Author: Carson Clews

What happens at an ATA Tournament?

What happens at an ATA Tournament?

An ATA tournament has LOTS of opportunities to try different events! Some students find they enjoy some events more than others, but there are enough different events that most practitioners will find something for them!

This blog post is meant to explain, in detail, exactly what happens in each event! For a detailed explanation of the tournament rules, please visit However, for the new student, let’s go over each event, and what they do.

By the way, most all students compete in the staple events, Forms and Sparring. Some students who, like me, love weapons training, will also choose to add either Protech (weapons demonstration) or Combat Stick Sparring (with sparring gear and a padded stick). Leadership members can compete in any of four additional events, Creative Forms, Creative Weapons, Xtreme Forms, or Xtreme Weapons.

(ONE MORE THING! White, Orange, and Yellow belts may choose between Point Sparring, with the gear, or One-step Sparring, with no equipment but also no contact. I’ll explain below)

Only die-hards (myself and a few of my past and present students) compete in all 8. Most pick and choose what they like.

I recommend starting with Forms, Sparring, and maybe weapons or combat weapons. I don’t recommend just “trying” the leadership events until you’ve been to a few tournaments and watched those events.

Now, let’s explain what events on available!

The competitior demonstrates a pre-taught sequence of moves and is graded in comparison to the other competitors.

There are three judges.

Judge A scores the student on the quality of their kicks and stances.

Judge B scores the student on the quality of their strikes and blocks.

Judge C (Center Judge) scores the student on the overall quality and presentation of the form. In competitive division (NOT novice division), they are also watching for memorization…they are the only judge who will mark a student down for incorrect memory or forgetting a move.

Students perform one at a time. The first two students will not be scored immediately. Once three competitors have demonstrated, the judges will call all three up and, one at a time, give them scores comparing them to each other. After this, each competitor (4th, 5th, 6th, etc.) will be scored in comparison to the standard established by the first three.

Tigers: The tiger goes to tournament with a slip from their instructor, telling the judges exactly what they are doing and if they will need help or not. The tigers are not “scored”. They are encouraged for the things they do well.

Novice division: Again, remember! Memory is not a factor in their score. In fact, if they don’t know the form, the center judge will tell them what to do next!

Competitive division: No help can be given. If the form is incomplete, the center judge MUST give them a 9.1 (scoring goes from 9.1-9.9) However, the other judges do not penalize for memory. They are ALL about the quality of whatever technique is thrown.

ONE-STEP SPARRING (White, Orange, Yellow belts ONLY):

Competitors will perform two different pre-set combinations towards an opponent, without hitting or even making any contact on that opponent. Judges will award a point to whoever has the higher quality technique.

Attacker will always do this: Step back, left low block, step forward, right punch.

Defender will do the “one-step”. (A preset combination taught by their instructor)

Tigers: Once again, the slip the tiger takes to tournament will have all the assigned information on it.

Novice: Once again, memory is not a factor in grading, and the center judge may help the student.

Competitive: Once again, no help can be given.


Competitors, wearing full sparring gear, are attempting to make light contact to legal target areas (hand techniques to body, kicks to body or head), while preventing their opponent from doing the same to them.

Colored belts: Contact is not required to score, but the technique must come close.


Punch or kick to chest protector – 1 point

Kick to head – 2 points

Jump kick to chest protector – 2 points

Jump kick to head – 3 points

Pretty much anything else – penalty (no hits to back, no punches to head, no low blows, no elbows, knees, grabbing)

Sidenote: Remember, this is not pure self-defense yet. This is a sport, which leads to self-defense. The rules of sports are meant to prevent injury, thereby prolonging the health/abilities of the practitioners. The rules of self-defense (hint: there are none) are meant to do the exact opposite.

The game goes to either 5 points or 2 minutes.

Tigers: No contact. Judges are watching for their techniques, to reinforce the behaviors and techniques that they do well!
Novice: While the rules do not change, the judges understand that students often compete in novice if the feel nervous. So while it is always the judges highest priority to ensure safety, the judges give their extra concern to safety in a novice division.

PROTECH (Weapons demonstration)

Colored belt students will have 30 seconds to demonstrate a freestyle or a created form with an approved ATA weapon of their choice.

Black Belts must demonstrate a Black Belt weapon form appropriate for their rank or below.

Colored belt freestyle: Student cannot release/toss the weapon, nor can they do any acrobatic techniques.

