Saturday marked six months since my shodan test. I made it memorable it by traveling to a karate tournament upstate with Sensei S. and some of my training partners.
The good thing about the tourney was that all black belt competitors were asked to judge the underbelt kata and sparring competitions, which concluded before the black belt competition began. I'd been a corner judge for point sparring matches before, but never for kata. With Sensei S. guiding me (he stepped out of a ring so I could jump in and get my feet wet) and some great experienced judges setting the tone, it went well - and I learned a great deal.
Karate competitions are one of the few places where people over 35 are considered "seniors." As any female senior who competes can tell you, there often are not loads of people to compete against. But, thanks to a tournament record turnout of black belts Saturday, there were seven female seniors presenting kata. One of only two non-Tae Kwon Do practitioners on the mat, I ended up finishing second to the woman who went on to win grand kata champion. My knees were literally shaking as I walked into the ring and my legs felt like they would just give out, I was so nervous! But I got through it - my first competition as a yudansha or dan (as opposed to a mudansha or kyu) - without any major flubs or rushing it, as I tend to do when I'm nervous.
Sparring went well, too. As is also usually the case, there weren't as many senior women who wanted to spar (only four), but, because competition kumite is really just a game of tag, my plan to be aggressive and "tag" first worked pretty well. I also got to work on my blitzing and moving off my adversary's center line.
I don't compete a lot - usually three times a year, tops - but each time I do, I enjoy it. I know it isn't really what karate is all about, but for me, the idea of going toe to toe with someone of unknown ability in a controlled environment forces me to think and strategize in a way that no other training does. With five judges watching every corner of the ring, I know there is only so much pain that can possibly be inflicted. Competing is about as close to a real life "dukes up" situation as I've ever experienced. I'm hopeful that through it, the idea of having to put my dukes up in a real situation won't be so totally foreign. I've only had one other fight in my life (in second grade with a girl named Terry Daniels; she pulled my hair, I pulled hers and it was over), so the only experience I'm getting at making this a little more innate is on the mat. In short, competition sparring makes me face my fear, which is anything but comfortable for certain.
And it's truly a blast, too! Never in a million years did I ever think I'd enjoy fighting, but I do. How strange is that?