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It depends on what kind of tournament you’re looking for because there’s a huge difference between say a boxing match and how those are scheduled to your traditional martial arts tournament.
First, you need to figure out what kind of tournament that you’re writing. My experience is with the traditional martial arts tournaments and those are what I’ve participated in (though the Ernie Reyes organization is large enough in the number of schools that it actually sponsors tournaments in house just for the students). If you’re looking for a setup that’s more in line with boxing, then you may have to go looking specifically at that martial art. If you want to do professional fighting like the UFC or a character who does underground fights with a similar structure, then it may be worth looking up the history of the organization and the necessary requirements to qualify as a fighter.
Even traditional martial arts tournaments are pay to play, so your character is going to have to plunk down some amount of cash when they sign up. That cash doesn’t usually go into a winnings pot, instead it reimburses the organization that’s putting on the tournament. Everyone, including spectators, need to pay some sort of entrance fee. Some traditional martial arts tournaments do pay out prize money to the winners, but mostly it’s a way to get name recognition within the community and attract more students to your school. Many of the big name martial arts tournaments are huge and sponsor categories in more than one martial art. Some will be specific to a single martial art and often a singular style within that martial art. It depends on who is sponsoring the tournament and who is sponsoring the tournament will also decide your character’s eligibility. If your character belongs to a school that is not a qualifying member of the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) then they are not eligible for WTF sponsored tournaments and, for example, will be unable to participate in competitions that will lead them to the Olympics.
Categories are divvied up by belt rank, age group, and (sometimes) specific martial art. How and what scores points is dependent on the requirements of each martial art and judges score differently.
Breaking: board breaking and brick breaking, respectively
Open: forms choreographed to music usually involving tricking or gymnastics.
Weapon: traditional or (alternately) open
These work off a bracket system in the traditional tournament setup that you can find commonly in any Shounen manga or in most sports. The competitor puts their name down at the entry and they are given a number, when it’s their turn, they go, when it’s not, they wait. Competitors are scored by judges (usually more than one, often three). You’ll have to look at each in depth, but there should be plenty of information available once you narrow your search.
Life at a Martial Arts Tournament:
Okay, the first thing you should know: martial arts tournaments are actually boring. I mean, it’s loud and there’s a lot happening at any given moment with many different events happening simultaneously but your character is going to spend a lot of their time sitting in the stands waiting for their event to pop. You can get a general feel for this off of quite a few of the videos about tournaments roaming youtube and that may be helpful to you.
It’s nervewracking. You spend several hours waiting and then there is the moment of glory (you compete) and then it is over. Bam. Like that. Your character may get to move up the brackets, but it’s unlikely on their first time out. This pretty much happens to everyone on their first go, so don’t take it too hard.
It’s difficult to get in as a competitor and you’re bound to fail if you don’t have a good coach and come from a good school that has prepared you for the event. This is true of both martial arts tournaments and professional fights, you need some kind of backing to get in. The more prestigious the event, the more difficult that will be. A character who “loves to fight” is going to find the competitive circuit difficult, much in the same way a hobbyist writer gets eaten when they try to swim with professional authors. If they don’t have anyone to show them the ropes, then they will make a lot of mistakes and they will get knocked on their ass more than a few times.
The ends of both Karate Kid movies provide a decent look at most tournament setups.
Spend some time going through memoirs of authorities in their sports, especially those of coaches and trainers as opposed to just the athletes themselves. These tend to give more insight into the business side and the inner workings of the fights as opposed to just the experience and the strategy.
The Ultimate Fighter the ultimate fighter is a reality tv show based around 16 fighters duking it out for a chance at a UFC contract while they live together in one house and train under some UFC legends. It’s a nice little microcosm for how the UFC kind of works and what sort of training you need for a fight. A lot of professional fighters rely on others to schedule their fights for them.
I hope this is at least a little helpful.