Category Archives: Martial Arts

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How to prepare for a martial arts tournament

Here’s a Martial Arts (Tae kwon-do) lesson plan for tournament training. This is planned to be a 2 hour session and is perfect for tournament preparation. In an ideal world,  you would have a partner of a similar height, weight, gender and age to yourself, and ideally your partner would be better than you. Training with and competing with people that are better than you will motivate you to up your game.

Warm up

With a partner, one person at each end of the sports hall, one person bounces on the spot whilst the other runs up half way does exercise A, runs to the end of the hall to the partner and does exercise B, run back and at half way do exercise C. Run back to your start point and your partner then completes the exercises. Repeat for 3 rounds:

Round 1 – A 10 scorpion press ups, B 30 partner arm rows, C 6 clap push ups

Round 2 – A 20 star jumps, B 10 tuck jumps, C 10 bounce squat jumps

Round 3 – A 20 crunches, B 20 partner crucifix leg raises, C 20 Russian twists

Dynamic stretching

Leg raises in front and to the side

Speed training

Lean against the wall with your hands, drive your legs up and down (bringing your knees as high as possible) continuously for 10 seconds.

Lying face down, when the coach shouts, spring to your feet and sprint to the end of the hall as fast as possible.

Drills (gloves and feet pads on)

The following drills are to be performed for 30 seconds per partner.

  1. One partner has their hand out whilst the other continuously does axe kicks (with the same leg) over their partners hand. Swap legs and let your partner have a go.
  2. One person holds a kick shield whilst the other partner performs alternating back kicks.
  3. One person holds their arms by their sides (alternatively, hold them up as targets) whilst the other partner does alternating turning kicks to the arms.
  4. One person holds their gloved hand up as a head section target. The partner will perform reverse turning kicks, alternating side/leg each time.

Partners stand one behind another. One person leads whilst the other follows. The lead partner practices their ring craft by moving dynamically around (shuffling forward, back, left, right, pivot, double step). Change over so your partner has a go.

Repeat the footwork exercise above, but face each other so you’re mirroring your partners footwork.

Partner sparring drills:

  1. Jab, cross, turning kick to head/body, disengage/move away from your partner
  2. Powerful sidekicks against your partner who has their gloves across their body
  3. Parry/Palm a side kick down and strike a powerful cross to the body

Free sparring

4 x 2 minute rounds (30 seconds rest between rounds)

Exhaustive sparring – one side is given extra exercises e.g. 20 burpees, while your partner rests, then spar. Adapt your sparring to your tired condition rather than trying to push harder and do the same thing as when you have energy.

Warm down 

Core strength work – lying on your back raise your feet six inches off the floor. Circles, v-ups, in and outs.

Leg conditioning – 20 slow side kicks, front kicks, turning kicks and hook kicks (use a wall for support if required).

Static stretching – box splits, hip flexors.

How to categorize a transgender competitor?

The title gives it away, but I received an interesting question recently about a transgender competitor: Can he/she compete and fight against men/women?

Transgender sign

Transgender sign

According to the International Athletics Committee, a transgender competitor who is now a man (from a woman) may compete against other men. However, a transgender competitor who is now a woman (from a man) must undergo a testosterone test which will determine how far along the transition she is. Apparently, this will then determine if she has an unfair advantage or not. This kind of makes sense but it assumes that men are “better” than women…

In most martial arts and combat sports, competitors are grouped by weight, age, gender and grade. This is to level the playing field so, for example, I (a black belt heavy weight adult male) am not fighting a little yellow belt girl. Obviously I have an advantage here. However, if most of those dimensions were equal bar gender, it could be argued this is a fair fight.

I know some may argue that men are just naturally stronger/faster than women – the 100m sprint is a good example of this:
100m sprint men’s world record 9.58 seconds
100m sprint women’s world record 10.49 seconds

Females have some attributes that are better than men, the first that comes to mind is flexibility. Women tend to be more subtle than men. Therefore, do women have an unfair advantage over men? Some sports may be more gender neutral e.g. darts, shooting and horse riding etc. Does Taekwondo or Martial Arts fall into this category? Probably not.

Back to the question in hand, which category can a transgender compete in? Was a woman, now a man – fine. Was a man, now a woman – questionable. This all comes down to is there an unfair advantage? There are parallels to Oscar Pistorious who was not allowed to compete in the able bodied Olympics as it was deemed his blades gave him an unfair advantage, despite the fact he is disabled (no legs).

On reflection, there is an unifying force here and that is how it feels, irrespective of gender, to compete with the natural attributes that are given to you or that you train so hard to improve. Personally, I think it’s great that we’re coming to the age where self-expression is less frowned upon and tabooed. No matter who you are, we all face our own challenges before we step into the ring.

Tournament Organisation: Awards

When it comes to awarding success at tournaments, what is the best method?

Possiple options that I’ve seen:

  • Trophies including shields, cups, belts, mini statues, swords
  • Medals
  • Certificates
  • A mixture of trophies/medals and certificates
  • Cash
  • Just the title e.g. “Men’s heavy weight black belt British Champion 2016”
Example awards

Example awards

Two perspectives are important here, the competitors and the tournament organiser. From a competitor’s point of view, a nice shiny trophy and cash is the most sort after rewards. Conversely, these are the most costly options for a tournament organiser. Trophies are often bulky and more difficult to transport. Medals on the other hand are easier to manage logistically (as they take up far less space) and custom medals can be made at relatively low cast.

If you want to add a bit of extra quality to your competitions, why not add some personalisation? In my opinion, the tournament name is a minimum and should be engraved/noted on the award. A step further would be to personalise each medal with the winners name. Practically this is a bit of a nightmare as it takes some time to engrave awards and would have to be done on the fly. Including the tournament name on the award could be engraved on the medal or on the ribbon. The main advantage of using the ribbon, is that medals can be reused at other tournaments, so you could potentially bulk buy and just change the ribbon at the next tournament.

I’m against this, but you could award participation with medals (perhaps just to the young juniors) for the feel good factor.  On the flip side, I have been to a handful of competitions where they award outstanding performance for referees and fighter of the tournament.

Finally, tournament organisers should carefully consider how they should prevent the awards. A few options I’ve seen:

  • Present at the end of the category in the ring
  • Present on a podium throughout the tournament
  • Stop the tournament and present on a podium at certain points through the tournament
  • Save all presentations until the end of the tournament


They all have their own pros and cons for spectators and competitors. One thing to consider is how tight on time you may be, as some of the options above are quite time consuming.

Partner Workout Routine

Here’s a kickboxing style workout routine that takes about an hour to complete. It’s predominantly stretching and body-weight exercises. All you need is an open space and a kick shield (or focus pads):

Open park

Warm up
20 x star jumps
20 x side to side hops
20 x press ups
20 x burpees

Rotate arms
Leg raises to the side and front
Static stretch arms (across the body and behind the back)
Side splits
Front splits

For the length of a sports hall and back (or 100 metres):
Step forward lunge front kick
Step forward squat turning kick

In pairs (person A and person B), or it can include a third person to hold the pads and time:
A squat jumps B jab cross sprawl
Change after one minute
AB long jump burpees (one minute)
A turning kicks B splits/hamstring stretch
Change after one minute
AB bunny hops
A and B alternating turning kicks
AB plank
AB sprints (50m sprints, walk back and repeat 5 times)