Just like forms, competition, there are three judges who will compare the first three competitors to each other, and then compare every competitor after that to the first three. But all three judges are judging overall presentation.

Tigers: Once again, not scored. Rather, “reinforced.” Watching for good behavior, good attitude, and good technique, so judges can reinforce it.


Competitors wear full sparring gear and use the combat stick (not just the padded one, but the SUPER padded one).

The rules and slightly more complicated this time (don’t worry, the judges know them) and the game goes to 10 points or 2 minutes, not 5 points.

In order to simplify the rules, I have divided the into “rules of three.”

First of all, basically everything is a legal target area with a few exceptions. So assume that EVERYTHING is one point, except for the following rules of three.

THREE ways to score a bonus point

  1. Jump when you strike
  2. Opponent drops weapon
  3. Hit a bonus target area

THREE bonus target areas

  1. Head
  2. Weapon forearm (elbow-to-hand of the arm holding the weapon)
  3. Thrust to front leg (rare technique, and an advanced fencing technique. In self-defense, if you could make your opponent unable to put weight on their front leg, you have effectively eliminated their offensive capabilities.)

THREE illegal target areas

  1. Groin
  2. Throat
  3. Any thrusting techniques to the head

So those are the rules in a nutshell!

LEADERSHIP-ONLY EVENTS – The reason that Xtreme and Creative are for Leadership is because part of learning to lead is not just “doing-what-you’re-told” (doing the form you were taught) but rather, learning to create your own form. While one might think “wow, you should be less nervous because you can’t do anything wrong!”, quite the opposite is true. Students often feel more nervous because making your own form makes you feel more self-conscious, like it’s an expression of yourself.

Here are the four events!

  • Competitor creates their own form based on traditional taekwondo techniques.
  • Optional: They may do the form to music if they choose (instructor must okay that the music is family appropriate)
  • It must be 2:00 or less. If it is 2:01, they are disqualified and no score can be given. (Shorter forms are not penalized based on time.)
  • Any jump spin kick that goes 540 degrees or more is illegal, leads to disqualification
  • Any acrobatic technique (cartwheel, round off, gyro, illusion, wushu butterfly, etc.) is illegal, leads to disqualification
  • Competitors MUST be competing in traditional forms in order to be allowed to compete in Creative Forms or Xtreme Forms.


  • Same rules as creative forms, with an ATA approved weapon.
  • Weapon releases are not allowed (weapon must remain in contact with the body at all times)
  • Competitors MUST be competing in Wraditional Weapons (Protech) in order to be allowed to compete in Creative Weapons or Xtreme Weapons


  • Same as Creative Form, but now there are no illegal techniques.


  • Same as Creative Weapons, but now there are no illegal techniques. Also, weapon releases are allowed.

If anybody has any questions about tournament, let me know! This is meant to be the fastest explanation. For a more detailed explanation, go to!
Hope that helps, and I hope that anybody who has even a twinge of interest gets to try tournament at least once! (Of course, what I really hope is that you get hooked on it. They’re fun!)
-Carson Clews


Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee – The Entrepreneur

Every time I think “Wow, Eternal Grand Master was really smart,” I run into something that shows me what an understatement that is.

And this time, it happens to be the fact that I am reading the eMyth (by Michael Gerber), and that I approached the ATA Museum at the new ATA Headquarters with the eyes of someone who is reading the story.


In order to illustrate what I’m seeing, let me try and CONDENSE what I’m learning from the eMyth.


Quick synopsis of what I’m reading

  1. Within every business owner is an entrepreneur (envisions the future, comes up with new ideas), a manager (systematizes, runs quality control, and creates order, based on a knowledge of the past), and a technician (actually does the work. Everything else is a distraction)
  2. Ideally, we want balance between those three.
  3. Most businesses are started by technicians (people who do the work), who have unfortunately not developed the other two personalities, and therefore give little thought to creating systems (manager) or coming up with new ideas to approach the ever-changing future (entrepreneur).
  4. The most successful businesses we know of did not “become” successful by starting out technician-oriented but rather, began with the future in mind. When they were a small operation, they still “systematized” and “created”. Even though there was work to be done, they did not let the “work” distract from the “vision”.


And this leads back to my main point.


I love teaching martial arts. Therefore, I can take this two different directions.

  1. Because I love teaching martial arts, I must make sure that there is always a place where I can teach. And I must become the best instructor I can possibly be.


  1. Because I love teaching martial arts, I must create opportunities, for anyone else who desires it, to enjoy what I enjoy.


