Tournaments help students develop their physical and mental potential. To compete successfully, students must be in top physical fitness and they must perfect their technique, their overall fighting strategy, and their individual fighting tactics. The purpose of competing is to put your skills up against another and maybe win. Nobody enters a tournament to lose. However, not everyone can win so tournaments also help students develop humility and sportsmanship. If you compete for the joy of competing, you will have fun whether you win or lose.
Tournament sparring is conducted between two players. One is designated slong (red) by having a red ribbon tied to the belt. The other player is designated chung (blue) but wears no ribbon.
Protective hand and feet pads, shin guards, elbow protectors, protective helmet, groin protector, and mouth guard are required. Some tournaments also require a chest protector. Usually, only punching and kicking techniques are allowed, no grabs, sweeps, or throws. The front of the body from the clavicle to the belt may be attacked with punches and kicks. Some organizations allow punches and kicks to the head protector, some allow only kicks, and some do not allow kicks or punches. Kicks below the belt or to the back are forbidden.
Different organizations have different competition rules. Your instructor will inform you of all the rules of your organization before you enter a competition.
Criticism of Tournaments
Our art and its patterns were not designed to be showpieces, or for grace and beauty. (So, what does that have to do with not participating in open tournaments? Other styles will be so awed with the skill of your fighters that they will probably want to study it.)
Patterns are useless so we do not perform them. (So, do not compete in patterns, just compete in the sparring.)
Our art is too deadly for use in tournaments. Tournaments have rules to prevent injury, our art has no rules. (Does this mean you have students being seriously injured and even dying while training? I think not.)
If you or your students do not enjoy tournament, then do not go to them, but do not rationalize and make false or misleading statements to justify your not going to tournaments. As I have stated in other topics, if your art is so great, why do not professional fighters use the techniques. The main reason you do not see many of the eclectic arts in tournaments is because their techniques do not work against another skilled fighter. Taekwondo artists can fight in a Karate tournament, using Karate rules, and score, and vice versa. I contend that the reason many arts claim tournament fighting is useless is because their arts are useless in tournaments, mainly because their techniques are based on some pseudo philosophies that are mostly smoke and mirrors and will not hold up to scrutiny in the ring.
It is a Game
In free-sparring, you safely use everything you have learned to spar with an opponent. Within the safety guidelines of your association or school, almost everything is permitted. Who is considered the better fighter depends on who is making the decision. Each fighter, each judge, each instructor, and each spectator will have an opinion and they will probably disagree on the winner. However, only the opinion of the center referee matters.
Tournament sparring is a game of tag. Some rules may favor one opponent over another, such as in Taekwondo America where kicks to the head score more than kicks to the body. This tends to favor the taller fighter. Techniques best suited for your height and flexibility may not be permitted. To win, you must be a good fighter, but you must also be able to use the rules to your benefit.
In point fighting, it not how powerful you are or how proficient you are at sparring, it is how well you play the game. This means you must understand the game and all the rules and learn to play by the rules while using them to your own advantage.
Some instructors stress the tournaments should be fun, that winning is not the important. Well, there are many cheaper ways to have fun, and the best way to ensure you have fun at a tournament is to win. Winners have much more fun than losers. Even if you lose, you gain experience that will help you win next time and maybe losing will give you the determination you need to train for the next tournament.
Do not take life so seriously! Things happen in life that we do not like, learn to accept them. If tournaments were judged by the number of happy people leaving after they end, then most tournaments would be judged as failures. Most tournaments have a few happy people with trophies, and many, many people without trophies ( and some with trophies) who are unhappy and think the tournament was either biased or judged by incompetents.
Face Your Fear
While a point tournament is a game, there is still a possibility for injury. For some this causes anxiety. As time nears for the day of the tournament, focus on calming your anxieties and developing your confidence. Replace all negative thoughts about injury, looking bad, losing, etc., with positive thoughts. This helps development of your character and motivates you during long hours of training, which is more important than who wins the tournament.
If you plan to attend a tournament
- Sign-up. If you know about tournament, then you should know how much it costs to enter. Sign-up early, pay the entry fee, and pre-order a t-shirt, if desired. Other costs may include transportation, lodging, and meals. At the tournament, you will need cash for snacks or memorabilia.
- Show-up. Get there at least 30 minutes before you are scheduled. Plan for travel delays. The earlier you arrive, the more time you will have to change, stretch, familiarize yourself with the layout of the venue, and check out your potential competition. If you are a black belt or an instructor, ensure you are on time for the officials meeting.
- Listen-up. Pay attention to the public address system to track the flow of the tournament so you will know when your division will be called. Listen-up for any other instructions that may pertain to you. Follow instructions of officials, ask questions if not clear about something.
- Line-up. When directed to a staging area or a ring, go there, and stay there. Be ready to compete when you get there. If you are a judge, get to your assigned ring in plenty o time to receive instructions.
