It still sounds funny to say it. I went to Las Vegas and competed in an MMA tournament. No, there wasn’t a cage involved! As part of the ATA Nationals Taekwondo tournament, the organizers ran a special “demo” event for the ATA’s Integrated Martial Arts Systems (IMS). Traditional Taekwondo sparring is fun and athletic, but not totally practical. IMS is an attempt to change that. It allows takedowns and submissions. However, competitors wear head gear for safety and a few moves the UFC would allow are illegal. For example:
- No straight punches to the face
- No striking on the ground
- No elbows and knees
A match consists of two 2-minute rounds and fighters score points for different type of maneuvers. The rules advertise this as light to medium contact and it’s supposed to be all in fun. It’s a way to test your skills in an environments that’s broader than traditional TKD sparring. I decided I had to try it. My first serious martial art was Jiujitsu and I’ve been training hard at TKD lately. However, I’ve never had the chance to mix them. This seemed like my best chance. Here’s how things went down.
When I got to the event, I found about 20 competitors signed up for the IMS event. We all had to weigh in. I was aiming to come in under 150 and fight in the lightweight class. I hit 146 at the weigh in. I was pleased about that. However, it kind of back fired on me. After all the weigh ins, they built the brackets. It turns out about 8 of the competitors were women and had their own division. For the remaining men, I was the only lightweight and there was only one other middleweight (170 and under). The offered me the option of taking a match against the middleweight. It would be a single fight for the title in our own division.
My opponent was slightly taller than me, more than a decade younger than me and I was giving up 20 pounds. What else could I say except, “I’m game.” With that, the match was on. Here’s how it went down. I’m on the right in the picture below.
As the referee started the match, my opponent moved forward and threw an outside leg kick and connected. Kicking to the legs isn’t allowed in traditional TKD sparring, but I had been training for this. I woke up and started throwing kicks back. I tagged him a couple times and was feeling good. Then he went for a double-leg takedown. I wasn’t going to let that happen, so I went for a standing guillotine. I didn’t get it locked in tight, but I had him in a nice headlock where I could control him.
I tried to sweep his legs, but couldn’t get them. We came out of the clinch and I threw some body shots. He came back and started firing back punches to my head. In ATA traditional TKD sparring there is no punching to the head — kicking is encouraged, but no punching to the head at all. In IMS, punches to the headgear are allowed, like a hook, but no straight punches to the face.
When he started going for my head, I admit it took me off my game. I didn’t have a good defense reflex for it. I backed away and then he tagged me with a right cross. The ref broke the fight at that point and issued a warning to my opponent. He even docked him points. No straight punches to the face are allowed. The punch opened up a small cut on my nose, but we continued.
We exchanged some more leg kicks. I’m pretty sure at this stage that I’m ahead on points and we’re getting near the end of the first round. Then he threw another leg kick. I should have just checked it, but my TKD reflexes decided to try and block it. My low block left my face wide open and he followed in with another right cross direct to my nose. You can see it below. Here is me trying to block the leg kick:
Here is me trying to get up to block his punch, but I’m too slow. He tags me right in the nose – hard!
And here is my block arriving too late to do any good. Ouch!
He doesn’t knock me out with this. However, I promised myself going into this that if I thought I was going to really get hurt that I’d fold. I covered my face and went down to get out of the way. I’m not going to be a UFC fighter and I needed to be back at work at my professional job on Monday.
The ref came over to check me out. He saw how much blood was coming out of my nose (a lot!). He told me to stay down and called over the medic. He then walked over, chewed out my opponent and disqualified him from the tournament. Rule number 1 was no straight punches to the face. He’d done it once and been warned. This second time was over the line for this type of tournament and the fight was over.
The judges awarded me the win, and by virtue of that I took first place in the division. After I staunched the bleeding in my nose, they gave me a card and told me to go collect my trophy.
All I could do was take my trophy and head back to the hotel with my Little Ninja. BTW, she was totally nonplussed by the whole thing. She’s seen me spar plenty of times, and does it herself too. I don’t think she thought this was much different.
On the way back to the hotel, I couldn’t decide how to feel about the whole thing. DId I win or did I loose? Should I feel proud of myself or did I fail. Despite technically winning, he’d hurt me more than I hurt him and that meant something at a primal level. It upset me. However, everyone I talked to told me I fought a good fight and that it wasn’t my fault if the other guy couldn’t follow the rules.
Surely the whole affair pointed out a hole in my game I’ll work on in terms of protecting my head, but I’ve decided I have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a pretty good first time out. When we got back to the hotel the Little Ninja insisted on taking a picture of me with my trophy (and my rapidly developing black eye, and a blood soaked tissue stuffed up my nose). I find I actually quite like this picture now after looking at it for a while.
Of course, the even more interesting picture if of my face the next day!
So, how do you think I did? Why don’t you watch the video and leave me a comment? I’d love to hear from you.