Fun times this last weekend and competition lessons

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
6,584
Reaction score
5,715
Location
Lexington, KY
Despite having been training martial arts for 41 years now, I don't have a ton of official tournament competition experience. I did some SCA fighting in my late 20s-early 30s, but I wasn't treating it as a serious martial art practice so I never got beyond an intermediate skill level and never won any tournaments. I didn't switch my primary martial arts focus to combat sports until my mid-30s. I had a couple of kickboxing matches in my late thirties but aged out of that before I got too far. I've earned my black belt in BJJ, but didn't compete in that many tournaments primarily because the BJJ tournament scene in the U.S. is ridiculously expensive. Paying $100 to wait around for hours and maybe only get a couple of matches just didn't seem that worthwhile to me. I did medal a few times at the beginner ranks (when I was in my late 30s), but now I'm at the point where I would not only be paying too much money for a couple of matches, but I would also be competing against guys with the same skill set who are 20-30 years younger than me. It's just not worth it for me at my age.

Getting into HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) is changing that. Fitness matters in HEMA competition, but it's a much smaller factor. The weapons act as a force multiplier (so relative strength isn't as important) and the action typically stops fairly often for the judges to call points (so my cardio is still plenty good enough to handle extended matches). Furthermore, the people running tournaments are doing it out of a love for the art rather than as a big money maker, so tournament fees are very reasonable. In addition, matches are shorter, so you get tournament formats which allow everyone to get more total matches, win or lose.

I started training last Spring, and I figure I'm about 14-15 months into the art at this point. I did my first tournament last fall and went 1-4, which I figured was fine for my first attempt.

This past weekend, a bunch of us carpooled down to Atlanta for SERFO (Southeast Renaissance Fencing Open), which is possibly the 2nd largest HEMA tournament in the States. It's a 3 day event with multiple tournaments on each day. I signed up for all 5 tournaments that I was eligible for. That included 3 rapier tournaments with different rulesets. I have almost no official rapier training, but it didn't cost anything extra, so I figured why not. Besides the official tournaments, there was plenty of time to pick up random sparring matches with practitioners from all over the country.

Lessons learned ...

I fenced poorly in my first couple of events. I went 1-3 in the first rapier tournament and 0-3 in longsword, despite the fact that longsword is my best weapon. I wouldn't have minded just losing to better opponents, but I could tell that I just wasn't fencing as well as I know how to. Then something interesting happened.

I sparred some pickup matches after the longsword tournament while waiting on the second rapier event. And I fenced much, much better in those matches. It wasn't just that I was winning more rounds, I was technically performing much better. Then I went into my second rapier tournament and did pretty well. I went 3-3-1 in the event. (Remember I have very little rapier experience.)

Thinking about it later that evening, I realized where I had gone wrong. I'm used to BJJ, which is super demanding on a cardio level, especially at my age. So I came in with the mindset of conserving my energy so I could get through the day. I loosened up a bit before my first events, but I didn't fight any warm-up matches and I didn't get myself psychologically hyped up. I tried to stay relaxed, but I ended up too mellow and not sufficiently awake and adrenalized. (I don't think it helped that the longsword tournament started at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. I'm not a morning person.) Getting those pickup matches in-between events got me warmed up, awake, and focused.

So for the final events on Sunday, I reversed course. I made sure to get to the venue in time to get some warm up matches. I remembered that I always seem to fence better when I have some music with a good beat playing. In the absence of that, I started playing energizing songs in my head as I stepped into the ring each time. I convinced myself that I had a chance to win every match and I went out with full mental focus and total alertness. Results: I went 4-2 in the last rapier tournament, making it to the top 16 out of 48 competitors. (Once again, I don't have rapier experience. I was just generalizing my principles from other weapons. The two guys who beat me were very good and came from a club which specializes in rapier.) I went 2-2 in sword & buckler, but I feel pretty good about that because everyone I fought was really skilled and at least one of the guys I beat has medaled at tournaments in the past.

Bottom line, after I made that mental switch I went from fencing at my worst to fencing at my current peak capacity. Everyone who beat me on that last day was legitimately better than I was and deserved the victory.

I don't think I would have figured this out if I had only done the one tournament on a weekend. Having 5 tournaments (total 24 matches) and a bunch of unofficial pick-up matches over one long weekend made a huge difference in the learning experience. I'm looking forward to applying the lessons learned in regular club sparring and in my next tournament.
 