Option 1 sounds nice. It sounds like someone who holds themselves to a high standard, to the highest quality. It is also the above-described “Technician” perspective. I must create a place in which I can do the work that I love.

But option 2 does not contradict option 1. Rather, it expands…rather than simply create a place where I can do the work I love, can I create a place where others can have this same opportunity as I have?


And that’s where I think Eternal Grand Master’s brilliance comes into play. I mean, MKF (Midwestern Karate Federation) grew so quickly that it had to be renamed ATA (American Taekwondo Association) and now ATA International in less than 50 years. We were founded in 1969. We are 48 years old. We have schools across the country. We have schools in a BUNCH of different countries.



Because in the beginning, he drew a map of the USA in the sand, and put dots on every location he wanted to put a school. In other words, he began with the end (bad choice of word, cause we’re still going!) in mind. He wanted to create instructors, not simply hold the position for himself.


So what about me?


This is my plan, my vision, my goal for my school and organization.

  1. Although it is human nature to attach to an instructor, and this is normal, we will take efforts to build in our students a love of the art itself, rather than a love of any instructor or practitioner. Because this feeds the long-term and not the short-term.
    • (No, don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon. But if our current team are still the only ones teaching in 5 years, then we are not fulfilling our vision!)
  2. Find those who love this enough to want to make it a career, and make sure that opportunities are created for them. Whether they take it or not is up to them, but it is my responsibility to make sure that the opportunities are present within my organization.
    • If the opportunity is not present, then if I am truly a caring instructor, I must point them to somewhere else, where the opportunity is. However, me no wanna. So I must create opportunities.
  3. Learn everybody’s goals and priorities, and then equip them to achieve them.
    • Students: One person wants to be a state/district/world champion. The other simply wants to get back into shape. I must recognize these, and although I use the same curriculum, I give different recommendations. The “get-in-shape” person does not need to come to class more than twice a week. The one with the goal of champion absolutely needs to come to class more than twice a week.
    • Instructors: One person wants to work 30 hours a week, make a comfortable amount of money, and spend time more time with spouse and family. The other wants to build an empire, make a whole bunch of money, and open more than one school. I want to be able to equip both to understand their own goals, and what it will take to reach them.


I love teaching. Therefore, I will teach. I also love owning my own school. And I love running it and learning how to run it better. So I will continue to do so, and I will kick butt.

But I will also be forward-thinking. If anybody else wants to learn to teach, or run a school, I’m not going to wait for them to be ready, and then build the system. I must work on building a system now for students I haven’t yet met, so that there will be a path towards career-ship for anyone who, years from now, is interested.


Bring it on.

“Every kid is a winner!” No, not really.

Today, my daughter took my nunchuck class. Now, because her instructor is Mr. Sipe (she trains at West Salem, so that Daddy is not her instructor. Trust me, it’s better this way), she often will do “Sipe-ism’s” when she takes martial arts class, or pretends to teach class.

However, today, I heard her do a “Clews-ism”…something that I do in my ATA Tiger classes that no one else does.

“Hey, Daddy, you lose! You didn’t go fast enough!”

Yes, I am the instructor that, in my attempt to build kids’ confidence with martial arts, looks straight at them and says “You lose. You failed.”

But don’t get mad at me yet…let me explain why.

When I was first starting ATA Taekwondo as a white belt, our school had a logo on the wall, up front and to the left. It was the same logo that you’ll find on the “old school” V-patch for the Karate for Kids program.

Above it were these words:
“Every kid is a winner!” and “Every kid is special!”
Now, I definitely believe that every kid is special. And I believe that every kid should be taught that message, as long as “special” does not mean “better”. Special means unique. Gifted. Different from the next kid, and you know what? Kid, you do not need to be like this next kid to be okay. Strive to become the best version of yourself.

However, I do NOT believe that every kid is a winner. I believe that teaching this message does the exact opposite of the desired result. If every kid is a winner, then winning is automatic. Not an accomplishment, but rather, an assumption, something that you take for granted.


Now, the good reason that this saying was on the wall was because many parents bring their kids to martial arts hoping that it will be a different sport than the others, and it is! For me, I was horrible at basketball (I did get the “Most improved award”, but I think I know why), baseball, and soccer. Pretty much EVERY other kid was stronger, faster, more coordinated, etc. So this saying was on the wall for kids like me to know this: “You don’t have to be the strongest or the fastest in order to win here.” And I definitely agree with that statement. This is not a place where only the elite win. Traditional martial arts is about you vs. you, or as I like to put it, you vs. yesterday.

