Tournaments, Training and Toughness

The karate school just hosted its sixteenth annual Gold Coast Classic International Martial Arts Tournament at Broward Community College in Davie. Competitors traveled from as near as UKC and as far away as South Africa to compete. Many schools from different traditions attended; some traditional and some non-traditional; hence, a variety of styles and approaches was on display.

Students at UKC are allowed to compete once they reach 8th kyu, Gold Belt, and have the permission of Sensei Mason. Students are advised to compete once at each stage of their training, Beginner (Gold and Orange Belt), Intermediate (Blue, Green and Purple Belt) and Advanced (Brown Belt and up).

The philosophy of our karate school is based in educational principles of personal growth and development. The principles of all martial arts should be based in courtesy and respect. Tournaments are a challenge in this regard. On the positive side, competing gives the student the opportunity to learn first hand the lessons of timing, distancing and quickness in the sparring (fighting) events and the lessons of poise, presence and precision in the kata (forms) events while under the pressure of public performance.

To some extent these are also the “training opportunities” of a shiai (in-school tournament) and a Grading (belt test); however, with an outside-the-school tournament there is the additional factor of “attitude”, of the judges, of the other schools, of the other Instructors, of the other parents, which must also be dealt with.

As in life, in the martial arts there are many ways to train and to compete and all are prominently displayed in the arena of the tournament. The challenge for the student is how to handle the experience that occurs while competing. Years ago one of my Junior students, a State Champion, had competed through to the finals in his division only to find out that a mistake had been made in the draw and that he would be required to fight all the way through his division yet again. This particular student had a medical condition which made this task a very difficult one, and he came to me and asked what he should do. 

I told him to use this experience as a “training opportunity”, a preparation for his upcoming Junior Black Belt test where he would be required to go beyond his previous training limits in order to succeed. He was able to go back into the ring and to win his division a second time. He had learned to deal with adversity.

Another time, a UKC Junior student, a National Champion, was performing his kata in front of the judges at a State Tournament when he was suddenly interrupted by one of them who queried my student’s right to perform certain moves he deemed too advanced for the intermediate level this student was competing in. The student was unfairly ostracized at subsequent tournaments when he was pointed out by various persons as “the one” for whom the rules were changed. This student did not quit over this incident; but continued to compete and achieved success in several National Tournaments above and beyond any previous competitor at his age and belt level. He had learned to deal with embarrassment.

Another student, who competed at both the Junior and Adult Levels in Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced groups in several different circuits on the local, state, and national levels, was competing in pre-Olympic trials several years ago. He scored all his points decisively; but the judges did not agree, and he lost the match which he, I and his parents knew he had really won. His Dad was more upset than he was. As a seasoned competitor he knew that the results do not always reflect the true winner of the competition, unfortunately. He had learned to deal with disappointment early in life.

Tournaments are like so many other experiences in life; a mixed blessing. While competitors gain a certain toughness and focus through the process of competition; it is also important that they do not mimic the bad attitudes and habits that some schools teach their students- “win at all costs….losing doesn’t count.” Here at UKC we observe rules and regulations, and expect courtesy and respect to be shown consistently by parents, students, and Instructors to one another at all times; yet in the “real world” this consideration is not the norm. We all encounter exactly the opposite on a daily basis. Tournaments are an ongoing opportunity to transition from one world to the other; and in the process to develop the skills necessary to survive in both: mental toughness, emotional balance, and physical prowess.

Sensei Robert H. Mason c2002

Sempai of the Month

Max Hew

Max Hews is the Sempai of the Month for June. He is six years old and is in First Grade at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. Max started karate at age three to learn how to defend himself. He likes to go to McDonald’s, play chess and use the computer; his favorite website is He wants to be a lawyer when he grows up because they make a lot of money. This summer he is going to New York. His favorite show is Ed, Ed, and Eddie on Cartoon Network. His favorite movie is Spiderman because he shoots webs. Karate has helped him to feel stronger and braver. His favorite part of karate is sparring. Max started to sempai in February 2002 and has completed one and a half sides of his sempai sheet. Sensei Mason says that Max is a good sempai because he always pays attention to doing what the instructor says and he makes an excellent effort to do every move correctly. Additionally his attitude is friendly, helpful and respectful when demonstrating or showing techniques to other students.

Martial Arts Makes You Better

In 1976 when I was twenty-six I had been investigating different ways of learning about myself. I had practiced martial arts for several years. Martial arts takes constant practice and the results are cumulative.”

Neal Evans, Executive Director of National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies


A proud parent of one of our Junior students recently wrote us the following note: “Your program is great! My daughter has benefited tremendously from it. I feel that your stripe/belt grading system is often enough to remain motivational and at the same time spaced far enough apart so the young people feel that they have worked hard and truly earned the recognition of their accomplishment. Thank you for everything!”