Frustrated Master Koivisto during one of his training sessions.
Frustrated Master Koivisto during one of his training sessions.

Habits in Competition and Testing

There are days when students do really well, and days where nerves have an effect on their performance. The awards in the rings of a tournament only reflect how well someone did during those few minutes, under pressure, according to the opinion of judges that may or may not have ever seen them perform before. We don't participate to win medals or trophies, we participate to have fun and display what we've learned to others while challenging ourselves to performance outside of our safe place. Sometimes we don't place, and that lesson is just as important to our students as getting a trophy.

When I was addressing students at a recent belt graduation, I had made some comments that made me come back to this thought about competition. Belt testing isn't about simply knowing the patterns you were taught. It's about your attitude, your practice habits, if you are learning your body mechanics, your control, your intent and drive, your ability to be taught or coached. Yes, we use the curriculum as a measurement tool, but it is not the techniques themselves that we are graduating, it's how you adapt to pressure, how you set goals, and how you persevere during exams that earn you the scores.

Let me propose some questions for you to consider. As you read each of these, answer them to yourself before continuing to the next question.

  1. What is the difference between competition and belt testing?
  2. Do you practice harder in preparation for a competition?
  3. If yes, what is the reason you do so?
  4. Do you change your practice habits when belt testing is getting closer?
  5. If yes, what is the reason you do so?

Everyone has different goals. Therefore, everyone will have somewhat different answers. There are no "wrong" answers to the questions above. That being said, let me share some of my thoughts:

Competition for hyung/geombeub/poomse is about how you can look physically while performing a perfect pattern (hopefully). Attempting to project your attitude and confidence through yelling, making faces, and adding doing so with flair will often help impress judges - nearly all of whom do not see you weekly or even monthly. You want to look as good as you can for them. Point sparring is about strategies, knowing and following the rules in addition to quickness, reading your opponent, etc. Here again, you want to look like you are "better" than your opponent with a little style and flair to draw attention to your motions rather than to theirs so judges see your scoring opportunities more often.

Belt testing has many of the same qualities of competition, but you should be less concerned about trying to impress examiners about how you "look" and more about showing them your habits and how you handle the stress. Many times, the examiners (especially color belts) have seen you often enough to have a preconceived idea of how you should perform, so they look deeper into what you are doing than the flair meant to get attention.

The next four questions for me all come down to the same process. I do not normally change my practice habits before a competition or testing. I try to stay on top of practice so that I can continue to build better habits that will show through my performance at either a competition or during an evaluation. Injuries will sometimes cause changes to practice routines. Procrastination to complete research and writing assingments also plagues me at times and cause less physical practice and more mental practice before belt testing.

Would you like to share your thoughts? You can email me or send a message on Facebook!