A Day at the AKA Grand Nationals

I competed yesterday¬†at the AKA Grand Nationals, the longest-running martial arts tournament in the U.S., in Chicago. I placed first after performing Kanku Sho in a division of two, the non-NASKA men’s 18-29 Japanese/Okinawan forms. The NASKA division had 13 competitors.

Not being a registered member of the NASKA circuit and never having looked seriously into competition before, I thought the non-NASKA people would have been way out of the league of the registered guys. However, the guy who placed third ran the same form I did. I thought we each had our strengths, and I think that with some more fine-tuning, I could’ve hung in there with him.

Part of me wants to say I’d like to try my hand at being on the competitive circuit for just a year. But a few things prevent me from fully setting this goal.

First, I’d want to wait until I’d finished up testing for third-degree, and that is looking to be at least a year away at this point.

Plus, being on the competition circuit is expensive. From what I can tell, circuits work like this. Each tournament you compete at, you get points based on how you placed. The larger the tournament, the more points are available to earn. At the end of the season, the one with the most points is the circuit champion. The AKA Grands are a 5A tournament, meaning they have the most points available. Every month is a 4A-rated tournament or higher (see calendar here). Add tournament registration, hotel, airfare, food, and other miscellaneous expenses to hit every major event, and you’re probably looking at $1,000-2,000 a month, at least. Plus all the 3A-rated tournaments and under, depending on how many points you’re chasing.

Finally, I’d need to figure out why I wanted to do it. I practice martial arts because I like them. I want to spread the word about their benefits. I think every person should know some basic self-defense moves because, even though it appears concealed carry will pass in Illinois (making it become the last state in the union to have it), not all places let people carry guns. Movie theaters and bars, for example, do not. Those that do the tournament circuit appear to want to reach some higher level of fame, such as being a stuntperson, an actor/actress, or something else. That’s not really my goal. So I’d need to figure out what would motivate me to want to do it, if anything.

As a spectator and fan, I was interested in watching a few other divisions. I stood and watched an hour or so of boys’ and girls’ creative (or extreme…what’s the difference?) weapons, which were cool. While they aren’t “traditional” martial arts, I can respect the practice and effort those kids put into their performances.

I also watched at least an hour of sparring. I am not a fan of competitive sparring, as it often looks like a game of tag to me. Many times I would see black belts “scoring points,” but I didn’t feel as though their moves would be applicable in a real-life, self-defense situation. In one match, a guy fell down in four out of the five first exchanges while trying to score a point. I don’t remember who won that match, but my guess is he would’ve been destroyed if he’d used that strategy on the street. In another match, I thought it was great how a competitor would essentially move the other person’s arm in order to expose the ribs. He was able to score several times that way.

Overall, as an instructor, I’m glad I went. I was able to see some different things as I gear up to compete in some local tournaments this year. I was also able to get a sense for what the judges were looking for. My instructor worked with me often over the past month in order to prepare me for this event, and now I have a better idea of how to train my students if they would like to compete.

By Adam Bockler

Adam Bockler is a B2B marketing professional, a black belt martial arts instructor, DDP Yoga instructor, and a personal trainer.