Are Tournament Rules Holding You Back?

I recently read a thread on Inayanforums, entitled “R tournament rules holding us back?”, which was followed by a good string of comments and insights. You should head over there and read it yourself.
I’d like to give my take.
I believe that tournaments can help your overall fighting skill, as long as the tournament format does not overtake your fighting preparation. I liken this to the football player who considers himself a great football player because he has a great throwing arm, yet only practices throwing the ball. The argument of tournament fighting opposers is that there are no referees on the street and therefore no rules, and fighting with rules–even in training–will render you unable to fight without rules when you do it for real. This is my favorite arguing point, so my canned response each time I hear it….
Wait, let me break for a minute, and give this response its own paragraph.


No one fights in practice without rules. The same conditions you criticize about tournaments are most likely the same rules you adhere to when sparring with friends (assuming you actually spar):

  • You wear safety gear
  • You do not punch your opponent in the face or groin
  • You do not attempt to break his bones
  • You agree to the weapons used BEFORE you fight
  • You do not kick groins, throats, and knees full power
  • You do not use eye gouges
  • You do not slam your opponents to the ground head first


Bottom line, no one streetfights in the gym. You respect your opponents. You are trying to learn, not kill them. If the tournament is unrealistic because it is not a real streetfight, then so is your training sessions’ sparring. Even the Dog Brothers have a rule, that everyone goes home friends, and the last I looked, I have never seen anyone jump out of the crowd during a fight to help a friend. And so-called “No Holds Barred” fighting actually bars many techniques, like eye gouging, finger-breaking, and biting your opponent’s balls off (wait, is that legal? Well, if it isn’t… it’s groce). Sorry for the graphic.

Tournaments do give martial artists a chance to face their natural fears–at least some of them–head on by making them fight strangers. We hope to compete until fighters no longer have a fear of fighting on the floor. There is also the fear of getting hurt, which is quite unrealistic, as I’ve only been injured once in a tournament. Nor have I seen many serious injuries. Besides the technical and tactical benefits you gain from tournament fighting, I believe that conquering fear is the most basic benefit for the martial artist. I would have to say that 90% of martial artists actually have a fear of fighting, although 99.99% of those martial artists will deny having such a fear.

So, what’s this fear about?

It’s the same fear that keeps a guy who dances at home off the floor when he’s at a party. The same fear a kid experiences in the school play, or at music recitals. The same fear a virgin would have the first time he gets the opportunity to “perform”. It’s the fear of failure, the fear of ridicule. No one actually believes that he will die in a tournament. But martial artists love to think themselves better skilled than they actually are, and the thought of finding out how good they are–or aren’t–scares them. It is the fear of being rejected (that’s why you were probably nervous when you attempted to introduce yourself to your wife), the fear of losing, the fear of being ridiculed or discounted. This is the same fear a champion fighter has of a promising up-and-coming fighter who is obviously less skilled than the champion; that maybe I’m not that good.

The fighter who has faced these fears, whatever they happen to be, and faced them many times will be more confident and will not hesitate to perform in a real fight. This hesitation is the main reason most fighters will lose a fight if they ever have to do it for real. There is a psychological barrier that prevents you from bringing out the real Tiger, the one who shows up for class every week, when it really counts. Tournaments give you many opportunities to practice this, and why the best full contact fighters started out fighting light contact.

And the guy who bypassed tournaments to play patty cake at his gym, and some mean-looking pad work… well, he’s simulating more than the guy in the flashy Karate uniform.

I’d like to expound on this topic a little later in a “part II”. In the meantime, thank you for visiting my blog.