I among many others have reason for concern with the amount of weight mismatches that have been occurring in many of our recent tournaments. I have been witness to mismatches of up to 20kg. I believe that this is dangerous, and may also be putting our tournament organisers at risk. This is an area in our tournaments that I believe needs immediate attention.
I started training when I was 13 and started competing when I was 14 and a half. I have been a competitor ever since. I have been in numerous Regionals, Nationals, Under 18, Open tournaments and one World Champs.
In my time as a competitor coming up through the grades I too have been on the receiving end of a few mismatches. In some cases, giving away up to 20kg. In most of these cases this was because there were few in my division so I was moved down a grade and up a weight division. In most of these cases the fight was well controlled, my opponents were relatively controlled but the share weight difference makes for a very difficult experience. I have had black eyes, a split lip, broken and blood noses, and among many other bruise's a blood clot on my right shin. Of which none of these I am complaining about. I am only saying this to show that I am speaking out of personal experience.
There has been a big change in sparring over the last four years. A change that I am pleased with, I am satisfied with the level of contact allowed in tournaments now. It is a big improvement to where the levels used to be. I still firmly believe though that contact should still be well controlled to a safe level. But with raising the level of contact being good, we have to be stricter on weights.
An example of in my opinion an at risk division is 3rd dan and above open weight. I believe that this is particularly at risk because not only are they highly competitive in the seniors. They are the people who are most likely to do serious injury to each other. Especially with the added danger of large weight differences. And this category is where we have an open weight division. Is this logical?
Take amateur boxing for example. When have we ever seen a feather weight fight a middle or heavy weight? They might spar each other in training but never in a competition. The boxing board would have a fit. The organisers of such a bout with this mismatch would never be allowed to organise another fight again. Or they would at least face a serious penalty.
It has been in the headlines in the newspapers a lot recently where organisers of sporting events have been prosecuted and charged for negligence. One example was a cycling race where a cyclist was hit and killed by a car. Somehow a car and a cyclist got in a situation where they could collide. The race organiser was charged and found guilty for negligence allowing the car to get onto the race course. It could be argued that this was a freak accident but in the eyes of the law and government, that was not acceptable and someone was to be held responsible.
How would it look in the eyes of the court if we did not even follow our own weight classes, and someone got seriously injured? Let me draw a scenario. One competitor 70kg (middle weight), meets another in the finals who is 54kg (micro weight). A 16kg weight difference. Both competitors have a strong hunger to win. The larger person knows that no matter what they can't win. If they go hard and spar properly they will get branded a bully. If they don't spar properly there is potential to lose as his competitor is very good. Catch 22. However the smaller person has nothing to lose. If he beats the bigger person he is a hero. If he loses, it is no great lose as it was never going to be an even match. The bout starts, the smaller person being weary not to get caught by the bigger person and uses the ring for a large part of the first round frustrating the larger person. Then the smaller comes in with a flurry just before the end of the first round. Thus putting the smaller person ahead in the first round. The larger person's second revs him up. Tells him he is behind and needs to do something. The larger person's emotions and adrenalin pumping goes into the second round a little more serious. But not with the intent to hurt the smaller person. The smaller person feeling he got the better of the bigger person in the first round comes out a bit more confident. Rushes the bigger person with an axe kick follows straight away with flying punches. The bigger person meets the flying punches with a right punch to the smaller person's head. A punch that to someone of the same size would not be so damaging. And follows straight away with a turning kick that lands cleanly to the head. The smaller person falls to the ground unconscious. The first aid rush to the ring but he does not wake up straight away. Then slowly he does come around, by this stage everyone is around him. The ambulance arrives and he is rushed to hospital. From here there are many different scenarios. Just concussion, swelling to the brain causing brain damage, a blood clot causing death.
I hope that this is a scenario that I never see.
Who is at fault here? The two competitors? The bigger person? Or the system in which they were drawn together to spar each other.
I believe that in individual sparring that with the level of contact that we have now which is good that we have to be strict on weights. I would like to see the divisions the same as the system at ITF World Championships. 1st to 4th dan and then the respective weight divisions. Safety should be our number one concern in all of our tournaments.
Ask yourself a question. Which is more dangerous? A 1st dan sparring a 4th dan of the same weight. Or two 3rd or 4th dans sparring each other with a 20kg weight difference.