(By the way, the “you vs. you” thing is not meant to diminish quality. Rather, it means that a 60 year old doesn’t have to be better than the 20 year old in order to move up in belt rank. Each should gain all the benefits they can from martial arts without comparison to others.)


So, if I don’t believe that every kid is a winner, then what do I believe? Do I believe that only the elite are winners, because I want to teach the kids the life lesson of “It’s a tough world, so buck up, buttercup”?

No, that’s not it.


Rather, I would love to change “Every kid is a winner” to: “Every kid, here, in our school, CAN be a winner.”

If you followed our “Parenting Hacks From Martial Arts” videos, then you might remember this one: “Choice vs. Ability.”


White through Purple: Victory by CHOICE, not by ability

For the first six colored belt ranks in our school (up to purple), it is our job to make sure that success is a matter of CHOICE, not ability. Choosing to focus. Choosing to follow directions. Choosing to copy the instructor. Not how high, how natural, or even how strong the kick is. What we’re going for is the CHOICE to follow the role model, the instructor’s example.

What that means is that if a student is not following the directions, we will bluntly tell them these three things. The first two are bad. But the third is meant to be empowering.

  1. You lost. You failed.
  2. It’s because of the choice you made, the bad action you took, or the good action you didn’t take.
  3. We believe that you are able. That you are capable of more. And that when you do make the right choice, you’re awesome.
    1. So…kid…do YOU believe that?

We believe that kids need to grapple with the feeling of failure, while being guided by caring adults. But we also believe that they need to know that they are believed in, supported, and liked.

So no, kids, you do not automatically become a winner. But, if we do our job right, “winning” is never out of your reach. It is always right there, waiting for you. All you have to do is CHOOSE it.


Blue and above: Victory by ABILITY (personal victory, but not just handed to them)

Once the student hits that seventh belt color (Blue), it is at that point that success is now a matter of ABILITY, and that ability is the result of previous choices.

White belt is not the time to prepare the kid for the harsh realities of the competitive world. But we can’t let the student get to Black Belt ever thinking that victory is automatic. In fact, saying that “victory is earned” is not even right. Victory is not a merit badge that you get by making good decisions anymore.
Nope. Now, Victory is fought for.

Sometimes, in an attempt to teach kids to always do their best, we end up accidentally teaching them this lie: If you do your best, if you put forth the effort, the universe OWES you what you want. Because if you work your hardest, then you deserve it. And deserving it is how you get it.

Nope. If a bad person attacks you, then you, as a hopefully good person, deserve to win. But “who deserves it” has NOTHING to do with the fight.

For the most part, if you apply for a job or to work for a company, the leader of that company is not thinking “who deserves this the most?” Rather, they are thinking “who will bring the most results to our company?”

So at the high belt ranks, “choosing the right action” is not enough. Oh, and “working as hard as you possibly can” doesn’t guarantee it, either. Sometimes, you have to work as hard as you possibly can for a long period of time. Victory will not come when you “earn” it. Victory will come when you TAKE it. That is, if you have the ability to take it. So I hope you’ve built up your abilities.

Choices lead to abilities and opportunities. If you slack off for 12 years of school, “doing your very very best” on your SAT’S won’t cut it.

And we have to teach children this at a young age, so how exactly do we do that without making them less? Without sending their self-esteem backwards?
(And no, I am not abrasively thinking “get over your self-esteem, snowflake.” Taking careful, considerate steps to keep self-esteem high is really important, if the child is going to be empowered to hit their goals.)


So how do I help kids with their self-esteem? Discipline? Confidence? Pride?

  1. By telling them, straight forward, about their victory or their failure, and then…
  2. Setting the goal of victory tomorrow, and showing them how it is within their reach.
    1. If they failed, the goal is victory tomorrow.
    2. If they succeeded, the goal is THE NEXT LEVEL tomorrow.

When our kids are empowered, when our kids are thinking more about what they will do to the world around them rather than what the world around them is going to do to them, THAT is when we’re going to see their confidence skyrocket.


No, every kid is not a winner.

Only the kids that choose to focus, follow directions quickly, and follow the leader.

Only the kids who prepare for the future by the decisions they make today.

So, here’s the question, kid. Are you going to win or not?


And high ranks…

……….are you willing to fight for it?