- Shut-up. No complaining, griping, crying, temper tantrums, or whining! Compete, have fun, and keep your mouth shut. If you have a legitimate complaint, see your instructor. If you have to talk, root for your teammates.
To be a successful sparring competitor, you must develop your competition skills. Your must develop your:
- Physical skills.
- Knowledge of competition rules.
- Knowledge of sparring principles and tactics.
- Psychological skills that enhance performance.
You must train to fight in tournaments. Tournament fighting is different from routine sparring in class. The rules are different, there is more mental and physical stress, and there is an intense desire to win. And win you must if you wait to fight again since only winners progress up the sparring ladder.
As a tournament nears, most instructors will shift their emphasis during class to tournament fighting techniques and strategies. If you want to be a good fighter, watch good fighters spar, listen to good fighters when they teach, and as much as possible seek to spar with the good fighters. Tournament training also helps to motivate training during periods of boredom that may occur from doing the same thing week after week.
However, in class training will not be enough if you want to be a top competitor. You will need to develop a personal training plan and stick to it religiously. With you instructors permission, it is helpful to visit other school and spar with them. Taekwondo America has two-month training cycles with rank testing at the end of each cycle. Tournaments are scheduled at the midpoint of training cycle. Most instructors will stress completive techniques in the two to four weeks before a tournament. National tournaments are conducted twice a year.
More preparation is required for national competition, so, if you want to compete nationally, you must increase the duration and intensity of your training. If you are a top-level national competitor, especially if training for international competition or the Olympics, you will probably have a state-of-the-art training plan developed just for you and you will have a national coach that will ensure you stick to the plan. However, if you are an ordinary competitor, you will have to develop you own training plan that fits into your available training time, with input and assistance from your instructor.
Your training plan must include skills training along with fitness training. A typical plan will include:
- Endurance training, such as some medium to long distance running, lots of wind sprints (run a short full-speed sprint, walk back to the starting point, and then repeat), long continuous kicking and punching drills on a heavy bag ( ten minutes or longer), short full-power kicking and punch drills on a heavy bag, jump roping for footwork, swimming sprints, and sprints on climbing machines.
- Strength training, such as all purpose weight lifting (free weights are better since the body must also control the weight while lifting) and general calisthenics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, jumping-jacks, and plyometrics.
- Flexibility training, such as stretching, yoga, palates.
- Skills training, such as hand target drills, pattern training (perform them slowly with full-body tension and then perform them at maximum speed and full-power), using slow, precise techniques done against resistance such as against another student's body, work on sparring strategy and tactics.
- Sparring training, such as shadow boxing, sparring drills with an opponent, sparring sprints (attack fast and hard for 30 seconds, then opponent does it, repeat several times), and of course free-spar as much as possible with as many different opponents as possible.
- Cross training in other sports such as tennis, ping-pong, or basketball that require quick movements with eye/hand coordination. Cross training help break training boredom and lets muscles relax by perform in motions not usually used in Taekwondo training.
- Relaxation training, such as meditation, yoga, and cycles of tensing specific muscles and then relaxing the same muscles.
Start early and intense with the endurance, strength, and flexibility training, maintain them throughout the training program, and taper them off as the tournament date approaches. Use them very little in the week before the tournament to conserve energy. Use cross training and relaxation training to break boredom and to ease the tension and stress of intense training. Concentrate on skills and sparring training throughout the training cycle. As tournament date approaches, concentrate of just sparring training but avoid injuries.
Injuries are always a problem, especially if they interfere with or prevent training. Always warm-up before and cool-down after training. Stay hydrated and eat properly. Learn to recognize the difference between injuries that can be ignored and those that need treatment and rest.
Pattern training involves everything used in sparring training except for the sparring. Pattern techniques a seldom used in sparring, but they complement sparring techniques and thus improve them. Perform your tournament pattern daily. Learn it so well that if you are interrupted during performance you will know exactly where you left off. Practice concentration so your attention does not wander during performance. Vary the way you practice patterns. Practice with extreme body tension in slow motion, as quickly as possible while still maintaining proper form, eyes closed, etc. Train in a large area so you do not truncate movements. Train in a small area so you can practice stopping and resetting you position, since this may occur during a tournament. Patterns may be practiced up to the day of competition. Key things to remember about patterns are:
- Body movement should be smooth, not too quick, not too slow.
- Technique execution should be quick and powerful, except where slow motion is required.
- Concentrate on stances; they are most obvious to judges.
- Chamber for techniques and re-chamber afterward.
- Chamber kicks, hold them at full extension for a split second so judges may see the foot position and may appreciate the technique used in the kicks, and then re-chamber.
Remember patterns are a showcase for technique and artistic expression, but do not add superfluous movements or facial expressions.
