Monday, November 23, 2009

Tournament Time - Take Two...

Off to another tourney this past weekend. This time it was downstate in NYC - Queens to be exact. Unlike a few weeks ago upstate, I did not compete and only judged kata, self-defense, weapons and kumite competition. But just like a few weeks ago, I learned a ton, met lots of incredible people and had a blast.

Judging an open tournament can be interesting. Because judges might not be familiar with the style or form presented, each competitor's attitude, focus, intent and body position all become uber important. So, no, Virginia, it's not the flashy splits, high kicks or glitter weapons that will make you champion, but do all that with rock-solid technique and it just might.

One of the first groups I graded was 6-9-year-old intermediate kata. There was one little lady who had amazing kicks and really knew how to move across the ring. But everything her kicks were, her punches were not. Each hand technique revealed bent wrists and sloppy form - almost like she was just putting her hands out there to get onto the next kick already. Apparently use to winning, she literally teared up when she finished third. The sifu sitting next to me spoke with her after she competed to suggest working on her hand techniques to improve her kata. She was polite and listened, but I'm not sure she heard him at all.

Next up was the 6-9 year old beginner boys weapon forms division. The only competitors were two brothers who each did a basic bo kata. The second brother was doing well until he dropped his bo about half-way through his form. He looked devastated, but he picked up his weapon and continued. When his brother was awarded the mondo winner's trophy (no joke, it was six feet tall) brother number two could only watch as his brother hoisted it up as best he could, threw and arm in the air and cheered.

Later in the day, my ring hosted the 18-34-year-old men's intermediate sparring division. Green and green-belt equivalents all, one competitor felt it necessary to speak to the center judge after his match. He said that, because he was hit in the head twice (competition rules allowed for absolutely no head or face contact in the underbelt divisions - but the contact had to be witnessed by two of the three ring judges), he should have been awarded the win over his opponent.

Although all of the competitors above were relatively new to martial arts, humility is a huge chunk of what being a martial artist is about. Budo dictates modesty and temperate attitudes at all times - even in sport karate. But perhaps, like everything else we do on the mat and in the dojo, humility, modesty and temperance all take work and time to develop. How to compete, win and lose with grace must be learned, just like an effective round-house kick or a reverse punch. They also have to be honed. Perhaps they should all be taught right along with those roundhouses and reverse punches.

But I also saw some stellar examples of temperance in action - like the 9-year-old whose glasses flew off in the middle of his form but who continued without missing a step. Or the 5-year-old who got kicked hard in the gut during a sparring match but got up, wiped his tears and finished fighting. Or the blind green belt in the intermediate women's 35+ division who had to be escorted into and out of the ring before and after she presented Empi Ha kata - a USA Goju brown belt form. Or the only two 35+ female black belt competitors who each gave lessons on presenting kata with Super Empi and Seiuchin. Or the many masters there with 20-30+ years of martial arts training under their belts who spent 10-12 hours judging forms and sparring yesterday, sharing their knowledge and taking a relatively new shodan like me under their wings.

Yep. I had a blast...


  1. Hi Felicia, this is an excellent post.

    It sounds like this was a great learning experience for you. It's great to know that learning can continue in new and interesting directions once you reach black belt. I'm sure it helps you to reflect on your own abilities too when you teach or judge others with such attention to detail.

    I think you're spot on about having to hone these emotional/behavioural skills just as much as the physical one. I think it takes a certain amount of maturity to truely understand the necessity for them and maturtiy doesn't necessarily equate with age!

  2. Howdy, Sue...

    It was an amazing experience. I wouldn't have gleaned nearly as much had I only been competing. The learning continues! And you don't necessarily have to be in gi to gain some valuable karate knowledge for sure...

    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  3. Hi Felicia...great post. I have been a judge in my fair share of open tournaments. You summed it up perfectly..."interesting".

    At one tournament, the ring I was assigned to had to judge a Senior Black Belt Men's Executive division. The men competing were practitioners of karate for over thirty years. It made me uncomfortable because I did not feel I should be judging a Master division (I was a sandan at the time). Not easy...

  4. Hi, Michele...

    I hear you - because the last thing I judged at the tourney was the Women's 35+ Black Belt division kata. Only two competitors, but one was a 5th dan and the other a 3rd. The other two judges were 7th and 8th dan respectively - and, yes, I felt REALLY uncomfortable sitting there - but they were a judge short, so...

    But what I discovered was that the same rules applied for them as did for everyone else who competed that day. I wasn't judging the kata, per se, but the execution of it. Once I got over the fact that combined the two competitors had been training almost as long as I've been alive, it was what it was.

    Kinda reminds me of my training partner's reaction at a tournament earlier this month; the only shodan in the division, it hit him that the people he was about to spar were third- or fourth-degree black belts in their respective styles and he said he felt like he shouldn't be trying to hit them at all out of respect for their rank. But then HE got hit and the playing field miraculously leveled. I guess it's all relative :-)...

    Thanks for stopping by!