Many of our Karate Kids recently had the chance to participate in an American Taekwondo Association (ATA) Regional Tournament a couple weeks ago. It was held at the awesome sports complex at Rose-Hulman University in Terre Haute, IN.
We usually have four Regional Tournaments a year that are close enough for students to attend, but this one was certainly the closest. It’s also hosted by my long-time instructor, Chief Master Phil Minton.
An outstanding mentor to me for over 3 decades, Chief Master Minton is well known for his extensive martial arts background. When I met him over 30 years ago, he was already a very accomplished martial artist. In fact, the reason I picked Indiana State University was so I could be near his school to train with him.
Back then, he was a 3rd Degree Black Belt in the Japanese art of Aikido, a 4th Degree Black Belt in another Japanese martial art called Judo, and a 4th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, a Korean form of Karate.
Individually, these were all very rare accomplishments back then. But Chief Master Minton had accomplished all three, separately. He was really a mixed martial artist before anyone had ever heard of mixed martial arts (MMA).
The year Chief Master Minton became Master, there were just three individuals in the country that achieved that position. Now, it’s common to have a much larger Master Class every year as the art grows in popularity.
But Phil Minton has continued to advance to the pinnacle of martial arts. He now holds the rank of 8th Degree Black Belt, and the title of Chief Master. This particularly distinguishes him, because there aren’t many people in the country of that rank.
Chief Master Minton also happens to have great tournaments too, and this one was no exception. I don’t have the final count, but there were well over 1,000 competitors throughout the day.
Our students came home with some medals, but with a few things even more important. They came to understand that they weren’t just big fish in a little pond (our school), but also little fish in a much larger ocean.
They also got a glimpse of what it looks like at the next level. No matter where you are in the journey, you can always find someone up ahead to learn from.
Our ATA tournaments have several events that students can compete in: Forms, Sparring, Weapons Forms, Combat Sparring (weapons), and XMA. Most people do forms and sparring, but more and more people are doing weapon forms and sparring too.
Forms are predetermined series of movements done on your own, without a partner. The goal is to make your moves crisp, distinct, and have nice rhythm and feeling in your flow and execution. You also demonstrate focused intensity with a strong ki-hap (yell)!
It’s very impressive to watch someone with a gift for forms who has put a lot of time into it, too. There’s a tremendous amount of body control involved, and it takes a lot of mental toughness to present a good form.
This means you’re really competing against yourself. The goal may be to win, but to do that, you have to master yourself and your own performance. So even if you don’t win, you win, because you’re one step closer to mastery.
When students spar one another, it gets pretty exciting. Besides the obvious self defense benefits, I love the fact that it helps you face your fears. It takes courage to step across the line from someone who is trying to kick or punch you.
The combat weapon sparring is also exciting because they’re trying to smack you with a stick. You wear full sparring gear, and the sticks are thickly padded with foam, so it’s extremely safe. But it’s a fast moving match, and when you score, it sure makes quite a WHACK!
Regardless how the matches turns out, it’s always a huge learning opportunity for the kids (and adults too). I truly believe the confidence gained from sparring translates into success in other areas of life as well.
The last event is called XMA for Xtreme Martial Arts. In this event, students do forms that they create themselves, to special music. They often integrate gymnastics into their forms as well. This is very dynamic, and a lot of our students came back excited about the possibility of learning how to do it.
So, we now have the first tournament down for most of them. They’ve seen a glimpse of what’s possible at the next level. They’ve caught a vision. Now the real work begins. Ki-hap!
(Note: Tom Dolan is a 6th Degree Black Belt, and Master Instructor at Tom’s Fitness and Martial Arts in Paris, IL and has been teaching since 1987. For more information, go to http://www.TomsFitnessandMartialArts.com)