Thursday, September 3, 2015

Don't support tournaments that don't support you!

I try to keep this blog immune from martial-arts politics, because all I really care is about encouraging seniors to stay active.  My art is Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo, but I'm on your side no matter what martial art you study.  Whatever it is, stick with it!
    But I can't remain silent about a topic that has become increasingly frustrating for me.  Too many tournament directors show no respect for the talents and aspirations of senior athletes, and today I'm urging you to stay away from tournaments that don't support us.
    Let me explain what I mean.  I'm 69, an active competitor, and the 2014 and 2015 USA Taekwondo National Champion in my division.  The last three words are key: in my division.  USAT and the World Taekwondo Federation offer a top age division of 66+, which means I'm able to compete on a remarkably level playing field with other guys who are no longer kids.  We train hard; we compete hard; and we love Taekwondo.  Thanks to USAT and the WTF, we're able to compete both nationally and internationally in some first-rate tournaments.
   That's the good news.  Here's the bad.  Most of the regional and so-called national tournaments that send me registration materials offer a top age group of, well, pick your number.   For some of them it's 18+.  For some it's 30+.  For some it's 50+.  Think about that for a moment.  Basically the tournament director is saying that if you're 73 and a serious martial-arts competitor, you can pay $50, $60, or even $70 to compete against people one-third your age.  Gee, what a bargain.
   Now I ask you, why would a tournament not offer 60-69, 70-79, and 80-89 divisions?  Is it the profit margin?  Let's think about that.  If you have a tiny, two-man division of, say, seventy-year-olds, you have to buy two extra medals, $10 each.  If you net $60 in registration fees, isn't that enough?  I think so.
   Or maybe the old guys are boring?  Hey, listen up.  If the folks in the stands can watch 5-year-old yellow belts spar, they can watch 80-year-old black belts do their forms.  In my experience the younger athletes are among the most enthusiastic about seeing the "old guys" do their thing.  And why wouldn't they be?  All of the young athletes will be old athletes one day if they stick with the program.  True?  Yes, true.
   How can any tournament director not see the wisdom of making an event senior-friendly?  How can you not show respect for athletes who in some cases have devoted 40 or 50 years of their lives to the martial arts?  How can you not feel honored to have some of these martial-arts pioneers out on the mat?
   I can hear it coming.  Some tournament directors will say -- and have said -- "Hey, 30+ means ANYONE can compete, including the old guys! The champion is the champion."  Okay, here's what I say.  If you believe that there should be only one champion, then stop offering age groups for the kids.  From now on let the 5-year-olds compete with the 18-year-olds.  Hey, they all get the same shot, right?
   To say that 18+ or 30+ or even 50+ is meant to include the seniors is absurd.  It's offensive.  It's disrespectful.  And this blog will no longer mention, much less advertise, a tournament that doesn't offer AT LEAST a 60+ division.  But I'll go one step better: if you sponsor a tournament that offers a 70+ category, I'll publicize the event here for free.  Just send me the tournament flyer, and I'll do the rest.

                                        Hats off to Master Ivan Mendez      
   Before leaving the topic of tournaments that accommodate seniors, I must mention the annual Mercer County Nationals held each March at Rider University in New Jersey.  The tournament director, Master Ivan Mendez, has made this one of the most senior-friendly events in the country.  I attend the tournament, and I support it fully.
   Here's why.  Master Mendez not only invites seniors, he goes out of his way to bring them in.  Last year he waived the registration fee for black belts 60 and over.  He offered both forms and sparring divisions for seniors.  And he even had a grand championship competition for the top seniors.
   Result: last year the number of senior athletes at this tournament doubled; almost all of those athletes have remained Facebook friends; and I expect the number of seniors to double again in 2016.
   I'll be writing more about the Mercer County Nationals as we approach the new year.  In the meantime, I salute Master Mendez for showing great respect for senior martial artists and for encouraging us to stay in the game.
   Best of luck to everyone.  Work hard.  Compete.  And please DO support the tournaments that support seniors.                      

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Many thanks for sharing your comments with Seniors in the Martial Arts. Best wishes for continued success with your training.