Tournamentality…

IMG26… If You Promote It They Will Come

Once tournaments were inefficiently run, interminably long, chaotic at best and somewhat like a circus conducted by hyperactive children. They also cost about twenty five bucks to put on, and were held in high school gyms, after slipping the janitor a fiver to “leave the door unlocked this Saturday”.

Looking back one sighs with the realization that “those were the good old days”. Now tournaments are planned months in advance, cost a small fortune to run and sometimes rake hefty profits for the promoters. Yet most of the time these promoters put more creative intelligence into the dragon design on the trophy than on the comfort and enjoyment of contestants and spectators.

The solution for this state of affliction can be expressed in one rule: Don’t Lie. If the student’s going to travel two hundred miles to risk life and limb to meet the 8 a.m. call, don’t make her wait around until 3:00 p.m. for her division to be finally mentioned. Hard as it is to remember, competitors are actually paying participants. How does it promote the Art or the Tournament, to treat them as the least important element? How can a person perform his best if he’s been told to hurry-up-and-wait every half hour?

Don’t lie. Don’t call anything a Master’s Demonstration which includes a school team that’s been practicing ‘real hard’ to get their choreographed routine carefully synched to the Star Wars Theme. If you’re short on what is commonly recognized as Masters, then rename the demo to include other artists. After all, most people, including the spectators, want to see martial arts. While it can be inspiring and overwhelming to see a Master’s Performance, it is definitely disappointing and underwhelming to see anyone with a business card impersonating a Master. The Martial Arts has real treasures among its members; don’t denigrate their years of hard work for the sake of filling out the dance card.

Don’t pretend that sparring three-year-olds have anything to do with martial arts (which do you hear more often: “That spinning wheel was perfectly executed,” or “God, those gloves are as big as he is!”). I doubt that, when threatened, you’d take out your nunchaku key chain. Enough said on that one.

Decide on rules—preferably in advance of a competitor’s performance—then stick by them! Make sure everyone knows the rules, then make sure that all the judges are on the same page. Eliminate the need for ten-minute discussions between each form where you restate the rules and then argue about exceptions. Why send out rules months in advance, only to change them on the day of the event? And don’t allow people to sign up for simultaneous competitions, then refuse to refund their money. Raise the hot dog prices, if you need that kind of pocket change.

Every Black Belt may have earned his rank in his style, but that shouldn’t earn him a judge’s seat and pass. Also, engage only those judges who have, at least, some familiarity with the style (I know it’s difficult but, having at least heard of the style would be a plus). You certainly wouldn’t challenge someone to a knife fight if you had no experience with the weapon. It’s no shame to lack experience, only a shame to lie about it.

Don’t lie. Don’t pretend that Karate and Kung Fu are the same thing, even if your mother-in-law tells all her friends that you are “a black belt in the deadly art of Tai Chi”. Don’t put Kung Fu artists in the Kata divisions. In Chinese-style tournaments, don’t mix up Traditional with Modern Wushu. The gymnastic grace necessary to wield a five ounce spring steel kwan may be beautiful, but it should not be compared to the martial skill involved in handling its heavy, traditional precursor. It’s one thing to compare apples and oranges, quite another to eat wax apples and try to light real bananas.

Besides the promoter’s good community intentions, most tournaments are put on to make money. No dishonor. But sacrifices made and corners cut in deference to receipts are fair game for criticism. One sighs, one shifts, the seats are hard and the program long. A little efficiency wouldn’t destroy the profit margin. It just takes a little thought, a little effort, a little art. True it’s supposed to be a tournament but for every winner in the pee wee division there are also ten losers. Why ? Does it really matter ? True, trophies attract but wouldn’t it be cheaper and really better if everyone just got a certificate, for having the heart to try?

Why do people go to tournaments? Most practitioners enjoy meeting students from other schools, testing laboriously practiced skills and entering the competitive ring. Everyone enjoys watching martial arts. What a great pleasure to see a set performed well, or a style that you’ve always wondered about. Parents are there to cheer their children on. Instructors are there to talk shop. The thing would work with almost no organization. After all, you have a group of people with shared interests attending an all-day show. Yet almost everything about tournaments is designed to disappoint, from the three-ring-circus aspect, through the rude and interminable waiting periods, to the final momentary rise and fall of a performer’s star. While no one expects the people-moving acumen and resources of Disneyland, I’d say that having to wait eight hours to enter the ring (as I observed at the last tournament I attended) is time as poorly spent as a hundred mis-directed kicks. Tournaments can be fun and have meaning; but sometimes it just becomes tedious wading through all the hype to get at the heart.

Oh, and one last thing, tell the announcers how far to hold their mouths from the microphones . . . pull-(crackle)-leassse

Jamie Blair

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