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Competition is an important learning tool in Tae Kwon Do. It is a way to gauge whether or not what you have been studying in class, will work for you in application and under pressure. It is a way to determine whether or not you have practiced your techniques often enough to make them automatic. If you have to stop and try to remember a form half-way through it, your score will be low. If you become distracted, or if you worry about the outcome during a sparring match, you will probably be hit by your opponent. However, if you are focused, if you are calm, and if you have practiced until your reactions are automatic, you will be successful at competition.

Being successful at competition means learning from it. Many students believe that the person standing across from them in competiton is their enemy. This is a misconception. Your true opponents are your own fears and anxieties. The person standing across from you in competition is your partner and your teacher, not your enemy. From that person, you will learn to be a better martial artist.

Students and instructors of Two Rivers Martial Arts have several opportunites annually to compete in Tae Kwon Do tournaments. All black belts are asked to assist in running these tournaments by judging, refereeing, score keeping, or assisting the hosting academy in some other way. Tournament's frequently attended by TRMA students include Grandmaster Woo Jin Jung's in Cedar Rapids, the North Missouri Invitational Tae Kwon Do Tournament in Bethany, MO, Grandmaster Chung Eun Kim's in the Quad Cities, and the Northeast Iowa Tae Kwon Do Championships in Oelwein, Iowa. Two Rivers Martial Arts first hosted the Pil Sung Tae Kwon Do Tournament in the Spring of 2001 and hopes to do so annually in the future.

Grandmaster Jung is Master Heintz's Tae Kwon Do master. Master Heintz trained with Grandmaster Jung for more than 20 years. They maintain a close relationship and consequently many students from our academy attend Jung's tournament each year. This tournament is invitational so participants are generally members of the Jung's family of Tae Kwon Do academies or close friends. This tournament is conducted in a friendly atmosphere in which courtesy and competition go hand-in-hand. It usually takes place during November in Cedar Rapids and has been held annually since 1974. Competitors attend this tournament from Iowa and several surrounding states.

Grandmaster Kim is one of Grandmaster Jung's closest friends. He hosts the U.S. Open Metropolitan Tae Kwon Do Championship each year in Davenport, Iowa. This is an open tournament in which students from many different martial arts, academies, and locations compete together. The competition is very intense because many people with very diverse backgrounds and training attend. Grandmaster Kim's tournament typically takes place during Labor Day weekend and is held at Teikyo Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa. This tournament was first held in 1973 and has been held every year since. Competitors from throughout the Midwest, and from a variety of martial arts, attend this tournament.

The Pil Sung Tae Kwon Do Tournament, hosted by Two Rivers Martial Arts, is an invitational tournament. It emphasizes friendly competition in a courteous atmosphere in the tradition of the tournament that was hosted by the Eric Heintz Black Belt Academy from 1983 until 1997.

At each of the above tournaments, students and instructors may participate in three different types of competition: forms, board breaking, and free sparring.


In forms competition students perform a combination of kicks, punches, strikes, and blocks before a panel of judges. Each form is a battle between the student performing the form and four or more imaginary opponents. The forms, or Hyungs, were created by Tae Kwon Do masters in the past and are an important tradition in this martial art. Students compete with others of the same approximate age and level of experience. Forms competition is sometimes split by gender but, especially for young children, is often run with boys and girls competing with one another.

Students may choose which form they wish to perform in competition, but most students elect to use their most recent form as it is usually the most complex one they have learned.

When judging forms competition black belts look for balance, speed, power, accuracy, and concentration. Balance means that competitors move smoothly from one technique to the next without stumbling or wobbling. It means that students use the correct stance for each technique and have their weight properly distributed on each leg. Speed does not refer to the time it takes to complete a form, it refers to the velocity of each block, kick, and strike. Power is indicated by ending each technique with a snap. Accuracy means that the student has remembered the form correctly and performed each technique correctly and in the correct order. It also means that each block and strike is properly placed on the imaginary opponent. Concentration is indicated by the student's eyes. The student's eyes should be looking straight ahead and focused in the direction of their imaginary opponents, not staring at the floor or wandering around the room.

