What Tournaments Teach Us About Ourselves


The first time I ever fought in a tournament, I was out of the ring as fast as I got in. I have no idea what happened. There was no explanation. And I sure as heck didn’t win anything. 

It was the most fun I ever had. 

Back then, that was the story. I didn’t win much, but I had a lot of fun. So, I just kept going.

Tournament after tournament, I fought in different styles and in different kinds of tournaments. I fought in full-contact tournaments, point tournaments, continuous-fighting tournaments, etc., each time getting better and better until I finally started winning. 

I think it’s safe to say now that I have won more than I have lost. 

In the early days of Tae Kwon-Do tournaments, winning was all that mattered. The origins of the tournament go all the way back before the 1950s in Korea. The different schools, or Kwans, wanted to get together and match up to see who was the best. I don’t think they were as concerned with the exchanging of ideas as much as proving which Kwan was the strongest and had the best fighters. 

Today, tournaments exist as much as a way for schools to get together and develop camaraderie between martial artists as they do for competition. Tournaments can be a great thing, especially when you can have fun and meet some great people. 

Different tournaments have different aspects to them. Some more traditional tournaments will just have forms/patterns and sparring. So, you do your pattern and get judged on that. For sparring, you will go through a tree of elimination to decide who wins. Some tournaments also include weapons and breaking, sword fighting. high-kick competitions, etc. 

In addition to the camaraderie and competition, tournaments are a great way to learn about ourselves and grow as martial artists. I find them to be quite humbling. They provide direct, immediate feedback about what techniques are working and how clean your pattern is. When you get in the ring and do your pattern at a tournament, you know exactly how well you did. You don’t need a score to tell you.

With sparring, you are in the ring with another person. Hopefully they’re matched up pretty well with you. If so, you’ll have a good fight and learn how your blocks, attacks, footwork, etc. are working. 

Unfortunately, though, tournaments aren’t immune from unhealthy behavior. Sometimes, you get people who are out to hurt others. Sometimes, tensions rise and fights start outside of the ring. I was at a tournament once where the judges in one ring who were, for some reason, watching a different ring, started yelling at those judges, and they all got into a fight. 

People can be overly competitive too. They will strut around like a rooster when they win, but whine and complain like babies when they lose. Oddly, I never see people complain when they get a point or two that they didn’t earn. But they always complain when they don’t get a point they think they deserve.

I take a very traditional approach to the tournament experience. Do your best. Accept the outcome: win, lose, or draw. There are times when you are going to get ripped off, and there are times when you’re going to get a gift. 

But at our tournaments, we don’t put up with any of that nonsense. I do not tolerate my students showboating or complaining. Nor do I allow parents to scream at our referees. They are more than welcome to cheer for their son or daughter, and we certainly recommend that they cheer for everyone, whether they’re with our dojang or not. 

We also don’t allow any coaching in our tournaments, which is something you see at a lot of other tournaments. The reason I do that is simple. There won’t be any coaching in the street if you ever find yourself in a fight. So, I try to make it as realistic as possible. Once my students are in the ring, they are on their own. 

My tournament philosophy is the same as at the dojang. We’re all in this together, bonded by a mutual desire to get better. So let’s get along by being decent to and respectful of each other. 

In the end, tournaments are a fun and often magical thing. As a competitor, win or lose, there is an enormous sense of pride in knowing what you have accomplished just by competing. And as the parent of a competitor, you feel that same swell of pride when you see your son or daughter persevering, making connections with others, and dedicating themselves to something bigger than themselves.

Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, visit the Contact Us page or call (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!


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