Weeks before tournament
Do your recon. Know the location, the expected weather conditions, the environment of the location (lighting, heating, air conditioning, etc.), the expected skill levels of the competitors, the number of competitors, the rules, etc. Train according to your reconnaissance.
Day before Tournament
Do not train. Relax and do relaxing things. Do not change your eating habits except to eat plenty of complex carbohydrates for the evening meal. Get plenty of sleep. If you must rise early to commute to the tournament, then go to bed earlier. If the tournament will involve a long commute, consider arriving the day before. Do not make any drastic changes to your daily routine. Do not drink alcohol the night before. On tournament day you want to be relaxed, alert, healthy, and prepared.
Arise in plenty of time to take care of morning chores and prepare for departure. Estimate your commute time and add extra time for potential problems, such as heavy traffic. Time your morning meal so digestion will not sap your energy at fighting time. Arrive with plenty of time to take care of tournament business, such as registration, meetings, or weigh-in, and to allow yourself to acclimatize to the environment, such as temperature, humidity and noise level. Familiarize yourself with the arena. Know where your assigned ring is located and be near it as your fighting time approaches. Know where the near restrooms are located and where tournament officials are located. Depending on when you ate your morning meal and when your fighting time is, you may need to eat more to keep your energy level up. Eat light high-energy snacks not hot dogs or pizza. Time your warm-up so you will have a light sweat when your fighting time arrives. Stay hydrated. The tension and excitement of completion will cause more hydration than usual. Drink a lot of water, but do not over do it.
Visualize yourself winning, moving from disassociated to associated visualization. Disassociated visualization may be either objective or subjective. First, objectively visualize your instructor perfectly performing a technique as if you were watching a video recording and then subjectively visualize yourself perfectly performing the technique in the same video. Then move to associated visualization see yourself actually in a match. Try to visualize the sounds, your feelings, your tactics, and most of all, your winning. If a negative visualization creeps in, stop the video, rewind to just before the negative, and start again. Repeat a short but inspiring personal slogan or mantra, such as "Pilsung" or "Certain Victory," over and over in you mind to calm and center your thinking.
Establish a preparation cycle
For sparring, hydrate, use restroom, don sparring equipment, warm-up, and stretch. Keep moving to maintain you flexibility and focus. Relax and cultivate your fighting spirit. Focus on the task at hand and reject all other thoughts. When called to fight, answer loudly, run to your position, and fight as if everything depended on your winning. Whether you win or lose, show good sportsmanship, run off the mat, relax and think about what you did wrong and how you can improve it. Consult with other competitors, your instructor, your coach, or fellow students about how you may improve. Attend to any injuries and relax. If you will fight again, start the preparation cycle again. If you win, you may have to condense the cycle, so you are ready to fight again in short notice.
- For patterns, use the same preparation cycle as for sparring except for donning the sparring equipment.
- If you lose, do not whine. Accept it as learning experience and plan on how you to change your training plan to improve your weaknesses before the next tournament. Do not leave the area and pout. Stay and encourage and cheer your teammates in their matches.
- If you win, do not brag. Accept it as a reward for your hard work and plan on how to improve. Do not leave the area. Stay, encourage, and cheer your teammates in their matches. Brag on their wins but do not dwell on your own wins.
Study your environment and opponents
Before you spar, study the environment: ring size; rules, such as what constitutes a foul and how much contact is permitted; match time length; how competitors are designed red or white; positions of judges; personalities of judges and referee; scoring system; and how judges and referees score. Study your possible opponents: their size/reach; how they guard and block; what stances they use; whether they are kickers, punchers, counter-attackers, or a combination; how they make eye contact; do they run from attacks, stand their ground, or rush in; do they move around a lot or do they stay basically motionless; do they attack with front or back foot or in combination; and are they basically right or left sided in their attacks.
If everything runs smoothly, there is nothing to be done. However, if things start going wrong, you must control the situation. Do not panic, become Spock or Data. Do not display emotions, such as anger. Remain calm and deal with the situation in a logical, unemotional, and systematic manner .
Immediately after tournament
Think about the event, your actions, and inactions. Solicit feedback from others about you performs. Do not question or reply, just listen and evaluate your performance. Begin to wind down. Relax and do relaxing things. Go to sleep early. Sleep helps you to process and incorporate everything that occurred during the day.
Discuss tournament with teammates but only in a positive manner. no matter the outcome of the tournament. Discuss what needs to be done for improvement. Return to routine training using all you have learned to adapt the training toward improving your performance.
Tournaments are a learning experience, an opportunity to put your skills to the test, and an opportunity to meet old friends and make new friends. Do not get discouraged if you lose, do not get cocky if you win. Tournaments should be fun; if they are not fun, then you are doing something wrong.
Turtle Press. (2002). [Online], Available: http://www.turtlepress.com/library.asp [2002, October 21].