When I'm not busy being a drum corps addict, I am a member and junior instructor in the American Taekwondo Association. This past weekend I attended the ATA Spring National Tournament in Las Vegas. This was my first tournament, and all my instructors and everyone I met there kept telling me the same thing: Don't worry about placement or trophies; just have fun, because competition is its own reward. "Yeah, right," I thought. "I didn't train hard to 'have fun' -- I came here to win." Well, to make a long story short, I did a really good job -- but I didn't win. And at first I was rather upset; I did, after all, devote a lot of time to getting ready for this tournament! But when I called my head instructor to let him know the news, he gave me some really good advice. He told me that competitive Taekwondo is like any other activity where people are making subjective judgments: Judges, like everyone else, are only human. They look for particular elements and then assign a fairly arbitrary number based on whether they find what they're looking for. Some days that works for you; other days it works against you. Some days you may win even though you aren't the best in the ring, while other days you might far outstrip your competitors and still walk away with nothing. You can't control the judges, or the other competitors, but only yourself; so you enter, you do your best, and you realize that the effort in and of itself is achieving victory. In drum corps, we fall into the same trap. Because it is a competitive activity, and because we devote a great deal of time and effort to doing it well, we often lose sight of the idea that the competition, making the effort, going out there and doing our best, is winning. Judges are human, and their judgments are subjective, so to evaluate three months of sweat, blood and tears by the numbers eight men and women in green shirts assign to our performances on the field of competition only serves to sell that effort far short of its true significance. Making the effort is what's really important here, not placements or scores. How many people do you know who say repeatedly that they'd love to march drum corps but who never make the effort to get off the couch, go to a camp, and make it happen? And how many other people do you know who overcome seemingly insurmountable financial, physical or situational obstacles to appear on the field every summer? In my book, if you're out there doing it, you win, no matter what the judges say. People who get really caught up in the minute tenths and hundredths of points lose sight of the real rewards of marching: the opportunity to perform, to hear the applause of the crowds and the gasps of amazement as we execute our art for their enjoyment, to get to meet other people involved in the same activity. The judges serve their purpose, true, in helping us to make ourselves better by pointing out our flaws -- kind of like independent instructors we only see a couple times year for 15 minutes at a time. But they are not there to make overall evaluations of our drum corps experiences, and we shouldn't take their judgments as such. Maybe I didn't walk away with a first place in forms or sparring this weekend. But I was the only person from either of clubs I'm affiliated with to make the trip, and furthermore, I received a 9.9 out of 10 from one of the judges on my form. I also got to meet a lot of people from around the country who are involved with the same activity, who do the exact same forms, and who follow the same principles of perseverance, honor, integrity, courtesy, respect, and loyalty that I do -- much like being a large drum corps show. It's those times that make the experience worthwhile, not what a person appointed to make a well-reasoned but, in the end, arbitrary judgment says about my effort in the ring - or on the field. I win just by getting out there and doing it! Or, as all those tour instructors and Taekwondo instructors keep telling us: Competition is its own reward. Send Emily feedback and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Emily Tannert is currently living in Knoxville, Tenn., taking a year off from school before she returns to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for a master's degree. She was the 2002 drum major for the Pioneer, and will play in the 2003 Glassmen pit. She will age out in 2003.
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