(Part 2) When I win, you win! WIN parenting…

I am a big fan of thanking our children for doing things, even if they are required to do them.

I have heard another philosophy about it: “No, we will thank them for going above and beyond. What, are we going to praise them for simply doing their job? Are we going to reward mediocrity?”

My answer to that question? Yes. We will reward mediocrity. Follow me for a second: Mediocre work will receive mediocre rewards. If you do bad work, you’ll probably get fired. If you do mediocre work, you’ll probably get paid mediocre, but you won’t get ahead. If you do excellent work, our hope is you will get noticed, and you will get ahead.

Yet, regardless of whether the work is mediocre or excellent, I will demonstrate courtesy in all things. When I go to a restaurant, I give the person money, and they give me food. You know what I say when that happens? “Thanks.” I do not think “I shouldn’t need to thank you, I’m giving you money, aren’t I?”

In any business transaction, I believe that the seller should thank the buyer, and the buyer should thank the seller. No one is better than the other. In the exchange, both sides should show courtesy.

In an employer/employee relationship (which, by the way, is the same as the above transaction: The employer is buying a service or labor, the employee is selling their time, skills, and services), I believe that employer should thank employee, and employee should thank employer. I am confident that I, as am employer, am providing a good experience and a good workplace for my employees. I also know that their work, their effort, their blood, sweat, and tears, is making my life and my school better. It’s giving me the chance to travel and train. It’s giving me opportunities for family time when we need it. So I am VERY thankful for all that they do. When I win, they win, and when they win, I win.

It’s our job, as employer and employees, to make sure that BOTH parties’ lives are enriched and better because of the transaction. Therefore that mentality of “I shouldn’t have to thank you, I’m paying you!” doesn’t fly with me. Courtesy in all things.


So bringing this concept back to parents and kids, we have a few rules we should play by.

  1. If my kid resists me by disobeying, fighting, arguing, whatever, I have to win the conflict. But, since winning the conflict will make them feel less powerful, I have to, at some point in the NEAR future, find another way to EMPOWER them to do good.

The child might see that they have the power to upset other people, like me. So my next mission is to find a way to show them that they have the power to make someone’s day better, to make them happier.

Because if a child (or anyone, really) feels powerless, they will hate that feeling, and the next step is to grab at ANYTHING that makes them feel powerful, whether it’s good or bad. Often, they will find that power through upsetting siblings, parents, and teachers. We need to supply good things that make them feel that they matter, that they have power to affect the world around them.

  1. Showing my child courtesy is more effective than “requiring courtesy”.

I have found that the number one way of teaching kids to say “Thank you” is by…well…thanking them. Examples are always more powerful than words.

  1. Every moment is a new moment. If my child was rude an hour ago, but then courteous now, the courtesy now is what we’ll focus on.

Because simple behaviorist psychology says: If they are courteous, and they get a negative response, then they’ll stop being courteous. Heck, so would adults, so why would we expect more of kids?

Each moment, bad or good, is a new moment. Following the rules yesterday doesn’t get you OUT of trouble today, but likewise, if you are good today, there is no need (in fact, we need NOT to) bring up yesterday.


So, in closing, let us set up our kids to win. When we win, let’s make sure they win. And when they win, we win.

Winning WITH our kids, not AGAINST them (Part 1)

Just a little story for you…

I’ve seen this a few times in my career, but no conference jumps out in my mind as much as this one that I had with JUST the kid, about seven or eight years ago.

Grandpa had signed up this kid as one of our Tigers (4, 5, and 6 year olds). He used to be one of those problem Tigers, with the anger fits, moody displays, deciding he didn’t want to follow the rules, etc. However, fast forward to four years later, and he had grown up to become a pretty cool Black Belt at nine years old. He was even getting close to testing for his second degree!
But Grandpa brought him in for a talk with me. I had just gotten the call from mom, as well. “I don’t know what’s going on. He is just being the most disrespectful, difficult, AHHH!!! I told him ‘If you keep up this attitude, I’m going to tell Mr. Clews!’ but he didn’t even seem to care!”


By the way, some additional info: I used this kid in my Leadership class to help new students, because this kid (who used to be a problem tiger!) took it upon HIMSELF to go to the new kid’s parents and tell them how great their kid did. Ever since he was eight. “Mrs. Smith, your son did a great job. He struggled a little at first but I noticed he got more and more confident, and his kicks got higher!” At EIGHT YEARS OLD, this kid started doing that.


