. Its not the end of the world. Keep your emotions in check and perform as if it never happened. Remain focused. Keep stoic at the end of your performance and try not to show your disappointment until later. This will show your fortitude and the judges will remember your strength for the next time they see you.
  • If a mistake in your form is due to outside circumstances, like if an adjacent ring's competitor accidentally throws his weapon into your ring, or if someone is not paying attention and inadvertently walks into your ring (it happens!), the head judge will most likely stop your performance, and allow you to start again without any score penalties.

Tie breakers:
There's the possibility of the event of a tie, each tournament has their own way of breaking them. Most tournaments will allow the tied scorers to perform the *same* form again to be scored again; other tournaments might have you perform a *different* form to deter a bias. Some tournaments will allow for judges majority vote. Whatever the outcome, be prepared to perform again.....and have a 2nd form in your repertoire in the event the judges ask for a different form.

After the scores and awards:

  • Regardless of the outcome, always thank the judges personally with a handshake and a sincere thank you. Sometimes, you may be able to ask a particular judge what advice they may be able to give you for the future. (wait to ask until a break between divisions or when you see them during a floor break)
  • Thank your fellow division competitors. Congratulate the top winners, and see if they would be willing to give you tips as well!
  • Do NOT express your disappointment at not winning to your school group, family, or friends while at the tournament. This reflects on your school. You don't want to be thought of as a person whose sole reason for living is "Winning". Instead, express your desire to *work harder* for next time!

Your first forms competition might be a nerve wracking experience at first, but remember that every competitor starts out with the first experience. As your experience grows, you'll settle into the tournament routine a little easier.

Be sure to check out the tournament rules links I included above.

Next post, section 4, will include sparring procedures......

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