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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Martial Arts Tournaments: A comprehensive guide for newbies, part 2 "Beginner's tips"

In part one, we discussed the pro's and con's of tournaments. If you choose to compete, congratulations! You're taking a big step in gaining a different aspect of your training. Competition can indeed be an intimidating thought, but here are some tips for the first timer:

This portion of the guide with be broken into 4 sections: "Forms", "Sparring", "Travel", and "Day of".

First off: Watch a tournament FIRST. Get a feel for the atmosphere. As you watch, put yourself in the shoes of the people on the tournament floor....they have to listen attentively to all instructions given over the public announcement system, they have to know where their divisions are being held, they have to stay focused and calm during the din of people warming up or practicing on the side. Tournaments are much like rank tests, in that you have to do your very best, but unlike exams at your school, there are so many things going on at the tournament floor at one time. Get familiar with the way things are run, how the event goes, etc.

Another "first off" realize that you are not "obligated" to win an award at your first tournament. Your teacher won't demote you if you don't take home an award. Just do your best and learn from the results. Also realize that you are not guaranteed an award just because you show up to the tournament. Surprisingly, some first-timers (mostly young children) believe that they get a prize for being brave enough to show their skill in front of other people. While judges would surely want to give prizes for all people that attend and do their very best, the reality of competition is that limited awards are given. This is usually limited to 1st, 2nd, 3rd place in divisions, and Grand champion awards.

On to the tips......

1) When you do decide to compete at an upcoming tournament, let your teacher or coach know of your intention to compete. The sooner the better. Don't tell them a few days beforehand! Your teachers and coaches will help you in choosing a routine for forms competition, or coach you in your sparring tactics, or both.

2)If you choose to get a group together for group forms or open skits, be sure that there is ample time to prepare and practice together. Don't just throw together some mish-mash thinking "oh, let's just do Pinan sandan all together". You must practice and detail your group's form diligently.

3) Practice your form facing in different directions in your school, and in places other than your school. You want to be able to perform that routine *anywhere*. My tournament team used to do a drill called "crazy house", where they would do their individual routines while the rest of the team would be a "housefull of of crazies"....we'd turn up the stereo so loud the walls vibrated, the other team members would spar around the person doing their form, or make loud raucous noise. The idea here was to train the person doing forms, to be able to perform at their best regardless of distraction. Practicing forms in unfamiliar places also helps, because let's face it, your probably won't be competing at your school!

4) Ask you teacher to hold a "Mock Tournament". This is a fun event where each student gets to come up in front of a "panel" of judges to perform their routine or spar using tournament rules. All students get a chance to learn about scoring rules, be a "judge", and be a "competitor".

5) Practice your form as slow as you can, paying attention to good form and technique execution. Practice your form as fast as you can, while trying to keep good form. Practice with no kiai, practice with kiai. Practice both slow and fast with just stance work. Think of different ways to practice your form inside and out!

(These tips are based on point fighting, no contact, light or semi contact. Although we're not including MMA, kickboxing, etc in this section, most of the tips can indeed be applicable to mma and kickboxing)

1) Be sure you have all safety equipment for practice. Mouth guards, head gear, torso protection (if allowed at the tournament), gloves, shin pads, foot pads, etc.

2) Spar with people of different rank at your school. Don't regulate yourself to sparring only with those in your rank. If you have friends in other martial arts, ask if its okay if they visit your school to spar with you so you can get a feel of how other martial arts styles spar. While I see no problem with just going to a martial arts friend's house to spar together, I do think it is wise to have a more experienced practitioner there with you to give you tips and to see to safety protocol.

3) Spar with control. No one ever gets points for being an out of control puncher or kicker. In fact, most tournaments will disqualify you if you are in a no contact or light contact match and you continually hit hard uncontrollably.

4) Work on your cardio, work on your stamina. Jump rope, pushups, blitzes, situps, shadow boxing, squats, speed drills, ....don't forget those! All the cool techniques you know and all the cool combinations you have are useless if you run out of steam. You need stamina and you need to stay strong for sparring matches. A 3 minute round can seem like a very long time if you're not in shape.

5) Work on keeping your cool. If you get tagged, accept it and move on. Don't spar in only gives you tunnel vision and might end up with you being out of control in your strikes and kicks.

(Whether the tournament you attend is just across town, or across the country, keep these travel tips in mind)

1) A few days before: Place as much of your gear in one place. No need to pack it yet, because most likely you're going to class and practicing and you're carrying your stuff with you to class. As long as you can set aside your stuff, it will be easier to pack the day before you leave for the tournament (that's explained later).