Then there is the argument that having the divisions 1st to 4th dan that this will scare some 1st dans away from competing. Is it any different to our current rules where a yellow belt who could have been training for only three months sparring a blue strip who could have been training a minimum of a year and a half. Or at our counties-manukau regional's we had a yellow belt spar a black strip. But they were the same weight resulting in an even match of power. The black strip had more skill but they were an even match of body.
I think that the current system with the color belts is working and working well. All I ask is for the same parallel for the black belts.
At this point I think that it is important too mention the difference in Team Sparring. Team Sparring is an optional event where there is no weight divisions. This is a situation where you may get a micro weight sparring a heavy weight. Competitors who enter team events at their own will knowing the situation. The difference is that the order as to who spars who in team events is relatively random. It is not an organised event where the tournament organiser has put people in the same weight division as in individual competition.
I have also heard the comment 'This is not a World Champs, regionals and nationals are a chance for everyone to get together spar and have some fun. For the experience.' I as well as a lot of other people take my competing very seriously. I do not go to have 'fun'. I thoroughly enjoy competing but I go to win. We have three major tournament in New Zealand each year for seniors. Regionals, Nationals and the Open tournament. These three tournaments should be treated very seriously. However I don't want to sound hard nosed. My suggestion for instructors who have students who don't like to compete under those conditions and want a lighter environment to spar. Promote more interclub tournaments and similar events, something for students to start competing without the serious undertones.
Comparatively to rugby, regionals are our selection trials to represent your respective region as club rugby is to NPC. As is our Nationals are a part of the selection for a New Zealand representative team, the All blacks are selected from NPC and Super 12. Do you think that a rugby player aspiring to be in the All Blacks, would play any different at a club game, NPC game or Super 12 knowing that the selectors are watching his every game? People who aspire to win and succeed will compete at the same level no matter what the competition. Our region and national tournaments are the stepping stones to international tournaments. And should be treated that way.
On the same token, the rules that we spar under are coming more in line with international rules now. This is something that the tournament committee should be proud of. But we are nearly there, we still have a small distance to go. Our regional and nationals are where we will develop or world champions. So we need to be giving them the right guidance by letting the compete under the same rules and standards as world championships. We have the some of the best in the world in specialty and power so why are our boards lower and less than world champs? By raising the level would that not make people aspire to train harder to be able to reach the heights and break that amount of boards. Take away the element that you can just turn up on the day and place in these events. Make it so people have to train to do well in these events. Yes I agree lower than world champ level but not by a lot. Compare to rugby again. How would we expect the All Blacks to succeed if they had only ever played touch rugby rules in New Zealand and then played union at the Rugby World cup. Now that is an extreme, I do not think that our competition is that far from world champs but you catch my drift.
We have some really great things happening in New Zealand at the moment with our juniors. The Under 18 series is a great thing that is happening. I have seen parents taking their children all over New Zealand so that their children can compete in all of the series. This is an excellent way to develop our juniors who will soon be our seniors who by that time will have already a lot of experience.
I believe that with the levels of contact increasing to the standard that we have today that our bouts at the moment look a little scrappy. But the next generation of sparrer's who are maturing at the moment under out current rules will be able to come thru with this level of contact and fight with skill. And win. And that is when New Zealand will truly develop as a whole and truly step up to succeed. We have many talented seniors now. It is these seniors now who will help with guidance for our juniors. I am proud to be a New Zealander, and look forward to the future of New Zealand's international competition. But I feel that we have some issues that need immediate attention and look forward to when these are resolved to watching New Zealand Taekwon-Do develop as a nation.
In conclusion, I believe that the safest, fairest, low risk, way to resolve this issue would be too open up the division to 1st to 4th dan, and be strict on the weight divisions. I believe this too be the safest, as you will only ever get people sparring each other that are of a more equal weight. Thus reducing the chances of serious injury. I believe this to be the fairest as, 1. Not having the mismatch of a smaller person sparring a much larger person. 2. Not putting the larger person in a lose-lose situation. This also is a lot more low risk, to that of the competitors and also that of the tournament organisers (low liability). Also I think that this will create an environment where people walk away from one of our tournaments feeling like they have competed in a fair tournament and the best person won, not the biggest.