At the end of the forms competition by division, many tournaments hold a grandchampionship competition. In the grandchampion forms competition, every competitior who earned first place in their division competition gets to compete. Thirty or more competitors perform their forms simultaneously before a panel of senior black belts. By process of elimination, the field of competitors is cut down to a more manageable size. After performing their forms three or four times, there will only be two or three students remaining. From these finalists, the grandchampion of the forms competition is chosen.

In this competition, size and physical strength are not advantages. The victor is the person who shows the best concentration, stamina, technique, grace, and flexibility. Although this competition includes students of both genders, all ages, and all levels of experience, it is frequently won by junior students or children who show levels of concentration beyond what you would expect from their years of experience.

Board Breaking

The purpose of board breaking is to build self-confidence, increase accuracy, and to show the effectiveness of your strikes. In competition, students display their skill at board breaking with others of the same approximate age and level of experience. Usually each board is held by two adults so that all four corners of the board are immobilized. The student's job is to strike the center of the board and break it.

The lower the level of experience, the fewer the number of boards students are entitled to break in competition. Typically white and yellow belts are allowed to break one board. Orange, green and blue belts are usually allowed to break two boards. Brown or red belts may break three, and black belts usually have an upper limit of four boards to break.

Students should choose in advance which techniques and tools they wish to use to perform their board breaks. Foot techniques include front-snap kick, side kick, reverse side kick, hooking kick, axe kick, spinning wheel, tornado kick, as well as jumping kicks of all kinds. Typical hand and arm techniques include palm strike, elbow strike, knife-hand strike, ridge-hand strike, and punch.

The tools that may be used to break boards with the foot include the ball, heel, top, instep, and knife edge of the foot. For hand techniques, the palm, knife-hand, ridge-hand, back fist, and fore fist are all reasonable tools to use. In addition, safe breaks may be performed with both the knee and the elbow. Head breaks are discouraged as an unnecessary risk to the student's health.

Advanced students tend to perform more difficult, creative, and unusual techniques. These include power breaks (multiple boards with one strike), speed techniques (boards which are held only by the top or bottom edge), self-held board breaks, un-held board breaks, multiple board breaks while jumping through the air, and blindfolded board breaks.

As in forms competition, board breaking competitors are judged by a panel of black belts. Each competitor may earn a score from zero to ten points for their performance. Judges look for good technique, speed, power, grace, accuracy, and effectiveness. In addition, the more difficult and creative the technique is, the higher the score will be.

Generally students are allowed two or three attempts to complete each board break. Their score drops with each unsuccessful attempt. A student should receive a score of zero if their boards do not break after all attempts. Students should not receive a score of nine or higher unless they walk on water, and a score of ten should be impossible.

Board breaking competition is a learning experience. Students should watch the techniques of their fellow competitors, as well as those of more advance students, and learn from them. When you see an impressive technique that you had never thought of, then you have found something new to work on. You should use competition with others to push yourself and expand your horizons.


Sparring is the closest competitors come to actual combat at a tournament. Sparring competition is conducted in a single elimination format with competitors sparring in pairs. Points are awarded for unblocked techniques which strike a legal target on your opponent. Legal targets are above the belt, and to the front of the body. Many tournaments do not allow contact to the face and many tournaments do not allow punches to the head.

The level of contact permitted depends very much on the level of experience of the competitors. At the yellow and orange belt level contact is discouraged, therefore a point may be scored if your strike is unblocked and goes anywhere near a legal target on your opponent. At green and blue belt level, a point may be scored if an unblocked technique comes within a couple of centimeters of a legal target. At brown or red belt level light contact is usually required to score a point. By black belt level points are seldom scored without contact...and sometimes the contact isn't all that light. However, self-control must be maintained at all times to avoid being disqualified. Any bruising or bleeding, especially to the face, generally results in the disqualification of the person who caused the damage.

Sparring competition is an important learning tool. Sparring in a tournament helps you determine whether or not your techniques are effective. It allows you to see for yourself how you perform under pressure. You can learn a great deal by having someone else try to hit you. If they succeed, then that's a technique you need to guard against in the future and it's a technique you should learn and add to your repetoire.

Your fellow competitor in free sparring competition is really your teacher not your enemy. They will teach you to become a better martial artist by trying to hit you. When you avoid being hit, you are learning. When you are hit, you must learn as well. Your true enemy in competition is your own fear and anxiety. These are the opponents you must overcome.