A student once asked, “What is the fastest way for me to become a great martial artist?” My answer was simple: “Compete in as many tournaments as you can”. Competing in tournaments accelerates your progress and helps you take a quantum leap in your technique and confidence. Think of all the greatest ATA martial artists you know and you’ll realize they all have one thing in common: they compete regularly in tournaments.
But – Let me dispel one myth right up front: you do NOT have to be a naturally “competitive person” to gain from tournaments. No way. To benefit from competition, all you need is a willingness to grow, have fun and improve your skills. For most students, it’s the next logical step in their journey to martial arts greatness.
So in this article, I uncover the secrets of why tournaments offer so many benefits to martial artists and why I urge you to attend as many as you can. And even if you already compete on a regular basis, you might be surprised at some of these reasons. So read on and discover the seven powerful reasons YOU need to compete! Let’s kick off my list with…
Reason #1: Tournaments Expose and Refine Your Skills
If you’ve been sparring for a while, you’ve gone up against many of the same people over and over. As a result, you’ll find your sparring partners adapting to your style and anticipating your moves. For example, they’ll know which kicks you’re likely to throw, which attacks you’ll try and how you pace yourself. The same is true of you: over time you start to adapt to your partners’ rhythm and predict their timing. What’s the solution? Compete in tournaments. Tournaments widen your pool of competition dramatically. You face off against new opponents you’ve never sparred before. This helps sharpen your skill set and gives you a taste of what it’s like to defend yourself on the street when you don’t know what to expect.
Tournaments also act as benchmarks for accomplishment. How? Because you’re judged in every area. You’ll come home with measurable results – hard numbers – that tell the tale of your performance. You’ll know what worked and what didn’t. You’ll discover your strong points as well as things you need to improve. Nothing is better at revealing your skills and helping you improve than competing in tournaments. They’re a great way to learn and grow as a martial artist. Next up is…
Reason #2: Tournaments Help You Overcome Your Fears
One of the hallmarks of a mature martial artist is the ability to stay calm in a stressful (or even life-threatening) situation. Tournaments help here, too. Here’s how: First, when you perform, you’ll likely have dozens of people watching. Performing in front of an audience teaches you to tune out distractions, stay focused under fire and builds your confidence. All of this adds up to an inner calm. This stress-free, focused mindset pays dividends in school, at work and in real-life self-defense situations.
Second, it takes courage to face down a new opponent in the ring. Your adrenaline spikes, you’ll feel the butterflies creep in and you may want to run the other direction. This is all good. Why? Because it teaches you how to master your emotions. Over time, you’ll enter the ring confident and ready for the challenge. Overcoming your fears is an important step in becoming a masterful martial artist. And of course, the more tournaments you attend, the more you’ll build these skills. Practice makes perfect.
Finally, understand this: One of the most important lessons of life is that you must break OUT of your comfort zone to grow, change and get better at anything you do. This is true in school, work, life and especially martial arts. Competing in tournaments helps you push past your limits, confront your fears, blast through your barriers and take your confidence to a whole new level.
Reason #3: Tournaments Act As “Mini-Goals”
If you’ve been doing taekwondo a long time, you’ll find that your motivation level can vary; it rises and falls over time. This is normal – and true of any sport. But when you mark your calendar with the date of a big tournament ( like Worlds or Nationals for example), suddenly everything changes. When you think ahead to that day, it forces you to work harder, serves as a powerful goal, and inspires you to do your best in every class. You’ll develop a razor-edged focus and find yourself investing more time in preparation for the tournament.
And when you finally arrive at your big day, you’ll feel a surge of pride because you accomplished so much, put so much hard work into Taekwondo and can now cross another big goal off your list – no matter how you do. Tournaments provide mini-goals which keep you motivated and focused.
Reason #4: Tournaments Help You Earn Titles
Ever wonder how you earn the words “State Champ” on the back of your uniform? You got it: competing in tournaments. And, no, you don’t have to knock out last year’s State Champ in a “grudge match” to earn that title. Instead, it’s done with points. You rack up points at each tournament you attend in SEVEN different areas: traditional forms, weapons and sparring, Xtreme forms and weapons, the new CREATIVE forms/weapons. Add up these points and this cumulative total allows you to become ranked. You can then advance through the ranks of competitors, eventually reaching State Champ or World Champ status! It’s an excellent system because it rewards students for their dedication, hard work, discipline and focus over the long haul. It rewards commitment.