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,075
Reaction score
1,701
Paying $100 to wait around for hours and maybe only get a couple of matches just didn't seem that worthwhile to me.
Reminds me of the TKD tournament scene.
  • An age bracket is scheduled to go at 11:00.
  • At 12:00, they call that age bracket to the backstage area.
  • At 12:45, they call that age bracket to the backstage staging area to be sorted into age/belt brackets.
  • At 1:15, they start sorting them into age/belt brackets.
  • At 1:30, they are sorted.
  • At 2:15, they move from the backstage area to the floor staging area.
  • At 3:00, they move from the floor staging area to ringside.
  • At 3:45, their match starts.
 
OP
Tony Dismukes

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
6,584
Reaction score
5,715
Location
Lexington, KY
Reminds me of the TKD tournament scene.
  • An age bracket is scheduled to go at 11:00.
  • At 12:00, they call that age bracket to the backstage area.
  • At 12:45, they call that age bracket to the backstage staging area to be sorted into age/belt brackets.
  • At 1:15, they start sorting them into age/belt brackets.
  • At 1:30, they are sorted.
  • At 2:15, they move from the backstage area to the floor staging area.
  • At 3:00, they move from the floor staging area to ringside.
  • At 3:45, their match starts.
Are TKD tournaments as overpriced as BJJ tournaments?
 

jks9199

Administrator
Staff member
Lifetime Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2006
Messages
22,734
Reaction score
2,976
Location
Northern VA
I've been out of the tournament scene for a while because it just stupid. Spend hours in the car, maybe even hotel fees, pay $40 to $50 per event, plus base entry a lot of the time, hurry up and wait through stuff only to have the judges not understand the forms/kata we do, then way too often single-elimination sparring where technique is less important than lobbing something maybe sort of into range... Yeah... I couldn't put my students through that. So I was really picky about events to go to.

But -- like Tony said -- there are things you don't learn if you don't get enough exposure to them to figure it out. And one of the best parts of tournaments is seeing stuff and opponents that were completely different from your regulars, no matter how much you try to mix it up. And the psychological pressure is different.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,310
Reaction score
4,250
Location
New York
I;m glad you enjoyed the tournaments and learned from them. TOurnaments aren't the end-all be-all, but if you learned to go all out without conserving your energy that's a huge win, imo.
 
OP
Tony Dismukes

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
6,584
Reaction score
5,715
Location
Lexington, KY
I've been out of the tournament scene for a while because it just stupid. Spend hours in the car, maybe even hotel fees, pay $40 to $50 per event, plus base entry a lot of the time, hurry up and wait through stuff only to have the judges not understand the forms/kata we do, then way too often single-elimination sparring where technique is less important than lobbing something maybe sort of into range... Yeah... I couldn't put my students through that. So I was really picky about events to go to.
If BJJ tournaments averaged $40 I would have competed in more of them. I think $100+ is more typical.

In contrast, my first HEMA tournament cost $25 for entree and guaranteed me 5 matches. The event I attended last weekend cost $75 for 3 days, which got me 5 tournaments, with 24 official matches and lots of unofficial pickup matches. There was also a workshop that I could have attended if I hadnt been too exhausted.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,310
Reaction score
4,250
Location
New York
If BJJ tournaments averaged $40 I would have competed in more of them. I think $100+ is more typical.

In contrast, my first HEMA tournament cost $25 for entree and guaranteed me 5 matches. The event I attended last weekend cost $75 for 3 days, which got me 5 tournaments, with 24 official matches and lots of unofficial pickup matches. There was also a workshop that I could have attended if I hadnt been too exhausted.
I wish I could find any tournaments around me with $25 entry for 5 guaranteed matches. I'd participate in much more than I do if that was the case.
 
OP
Tony Dismukes

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
6,584
Reaction score
5,715
Location
Lexington, KY
I wish I could find any tournaments around me with $25 entry for 5 guaranteed matches. I'd participate in much more than I do if that was the case.
Id recommend HEMA for that, but the downside is that theres a much steeper initial outlay for training weapons and protective gear. I pretty much spent my stimulus check last year on getting myself fully geared up.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,310
Reaction score
4,250
Location
New York
Id recommend HEMA for that, but the downside is that theres a much steeper initial outlay for training weapons and protective gear. I pretty much spent my stimulus check last year on getting myself fully geared up.
I tried out two hema places near me a couple years ago (before covid). Both I could handle the people there pretty easily in their weapons of choice, by using either kali or fencing. I know if I went further off long island/into the city or upstate NY I'd find good tournaments, but when the abilities of the club members couldn't beat me generalizing weapon experience from other styles, it's just not worth it.

