A total of 183 competitors turned out for the Moo Sul Kwan Winter Championships Saturday at Scott County Central's new gymnasium making the event the largest winter martial art tournament held in this area that I can recall and definitely one of Sikeston's best-attended martial art tournaments ever.
For many years, Moo Sul Kwan tournaments were invitational events but in recent years the organization has opened the tournament up. For the most part, opening the tournament was a great improvement.
Each of the area's kick-and-punch martial art schools - Armstrong's Taekwondo Fitness Center, Duncan's Martial Arts, Moo Sul Kwan Martial Art Institute, Olympic Style Taekwondo, Speed's Karate of Champions and Taekwondo Advantage - was represented by competitors out on the floor.
The result is a wider variety of martial art styles and a more exciting, challenging tournament overall.
The day nearly ended on a sour note, however, when there was a heated verbal exchange following the black belt sparring contest near the end of the event. I chalk it up to a difference in martial art cultures.
On one side of the conflict were those from traditional taekwondo schools, On the other side were American freestyle or point-style karate circuit practitioners.
Granted, I am somewhat biased - I was "brought up" through the ranks in the former although I have attended both types of tournaments over years.
Pretty much all traditional taekwondo tournaments that I have participated in or officiated for tend to be more strict about how competitors conduct themselves on the floor, spectators in general, and trash talk in particular.
It didn't take me long to learn that in traditional taekwondo tournaments, competitors are expected to not dispute calls and decisions made by event judges or attempt to influence the judges.
Judges are only human, after all, and competitors should go in with the assumption that officials are doing their best to make their calls fairly and consistently.
As I came up through the belt ranks, it was difficult not to express frustration when something I knew was a point didn't get scored that way. Eventually I trained myself to just do my best, smile and shake hands with my competitors no matter what the outcome, and only vent my gripes among close friends after the event is over.
Spectators at this type of tournament are welcome to cheer on their favorites - but usually at a distance, from the grandstands. Coaching is generally not allowed.
Comments directed at officials or opponents are discouraged for the most part and are even ejectable offenses at some tournaments.
Trash talking simply doesn't exist.
Now, while I personally enjoy light-hearted trash talking when playing softball, volleyball or card games with family and friends, I tend to agree with the traditionalists when it comes to martial art competitions: there is already enough adrenaline flowing and fists and feet flying without it.
Furthermore, anyone who has the courage to step out on that floor and compete in a martial art tournament deserves respect, win or lose, no matter how skilled or unskilled they may be.
Winning a first-place trophy definitely feels good but the underlying purpose in these tournaments is to improve, learn something and have fun.
Point-style karate circuit tournaments, however, are a completely different event.
From what I can gather, crowd response is very much a factor considered by judges while scoring competitors. Competitors routinely offer their opinions regarding if they think they got hit or not, often by pointing out to the judges that the strike actually hit their arm, for example, instead of a target area.
At these circuit-style tournaments, spectators are apparently free to gather around the rings; second-guess, criticize and ridicule calls by judges; and even taunt opposing competitors. Some tournaments on the point-style circuit even award cash prizes, making the incentive to win by any means even greater.
For brevity's sake, let me wind things up with a couple cliches. "Different strokes for different folks" comes to mind, for example. I would advise trying both types of tournaments out and go with the kind you like.
"When in Rome, do as the Romans" also seems to be appropriate here. Tournament organizers should make it crystal clear what kind of behavior they expect from competitors and spectators and what the consequences of not conforming will be.
Competitors and spectators, on their part, should modify their behavior to fit the event. While chatter at a professional baseball game is a time-honored part of that experience, yelling "swing" as Tiger Woods tees off during a PGA tournament isn't at all appropriate.
In the end, hands were shaken, apologies and explanations were offered, and hopefully everyone went home without bearing any grudges - which is the way it should be.