But here I was, in a conference. With just the kid. Grandpa was outside, and had suggested that I talk with this kid, with no one listening so that maybe he would open up.

“So, here’s what I’ve heard.” I went through the details of what I’d heard, but also the kid that I had seen in my classes. I told him about how I was proud of what he’d become in our classes, but how concerned I was about at home. But then, I gave him the chance to talk, and I told him this:
“You’re free to speak. No matter what you say, I won’t get mad at you or correct you or anything. I just, want to hear what you’re thinking, where you’re at. So, what’s going on?”

Here’s what I learned…he fully admitted to the attitude. The misbehavior. The fights. The anger. The yelling. And he didn’t like it. He didn’t like being angry. Yelling at his mom didn’t make him feel good. He wanted to be different. But then…another element came out.

“Mom wants me to do my homework, and clean my room. But when I do it, she’s still mad. She’s like: ‘Finally. It’s about time…’ And I don’t feel good. It makes me not want to do it.”


After many stories like this, we came up with a plan. Here was the plan…

  1. We both knew that he and I were both Christians. So we talked about Jesus’s turn the other cheek teaching. The strength to be nice to someone, even when they’re rude to you. Not because of them, but because it’s good for our own spiritual development, and it’s Christlike.
  2. The talk: “It’s okay to not want to do it. But we still have to do it. But you know that already, huh?” “Yeah.”
  3. We came up with a list of 5 things that mom wanted him to do. If it was true that mom would respond negatively, then the goal was to do it BEFORE mom said. Why? Because when mom told him to do it, and then he did it, he still got a negative response. So he had to choose three things to do BEFORE mom told him to do it, so that he would feel good. It’s not that mom made him do it, it’s that he CHOSE to.
  4. If he did that homework for 5 out of 7 days, Grandpa would reward him with some planned reward.

How does the story go? He did it. Oh, and mom noticed. Also, mom talked with me later on. She told me that the kid was right, and that she wasn’t proud of it. Looking back, she knew that she was responding angrily, and when the kid did these things, it clicked for her.
I have respect for the mom for admitting this, and last I talked with her, she was so happy about who this kid has become, and how well Martial Arts helped him. This was a phase for mom, that mom successfully got out of.

I haven’t seen this kid in years now. But I saw an important lesson as an instructor come to life that day.


In any scenario where it becomes adults vs. kids, it’s easy to forget that in order for the parents to win, the child must lose.

“Well, of course! If the child is disobeying or fighting us, they NEED to lose! I mean, what happens if the kid WINS in a conflict with their parents, or teachers?”

Oh, I fully agree. When a battle happens, we’ve got to win. We can’t have children get rewarded for fighting with their parents, or not doing chores. There has to be a negative consequence. However, if we win the battle, then they lose the battle. And if they lose the battle, bitterness starts to grow, little by little. Especially if we rub in the victory, which unfortunately, parents can do sometimes if we aren’t careful.

I mean, history teaches us this. When Kaiser Wilhelm was defeated in World War 1, did the German Empire just “learn their lesson”? Or did the hurt and bitterness of losing the war become the soil that the most known-by-name evil dictator rose to power in?
On the other side of the spectrum, Abraham Lincoln, after the end of the American Civil War, strongly emphasized to everyone: The South are part of us again. We MUST welcome them back with open arms. Lincoln knew that rubbing the Confederates noses in defeat would have just led to a whole new war, meaning that all of the blood shed during the North vs. South war would have been in vain.


The moral to the story: Whether we are talking about civilizations in history, or whether we are talking about individuals in a family…whenever we set ourselves AGAINST someone (which we have to do sometimes), we must remember that our victory is their defeat. And we should take that in consideration when we plan our next move.


Continued next post: WHEN I WIN, YOU WIN!

ATA Tournaments – Should I/my child compete?

ata-tournament-pictureNot every student likes to compete, and that’s okay. However, there are some incredible mental benefits to competition, and there’s no better place to learn that than ATA tournaments!

One of the best explanations I’ve seen is on ATA’s website ( However, let me take a shot at explaining why…
1. ATA tournaments successfully reward BOTH participation and competitive excellence!
2. Competition, at some point of life, is inevitable. How do we prepare for it?
3. Make friends, from other schools, other states, or other countries!
4. The “tournament bug” that motivates everyone to work harder.