And I say that knowing I'm not the best fencer, or kali practitioner. I was a low div 1 fencer, and average kali, but that was apparently enough on long island.
 

isshinryuronin

Master Black Belt
Joined
Feb 28, 2019
Messages
1,357
Reaction score
1,351
Location
Las Vegas
I tried out two hema places near me a couple years ago (before covid). Both I could handle the people there pretty easily in their weapons of choice, by using either kali or fencing. I know if I went further off long island/into the city or upstate NY I'd find good tournaments, but when the abilities of the club members couldn't beat me generalizing weapon experience from other styles, it's just not worth it.

And I say that knowing I'm not the best fencer, or kali practitioner. I was a low div 1 fencer, and average kali, but that was apparently enough on long island.
Just goes to show you, technique execution is not the bottom line - basic combat principles/tactics and aggressiveness, even if learned from other styles, can carry the day in some cases. With just a couple of months of informal fencing lessons (foil) I was able to beat a couple of guys on the community college fencing team. I relied on my 9 years of karate training and was able to apply what I had learned (and more physicality they had ever experienced) to win the matches. I'm sure my performance looked crude, but it was effective. But against higher caliber fencers the results would been quite different. At some point, real skill does count.
 
OP
Tony Dismukes

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
6,584
Reaction score
5,715
Location
Lexington, KY
Just goes to show you, technique execution is not the bottom line - basic combat principles/tactics and aggressiveness, even if learned from other styles, can carry the day in some cases. With just a couple of months of informal fencing lessons (foil) I was able to beat a couple of guys on the community college fencing team. I relied on my 9 years of karate training and was able to apply what I had learned (and more physicality they had ever experienced) to win the matches. I'm sure my performance looked crude, but it was effective. But against higher caliber fencers the results would been quite different. At some point, real skill does count.
Thats sort of the boat Im in. Im still very much a beginner in HEMA, but I do have 41 years of martial arts experience and there is enough carryover for me to be competitive at an intermediate level. Against the top people, its very much a different story. I have a lot to learn.
 

isshinryuronin

Master Black Belt
Joined
Feb 28, 2019
Messages
1,357
Reaction score
1,351
Location
Las Vegas
Thats sort of the boat Im in. Im still very much a beginner in HEMA, but I do have 41 years of martial arts experience and there is enough carryover for me to be competitive at an intermediate level. Against the top people, its very much a different story. I have a lot to learn.
The good thing is, once you get those HEMA weapons' technical skills down and then combine them with your MA skills and experience, you will be bringing something to the table your opponents may not have tasted before.

As you continue to learn new HEMA skills, evaluate how your MA training may or may not be integrated in some way as a force multiplier. I believe most combat strategies you already know can be fully transposed to HEMA, as well as many specific tactics. The ideas of angles, deflection, entering, flow and timing are pretty universal. I think by looking for, and finding, similarities wherever you can, you can accelerate your progress. Good luck and enjoy.
 

harlan

2nd Black Belt
Joined
Oct 31, 2006
Messages
886
Reaction score
42
Location
Massachusetts
When the HEMA groups came into the scene I just thought they would nose dive to the SCA level在ut the the various groups are pretty energetic and interesting. The annual meet ups sound like a blast地nd great opportunities to network snd get feedback.
 

_Simon_

Senior Master
Joined
Jan 3, 2018
Messages
3,927
Reaction score
2,338
Location
Australia
Despite having been training martial arts for 41 years now, I don't have a ton of official tournament competition experience. I did some SCA fighting in my late 20s-early 30s, but I wasn't treating it as a serious martial art practice so I never got beyond an intermediate skill level and never won any tournaments. I didn't switch my primary martial arts focus to combat sports until my mid-30s. I had a couple of kickboxing matches in my late thirties but aged out of that before I got too far. I've earned my black belt in BJJ, but didn't compete in that many tournaments primarily because the BJJ tournament scene in the U.S. is ridiculously expensive. Paying $100 to wait around for hours and maybe only get a couple of matches just didn't seem that worthwhile to me. I did medal a few times at the beginner ranks (when I was in my late 30s), but now I'm at the point where I would not only be paying too much money for a couple of matches, but I would also be competing against guys with the same skill set who are 20-30 years younger than me. It's just not worth it for me at my age.

