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To Compete Or Not To Compete, That Is The Question?

By Master Dave Modzak, Karate

Martial Arts Competition

I'd like to talk about Martial Arts Competitions...

There are many varieties, Traditional Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Mixed-Martial Arts, and what I think can be the most controversial, "Open to All Styles" Competitions.  As I type away it becomes clearer how unclear this particular discussion can and most obviously will become...now let's watch the hornet's nest begin to stir.

Well, we have to start somewhere, so how about here; Tae Kwon Do tournaments are exclusive and apparently popular within its specific community.  TKD itself is very popular, hell, seems like you can't go past a strip mall without seeing another Korean Do Jang (School).  The style has lived through a roller coaster ride of a reputation and has made it in to the Olympics as an official event.  That's also the goal of Traditional Karate, to become an official Olympic sport.  Karate has its own exclusive tournaments too, it may no longer be not as widespread as TKD, but what they lack in numbers they may make up for in attitude.  Here come the pundits, come on, everybody knows what I'm talking about; some of us have friends that are exclusive Karate folks and we often have to hear from them about how much more powerful their "traditional" techniques and strikes are than anyone else's.

How about the MMA events?  I like them.  From the professional to the amateur, I like them alot.  The bigger events are particularly good in my opinion.  They are sanctioned by State Athletic Commissions, universally trained and licensed referees, readily available medical professionals, specific well-outlined and published rules, and on top of that, some of the best conditioned competitors are featured there as well. Although, there has been much debate about whether these MMA "sport fighters" are not true warriors, remember, different philosophies come into play here; I am currently talking about competitions, not the competitors themselves. 

Oh my, I'm really going to get into trouble now!

Now let's really kick it over.  "Open" martial arts competitions, you know the ones, open to all styles,  they range from 50 divisions to over a thousand, from Kung Fu to Kenpo, from small gyms to Disneyland, and every stop in between.   You see these are the tournaments that I pretty much specialized in and have not only spent plenty of money and time competing in and winning (Oh yes, losing too!), but volunteering my time in them as a judge; as well as hosting my own for the past 12 years.  In most instances, these competitions are generally confused and disorganized in my mind.  There are other more colorful terms I'd use to describe them, but I understand this publication is read by families and younger martial artists, so we'll just leave it at confused and disorganized.

In my opinion, most of the problems stem from the lack of a singular guidance.  There's no real democratic governing body to cover the spectrum.  No universal guideline as to how a freestyle martial arts tournament (open to all styles) should be promoted and operated.  Promoters that host them seem to pretty much makes it up as they go along.

I can hear the keyboards beginning to hum as the forums are a buzz now.  I can just hear the insipid whining... "What does he know; I've been holding tournaments for 30 years... Who does he think he is? We're sanctioned by (FILL IN THE BLANK)... Doesn't he know that if everyone just used our rules everything would be just fine?"  Blah, blah, blah! Therein lays the problem, everyone has a different way of doing things and no one can agree.  No universal sanctioning, no universal training or licensing of referees/judges, no set number of / or type of divisions are firmly in place, and why not?

The typical excuses are numerous, but the usual suspects are; there are so many styles that it's impossible to completely oversee, and if State Athletic Commissions got involved, it would dove-tail into government control over all martial arts schools.

I feel a news flash coming on...oh, horse feathers!

Come on, "open to all styles" tournaments can be fun and exciting, especially the big ones, but the level of whining and moaning, complaining and groaning about such nonsense are truly unsurpassed.  Everything from differences in divisions to judging criteria, points awarded and sanctioning politics, are the topics of a level of bitching that truly, in many instances, surpass the true purpose of the actual event itself!

I was at one event where the Master of one of the schools competing was complaining about the size of the trophies, mind you he had 10 students competing, and 8 won first place, but the trophies still weren't big enough for him.  I had a competitor complain at the last tournament I hosted that I didn't have the right division for her to compete in, she won the division that she did compete in, but it paled to her whining about my not having the division she wanted.

The stories I've heard are as numerous as the number of styles themselves.  So are the excuses, and we all know about excuses, they're just like armpits, everybody has two and they both tend to stink, so I'm going to try to avoid them here. Competitors often complain about the conditions at a tournament causing them to lose too.

I'm not sure how most people look at tournaments these days, well maybe I am sure, but I choose not to use those words here, when you tell me something can't be done you can bet I'm going to at least take a crack at it..no excuses.  As far as government control is concerned, the last time I stopped by our local MMA gym they were doing just fine and I didn't notice any jack-booted Nazi's standing over them taking down names.  No, what I think it really boils down to is, and let me quote a great movie, "A failure to communicate."

Well, I believe the time is now for competitors and promoters, school owners and parents, to shut up and step up.  Let's keep it real while we're at it too.  In today's economy folks are going to be careful where and how they spend their money and to be honest, some open tournaments are very expensive.  When you plop down a couple of hundred dollars to compete you'd like a quality experience, or at least a fair and reasonable one. 

How do we step to that next level?  I'm not exactly certain how to go about it, but I'm sure it has something to do with better communication.

Promoters are going to have to start to talk to each other more and maybe even start to unify, and I mean real unification with honest dialog and intention.  Judges must strive to remember the competitor paid for the experience, so let's keep it as fair and balanced as we can for them.  Competitors, remember it's a competition and you just may not be as good as the competitor sitting next to you, or you may be better, that's what you're there to find out that day. Win, lose or draw, hold your head up and act accordingly.  That's right, let's start acting with a little dignity and honor, respect and courtesy. You know; acting properly, we used to call it "manners" or respect.

If you don't have any idea what I'm talking about, and from what I've seen, many don't, then look it up on Wikipedia, I'm sure it's there.  I promise you it's not the "end all" answer, but it's a place to start, and getting started is a priority.

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