1. ATA tournaments successfully reward BOTH participation and competitive excellence!
You’ve seen it on someone’s Facebook post: “I don’t want to grow up in a world where every kid got a trophy for just participating, or just showing up.”
Yet, if you’re the parent of an uncoordinated kid, you know difficult it is for a kid’s self-esteem when they’re always picked last for sports.
How do we teach kids to strive for excellence, without damaging the kids who aren’t there yet? We reward BOTH participation, and excellence, separately! At ATA tournaments, every child gets a reward just for participating, but there are still awards for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in any event!
Students are also placed with their own age/belt rank/gender divisions, so it’s not like an 8 year old yellow belt will be competing with a 12 year old black belt. There are also 4 different events for Black Belt Trainers to compete in, and 8 for Leadership! So there are many different events where a student might excel, but no matter what, they will be rewarded just for participation, if not for placing!
The average ring at a regional tournament is between 5 and 10 competitors. Some will be smaller, some will be bigger. Friends will be made 🙂
2. Competition, at some point of life, is inevitable. How do we prepare for it?
At some point, our kids will apply for a job, a job that other people want. They will have to compete for it, and they will have to a) learn to strive for excellence in order to get it, and b) Learn not to be discouraged or how to handle discouragement if they don’t get it.
At some point, our kids might ask someone out, or express romantic interest in someone. They’ll have to place themselves out there, and be able to show why they would be an excellent companion, moreso than the next guy/girl. (For the record, we are not qualified to teach those skills to your child. Maybe we’ll get someone to teach a seminar. No, I’m just kidding, I promise.)
At some point, they will strive for SOMETHING in life that someone else wants. So if they have to learn this skill, ATA competition is a GREAT place to start.
3. Make friends, from other schools, other states, or other countries!
One of my favorite aspects of ATA tournaments is when students and families get to see that ATA is bigger than just their school. I’ve gotten to watch many of our students make friends that they look forward to seeing next tournament! (For some reason, I befriended a lot of Canadians in my younger tournament years. Those friendships continue today!)
One of my favorite aspects was the after-tournament Red Robin run we would always make. But that was our thing. Perhaps your family will make friends, and eventually have your own after-tournamant tradition?
4. The “tournament bug” that motivates everyone to work harder.
No matter how motivated someone is in their training, there is something magical about the “tournament bug”.
I can’t explain it. From the “slacker” to the “A-game” student, everyone starts training a LOT harder after a tournament.
It’s usually because, whether they got last or first, they can’t wait for the next one.

So finally, in short: Tournaments are not mandatory. The martial arts journey, pursuing excellence, personal development, going through the belt ranks, these are about “you vs. you”. You don’t have to beat all of the green belts in battle to get your purple belt, and getting your purple belt doesn’t actually mean that you’re more skilled than a green belt (it means you’re more knowledgable, perhaps).
But tournament is where it is now you vs. him/her. It’s you vs. a competitor. And while this is optional, there are still incredible benefits to it, and it will take your martial arts experience to a whole new level.
I hope to see you guys all at Chief Master Cho’s tournament in Edmonds, WA on February 25th, and Master Duer/Mrs. Pleu’s tournament with Special Guest 9th DEGREE BLACK BELT GRAND MASTER IN HO LEE on March 10th and 11th!

See you there!
-Carson Clews

The (selfish) reason we love it when parents train with their kids

So, if you’ve been at our academy, there’s a good chance you know about our family program. On any program that we have, if two members of a household are training, the rest of the family can train for free. For additional kids, they have to pay a registration fee, but no monthly tuition. For parents, you pay…nothing. We don’t even charge the registration fee…we send that in for you.

“Wow, Keizer ATA! Thank you! That’s so generous of you!” Oh, no, it’s not. It’s self-serving, and works towards our evil plan of taking over the world. Oh, and making my job totally easier. In short, when parents train for free, I win. (Hopefully, you win, too!) For lots of reasons.


  1. When parents are training with their kids, practice at home happens more often, so instructors spend less time “catching the student up” in class.
  2. When parents train, they are typically more understanding and encouraging because they grapple with how many of the techniques are more difficult than they look.
  3. When parents train, kids in class tend to goof off less because of the good example.
  4. When parents train, it’s easier to delegate team leaders, to set the pace or to help a struggling kid
  5. When parents (or any adults) train, we have more people who can hold boards for each other, and hold boards for the kids
  6. We would love to create instructors, who share martial arts with others. Statistically, families are more likely to produce an instructor amongst them (Out of the 12 ATA School Owners in Oregon, 9 of them came up through the ranks as part of a family membership)


  1. Parents training typically results in more “family practice” at home, meaning less time “catching the student up” in class.