Getting into HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) is changing that. Fitness matters in HEMA competition, but it's a much smaller factor. The weapons act as a force multiplier (so relative strength isn't as important) and the action typically stops fairly often for the judges to call points (so my cardio is still plenty good enough to handle extended matches). Furthermore, the people running tournaments are doing it out of a love for the art rather than as a big money maker, so tournament fees are very reasonable. In addition, matches are shorter, so you get tournament formats which allow everyone to get more total matches, win or lose.

I started training last Spring, and I figure I'm about 14-15 months into the art at this point. I did my first tournament last fall and went 1-4, which I figured was fine for my first attempt.

This past weekend, a bunch of us carpooled down to Atlanta for SERFO (Southeast Renaissance Fencing Open), which is possibly the 2nd largest HEMA tournament in the States. It's a 3 day event with multiple tournaments on each day. I signed up for all 5 tournaments that I was eligible for. That included 3 rapier tournaments with different rulesets. I have almost no official rapier training, but it didn't cost anything extra, so I figured why not. Besides the official tournaments, there was plenty of time to pick up random sparring matches with practitioners from all over the country.

Lessons learned ...

I fenced poorly in my first couple of events. I went 1-3 in the first rapier tournament and 0-3 in longsword, despite the fact that longsword is my best weapon. I wouldn't have minded just losing to better opponents, but I could tell that I just wasn't fencing as well as I know how to. Then something interesting happened.

I sparred some pickup matches after the longsword tournament while waiting on the second rapier event. And I fenced much, much better in those matches. It wasn't just that I was winning more rounds, I was technically performing much better. Then I went into my second rapier tournament and did pretty well. I went 3-3-1 in the event. (Remember I have very little rapier experience.)

Thinking about it later that evening, I realized where I had gone wrong. I'm used to BJJ, which is super demanding on a cardio level, especially at my age. So I came in with the mindset of conserving my energy so I could get through the day. I loosened up a bit before my first events, but I didn't fight any warm-up matches and I didn't get myself psychologically hyped up. I tried to stay relaxed, but I ended up too mellow and not sufficiently awake and adrenalized. (I don't think it helped that the longsword tournament started at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. I'm not a morning person.) Getting those pickup matches in-between events got me warmed up, awake, and focused.

So for the final events on Sunday, I reversed course. I made sure to get to the venue in time to get some warm up matches. I remembered that I always seem to fence better when I have some music with a good beat playing. In the absence of that, I started playing energizing songs in my head as I stepped into the ring each time. I convinced myself that I had a chance to win every match and I went out with full mental focus and total alertness. Results: I went 4-2 in the last rapier tournament, making it to the top 16 out of 48 competitors. (Once again, I don't have rapier experience. I was just generalizing my principles from other weapons. The two guys who beat me were very good and came from a club which specializes in rapier.) I went 2-2 in sword & buckler, but I feel pretty good about that because everyone I fought was really skilled and at least one of the guys I beat has medaled at tournaments in the past.

Bottom line, after I made that mental switch I went from fencing at my worst to fencing at my current peak capacity. Everyone who beat me on that last day was legitimately better than I was and deserved the victory.

I don't think I would have figured this out if I had only done the one tournament on a weekend. Having 5 tournaments (total 24 matches) and a bunch of unofficial pick-up matches over one long weekend made a huge difference in the learning experience. I'm looking forward to applying the lessons learned in regular club sparring and in my next tournament.
This is excellent Tony... well done for jumping in there!

Tournaments are great, and I can relate to your strategy there! For my tournament yesterday I got to the venue super early, registered and was able to check out the schedule and roughly when my divisions would be on (practically the last events). So I could take my time, familiarise myself with the venue and layout, bathrooms, ring setup and people around. I could take my time and properly time my nutrition and hydration (and bathroom visits haha).

But coming closer to my divisions, (I'd actually constructed a playlist on my iPod specifically for the day) I'd chuck on the music and just start warming up and moving and it really, really helped (tournament went really well). Music we have such a connection with, and can have a profound effect on our system and energy. Makes sense to take advantage of that!

It truly is a valid psychological strategy to capitalise on, and I didn't see many people utilising it yesterday! Funnily enough I have a different approach for forms than I do for sparring. Forms division I actually really aim to reach a place of deep relaxation, calm the nervous system down, and really try to ground and connect to the body and moment. Pretty much moving meditation as I find forms to embody a deeper connection and an expression of understanding the principles of the art.

Sparring divisions I try to really ramp up the energy, stay super light on my feet, really immerse myself into a state of confidence and drive, and the music reflects that haha.