Of course, you must be a Leadership student to qualify (see me for more info about Leadership), but if you make the solid effort to attend lots of tournaments, you can work your way to the top! If you’ve ever wanted the respect and prestige that comes with the title of State Champ (or even World Champ!) only tournaments can get you there.
Reason #5: You Can Watch and Learn From The Very Best
Here’s another big reason to attend ATA tournaments: you get to watch (and rub shoulders with) the very best! Remember what I said in the intro: the one thing all the very best martial artists have in common is they all compete. Well, that’s why you find so many top players at tournaments. They know that one of the big secrets of taking their skills to the next level is competition!
For example, at Nationals and Worlds, you can watch scores of super-talented higher ranks do their forms, spar and perform with their weapons. You can draw a lot of inspiration from watching these top-level, world-class athletes compete. It also gives you someone to emulate. When you get back to class, the next time you do your form, try to harness some of the energy, attitude and talent you saw at the tournament. Tournaments allow you to watch and learn from the best. . . just one more reason to attend tournaments.
Reason #6: You Can Represent Your School
It’s always impressive when you attend a tournament and see dozens of people from one school, club or academy competing side-by-side. It’s a bond most instructors love to see. Even if you’re not competing yourself (for example, if you’re a family member or friend), it’s always great to attend tournaments because it provides a bonding experience with other members of your academy. You can cheer your teammates on, encourage them to do their best, support them when they win and console them when they come up short. When you do this, it makes every student at our academy better and makes us a tight, cohesive unit! Attend tournaments and help put our school on the map and let people know we’re a force to be reckoned with!
Reason #7: You Might Just Win a Medal or Trophy!
Now here’s a big reason lots of students like to compete: All the accolades you receive. Nothing’s better than hearing a crowd cheer and clap after you nailed a perfect form or won a tough sparring match. Nothing, that is, except driving home with a medal around your shoulders or a trophy in your lap!
The exhilaration you’ll feel on that ride home is worth all the hard work and dedication it took to get to that tournament in the first place! Of course, a medal or trophy isn’t the goal. It’s the end result of hard work. And much later when you look at that trophy or medal again, it serves as a permanent reminder of your accomplishments. Not only that, but trophies and medals are fun to show off to your friends and a great way to spark a conversation (and maybe get a buddy to class!) Yes, when you look at that medal or trophy displayed proudly in your home, it can motivate you to accomplish even more! It’s a big confidence and self-esteem booster.
Show off, take pride in what you know, showcase your skills and have fun. Experience this feeling just once and I guarantee you’ll be back for more!
Even though many students participate in tournaments for the reasons I just gave above, some attend tournaments for another simpler reason…FUN! At tournaments, you make new friends, bask in the glow of a big event, see others compete, and break out of your normal routine. It’s something to look forward to. As for me, it seems like I always end up meeting somebody new at a tournament. And it’s always fun to network with other martial artists I respect. I think you’ll agree that your deepest and most long-lasting friendships are ones built on a common interest – and taekwondo is the best one in my opinion!
Tournaments can also deepen your bonds with other family members. Some families like to block out an entire weekend for a tournament, stay in a hotel for a day or two, eat in new restaurants, explore a new town and make it a vacation weekend. Try it some time. I think you’ll find this brings your whole family closer, allows you to share more time together (something in short supply these days)…and forges new memories you can all share. Everybody needs a break and attending tournaments is a great way to do that.
Your Monthly Call to Action:
As you can see, there are lots of great reasons you need to compete. And I didn’t even list all of them! So get involved and make the commitment to attend the next in school and regional tournament. Doing so will take your martial arts skills to a whole new level. And by the way, don’t worry about winning or losing. And don’t worry about getting the highest score. Just attend, have fun and grow. Immerse yourself in the experience. Compete and win in more ways than you ever imagined!
— Senior Master Babin