It’s our job to make sure our students are progressing towards their goals, and that means making sure that the student is on track for the next testing. Yet, life happens, and occasionally, a) a student misses class, or b) a younger student perhaps has difficulty focusing, and therefore needs some additional classes or additional instructor time to catch up.
Now, I am hyper cautious about additional instructor time…I don’t believe that the instructor should be taken away from the focused student to work with the unfocused student. So, additional classes are the best bet for me to get a student caught up.
BUT if a parent, or parents, are training with the child? Magically, the student comes to the next class knowing everything that the family knows! Amazing! It must be that family practice!
Student wins because they stay caught up, instructor (me) wins because while I don’t mind hard work, I also don’t mind suddenly having a break from hard work J.


  1. Parents who train are more understanding of student’s struggles, and are naturally more encouraging.

Yes, we as parents try to be encouraging. But we can’t help but notice things our kids do wrong. I mean, seriously, the instructor just said to point your knee on the front kick! That’s basic! Why aren’t you doing it?
Then, the parent takes class, and realizes that they forgot to point their knee because they were too focused on keeping their hands up and pivoting their bottom foot and having the proper foot position and…well, you get the picture.
We are always willing to explain how a student is doing in class, and why they often forget to do certain things. But if you take class, suddenly we don’t have to explain it, you just get it!
You also tend to understand why kids get pumped, too :-D.


  1. When parents train, ALL the kids tend to goof off a little less

Every individual in a classroom affects the environment in some way or another. Our goal is to have fun by working hard. Working hard without the fun is…well…not fun. But also, having fun by goofing off results in injuries/accidents (loose muscles, lack of focus and awareness). Also, even the kids feel like they wasted their time afterwards.
As an instructor, it’s our job to facilitate the “have fun by working hard” environment. But that is so much easier when several adults are creating that environment, and not just one.


  1. When parents train, we can delegate team leaders.

As the class size grows, we have our little techniques to make sure that no one gets left behind. We create teams, and we assign someone to lead the team.

Kids are awesome, and can grow into incredible leaders. But sometimes, kid-leaders fall into these traps: Either going too slow and waiting for their team to catch up (so the slowest makes everyone else bored), or “telling” and not encouraging their teammates.
The kids will learn how to do that with time (especially on Leadership program!) but adults are typically better at keeping the kids on track, keeping up with a certain pace instead of holding their team back.


  1. When parents train, we have more board holders!

And not just for the kids, but for each other.

Board breaking is required for blue belts and above at testing, and it’s an important part of learning the physics of self-defense. Also it is a FAVORITE for a lot of our students! However, when you have a whole class of 20 kids and one board holder, then every student can get ONE board break in…if you burn up 10 minutes of our 45 minute class (assuming every student breaks within a few attempts, and we don’t slow down to work with any of them!).

Now, for every adult, that’s one more repetition the students could get on board breaking! Not to mention…the more adults, the more attempts the adults can get while holding for each other.


  1. Most instructors come from family memberships

And I haven’t quite figured out why, but I have my theories. While teaching is fun, learning how to teach is a difficult road for a lot of potential instructors. Anybody who has learned to teach has been through the student who just goofed off no matter what, the student who just couldn’t learn their form, the student who cried because the drill was just too hard, the student who got hurt and it was totally your fault, the student who you just thought was going to be so awesome but then they disappeared with no explanation. We’ve been through all of that.
Also, for many people, teaching is more personal, and therefore it is very difficult to accept constructive criticism on a class.

A future instructor needs encouragement from someone who understands how difficult the techniques are, but also understands the difference martial arts training can make in someone’s life. When the family gets it, because they’ve trained together, it’s a powerful force.

I love teaching martial arts. I want to see more people benefit from martial arts. So I would love to see someone else catch the “Man, I want to teach this stuff” bug! And remember, every martial artist in the world, school owner, Grand Master, world champion, was a white belt at some point.

Although it’s not for everybody, we are always wondering: Who is going to be the next person who decides that they want not just to learn martial arts, but to teach it?


So those six reasons are why we love it when parents train, and why parents train free if there are two kids in the program. Is it nice of us? Well, we hope you think so, but really, it’s because it makes our job easier AND radically changes the future of martial arts for our families, and the surrounding lives they touch.