A New Tournament Experience

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Just Another Tournament?

Some of the tournament's youngest competitors

I have been to and participated in many martial arts tournaments over the years. I consider them all successes no matter if I won anything or not. These tournaments have all been open or invitational formats. Outside of minor variations in events, some had breaking and self-defense options and some didn’t, they all had sparring and pattern events.

On February 27, 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in an International TaeKwon-Do (ITF) tournament. This tournament, as in all the others had sparring and pattern event competitions. So, why am I writing this blog about an ordinary martial arts tournament? Because there was something unique about this tournament: the way they ran their patterns competition.

The Pattern Competition Tradition…

In every other tournament, I have ever been to, pattern competitions followed a format. One competitor at a time would perform their pattern. They would be given a score between one and ten by the judges and whoever had the most points at the end won. Much like a figure skating competition might be scored.

I had always been a little dubious about the fairness of this. Not because I distrusted the judges or anything like that. I just always pondered how, in a competitive field of 15 to 20 participants, the judges could keep up with it all. It just seemed very confusing and subjective. The process just seemed primed for mistakes and errors. Of course, all competitions experience bad calls by referee’s and umpires, it’s part of the game. However, this arbitrary point system always struck me as being…well like trying to pick a winner out of a blender. But what could be done about it?

The ITF Pattern Scoring Format…A New Hope?

A PMA Mint Hill student performs the pattern "Joong-Gun"

In the ITF tournament I participated in, the pattern competition was not unlike the sparring event. Two competitors performed their patterns at the same time. The winner advanced to the next round and the less successful participant (I do not use the word “loser”) went on to other things. This went on until the last person standing was declared the first-place winner. The runner ups were decided in the same fashion.

I found this format much more equitable and fair. Both for the participants and the judges as well. The judges only had to concentrate on one pair at a time, declare a winner and go on to the next pair. The judges burden of trying to keep with multiple competitors was lifted. This I believed was much fairer for the competitors as well.


A True Competition in Patterns? I Think So!

In observing this patterns competition format, I have concluded that in addition to fairer judging, this format also creates a truer competition.

Think about it. We now have two people competing side by side for a step up the ladder. Now, not only do they have the potential distraction of the crowd and the judges, there is someone right beside them performing a pattern; and it could be a different pattern form the one they are doing.

I found this exciting! It forced me to concentrate on what I was doing and it felt more like a competition. Also, as the competitors thinned out, I had to perform my pattern several times. Now concentration, endurance and perseverance are all part of the equation. This is martial arts and I believe this puts patterns on the same level as sparring. BRILLIANT!

One Last Thought

Unlike sparring which is divided into age groups as well as gender, pattern completion was only categorized my age. The end result is I was bested in the finals by a 15-year-old girl, who deserved the win. This is one of the reasons I have always though that patterns are one of the true tests of martial arts competition. It transcends age and gender and gets right to the meat of the matter; technique, concentration, dedication, perseverance and accuracy. Long live paired patterns competitions!

My worthy competition

Until Next Time, Tae Kwon


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