Two movies come to my mind when its karate tournament time . The Karate Kid with Long Islander Ralph Macchio and Sidekicks with Chuck Norris. Both of these movies give a fairly accurate portrayal of what its like to attend and compete in a martial arts tournament.
There are between 450-500 martial arts(karate) schools on Long Island teaching different arts and styles to students 3 years thru senior citizen. With an active student base of over 75,000 martial artists. At sometime most of these students have already or will attend and compete in a tournament. It could be a small inter school event or a National Event like The New York State Championships which, are being held mid October at Farmingdale State College. The events are mostly sparring, karate forms(kata), self defense and weapons demonstration. Other events could be breaking (wood boards,concrete blocks etc)and demo team.
Many competitors attend events for trophies and points. My thoughts are it's best to enter to grow as a martial artist. In my school we believe participation and good sportsmanship take priority over winning trophies and medals. Winning awards will always come with good training and a sincere dedication to your martial arts.