2) List what you will need,.... Here's some things to consider:
a) You'll want an extra uniform for each division. An extra uniform for forms, and if you wear something different for sparring, and extra set of clothes for that division. You never know what could might snag your uniform and rip it, or someone might spill their gatorade on you. Its better to pack extra uniforms rather than compete with a uniform with gatorade or mustard on it! Extra shoes and socks (if your art wears shoes) is a must also.
b) If doing weapons, always bring an extra weapon. If you accidentally break that staff or spear during warmup, or if your sword somehow falls apart, you'll need that replacement weapon. If , before the tournament day, you suspect that your main weapon is going to crack or is loose in areas, replace it as soon as you can AS WELL AS bring an extra weapon.
c) Extra contact lenses and accessories, or extra glasses if possible. Some people wear prescription safety goggles for sparring.
d) Duct tape! Preferably in a color that matches your sparring gear. You might need to do a quick repair on a ripped section of foam on your gloves or foot pads.
e) Snacks...water. Trail mix, granola bars, energy bars....anything that you can nibble on to keep hunger at bay. You don't want to eat a big meal just before your division, so nibbling on something and sipping water while you're waiting will keep your energy up. Wait to eat that big meal until AFTER the tournament!
f) Iron or clothes steamer. Chinese martial artists who wear silk uniforms consider this a MUST HAVE.
g) Travel documents: Passports, plane, train or bus tickets, ID, medical info, medical alert tags, an "in case of emergency" card in your wallet or purse.
h) Medications (if you take them), and first aid kit.

3) When packing, make sure you use a bag or luggage that will fit all your things in such a way that things are not "jammed" in your bag. Ifr possible, get some "packing cubes" for small items such as medical or eyewear supplies, snacks, etc. Just before a sparring division, is not the time to freak out about not finding your mouthguard. In fact, if you have people with you that are in the audience, its a good idea to have them hold onto an extra mouth guard in the event you get get distracted and lose your mouthguard.

4) Plan ahead.....think "what if??" What if I lose my mouthguard (see above)? What if someone mistakenly takes one of my gloves that I left near the ring? What if I (gosh forbid!) lose my belt? Think about this well beforehand, and make the choice as to whether or not you want to bring extra items to replace such things.


1) Get a good night's rest the night before! Get up early enough to eat a good breakfast and allow the food to settle a bit before competing.
2) Make sure you uniforms are ironed and neat. Nobody likes to see forms performed in a wrinkled uniform....especially the judges!
3) If you're staying at a hotel, leave unecessarry items at the hotel. Sorry, but you should leave that Gameboy or PSP at the hotel in the safe. Take your mp3 player if it helps you relax before your division, but don't walk around with the earbuds hanging out of your ears the whole time. Leave your laptop in the safe....why would you bring a laptop to a tournament anyway? You should be concentrating on your performance, not the internet, email, or work project on your laptop!
4) Get to the tournament venue with enough time to check in (if you've pre-registered) or to register. Give yourself time to look at the forms areas and sparring areas to get accustomed to the size of the areas. Be sure to ask your coach or teacher any questions now....don't wait until just before your division starts.
5) Warmup lightly....don't go full power continuously while you're waiting for you division. You've hopefully done the power training already in the months and weeks prior, so use this time to keep warm and envision your forms or sparring.....imagine your moves and techniques being done in the best way you can muster.
6) Keep hydrated!! If it is your first tournament, the excitement will make you forget that you're probably sweating while you're warming up and waiting for your divisions. Keep sipping that water!
7) Be a good example. Kids....Don't run around the venue with your friends, talk badly about other people, or play around or yell. Introduce yourself to other kids, be friendly but not playing around. Adults....follow the same protocol as kids. Conduct yourself respectfully inside and outside the tournament rings. Whether you attain awards or not, remain respectful, humble, and gracious.
8) Do your best! You are always a winner if you commit to doing your best!
9) Congratulate your fellow competitors and thank the judges with a salute and handshake after your division. (more about good manners in the ring in part 3!)

That's the quick lowdown of simple tips to get ready for a tournament. In Part 3, we will discuss the detailed aspects of the forms competition, what the judges will look for, how scoring is done, etc.


Sensei J. Richard Kirkham B.Sc. said...

I miss the days when we'd read about light contact tournament champions in Black Belt magazine. Everything now days seems to have to be the latest and greatest new thing.

There's values and ethics that a lot of people are missing from the martial arts because of this


Rick said...

I am happy to have discovered your blog (Zen's Sekai led me to it). Great stuff. I'll be back regularly.

Restita, Seattle Wushu Center said...

Sensei Kirkham: Yes, I miss those days too....when people like Melvin Cherry were our heroes.

Rick: I'm hoping you'll enjoy my blog. Do have a blog that put on my blogroll?

Rick said...