But yes, anyway, music can be a powerful asset!
 

zenfrog

Yellow Belt
Joined
Oct 15, 2005
Messages
21
Reaction score
2
Location
Roanoke, VA
Despite having been training martial arts for 41 years now, I don't have a ton of official tournament competition experience. I did some SCA fighting in my late 20s-early 30s, but I wasn't treating it as a serious martial art practice so I never got beyond an intermediate skill level and never won any tournaments. I didn't switch my primary martial arts focus to combat sports until my mid-30s. I had a couple of kickboxing matches in my late thirties but aged out of that before I got too far. I've earned my black belt in BJJ, but didn't compete in that many tournaments primarily because the BJJ tournament scene in the U.S. is ridiculously expensive. Paying $100 to wait around for hours and maybe only get a couple of matches just didn't seem that worthwhile to me. I did medal a few times at the beginner ranks (when I was in my late 30s), but now I'm at the point where I would not only be paying too much money for a couple of matches, but I would also be competing against guys with the same skill set who are 20-30 years younger than me. It's just not worth it for me at my age.

Getting into HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) is changing that. Fitness matters in HEMA competition, but it's a much smaller factor. The weapons act as a force multiplier (so relative strength isn't as important) and the action typically stops fairly often for the judges to call points (so my cardio is still plenty good enough to handle extended matches). Furthermore, the people running tournaments are doing it out of a love for the art rather than as a big money maker, so tournament fees are very reasonable. In addition, matches are shorter, so you get tournament formats which allow everyone to get more total matches, win or lose.

I started training last Spring, and I figure I'm about 14-15 months into the art at this point. I did my first tournament last fall and went 1-4, which I figured was fine for my first attempt.

This past weekend, a bunch of us carpooled down to Atlanta for SERFO (Southeast Renaissance Fencing Open), which is possibly the 2nd largest HEMA tournament in the States. It's a 3 day event with multiple tournaments on each day. I signed up for all 5 tournaments that I was eligible for. That included 3 rapier tournaments with different rulesets. I have almost no official rapier training, but it didn't cost anything extra, so I figured why not. Besides the official tournaments, there was plenty of time to pick up random sparring matches with practitioners from all over the country.

Lessons learned ...

I fenced poorly in my first couple of events. I went 1-3 in the first rapier tournament and 0-3 in longsword, despite the fact that longsword is my best weapon. I wouldn't have minded just losing to better opponents, but I could tell that I just wasn't fencing as well as I know how to. Then something interesting happened.

I sparred some pickup matches after the longsword tournament while waiting on the second rapier event. And I fenced much, much better in those matches. It wasn't just that I was winning more rounds, I was technically performing much better. Then I went into my second rapier tournament and did pretty well. I went 3-3-1 in the event. (Remember I have very little rapier experience.)

Thinking about it later that evening, I realized where I had gone wrong. I'm used to BJJ, which is super demanding on a cardio level, especially at my age. So I came in with the mindset of conserving my energy so I could get through the day. I loosened up a bit before my first events, but I didn't fight any warm-up matches and I didn't get myself psychologically hyped up. I tried to stay relaxed, but I ended up too mellow and not sufficiently awake and adrenalized. (I don't think it helped that the longsword tournament started at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. I'm not a morning person.) Getting those pickup matches in-between events got me warmed up, awake, and focused.

So for the final events on Sunday, I reversed course. I made sure to get to the venue in time to get some warm up matches. I remembered that I always seem to fence better when I have some music with a good beat playing. In the absence of that, I started playing energizing songs in my head as I stepped into the ring each time. I convinced myself that I had a chance to win every match and I went out with full mental focus and total alertness. Results: I went 4-2 in the last rapier tournament, making it to the top 16 out of 48 competitors. (Once again, I don't have rapier experience. I was just generalizing my principles from other weapons. The two guys who beat me were very good and came from a club which specializes in rapier.) I went 2-2 in sword & buckler, but I feel pretty good about that because everyone I fought was really skilled and at least one of the guys I beat has medaled at tournaments in the past.

Bottom line, after I made that mental switch I went from fencing at my worst to fencing at my current peak capacity. Everyone who beat me on that last day was legitimately better than I was and deserved the victory.

I don't think I would have figured this out if I had only done the one tournament on a weekend. Having 5 tournaments (total 24 matches) and a bunch of unofficial pick-up matches over one long weekend made a huge difference in the learning experience. I'm looking forward to applying the lessons learned in regular club sparring and in my next tournament.
Sounds fun!
 
Top