Sunday, February 20, 2011

Miles to Go...

Yesterday we packed up the vehicles and headed down to NYC for a free tournament. Yep, you read that correctly - a FREE tournament. Over 450 competitors (compared to the 300 or so that attended last year), so training partner Ed and I thought it would be an inexpensive way for our students to get some kata presentation and kumite experience in.

Going in, we told them all that although trophies and accolades are nice, they weren't the goal of competing. It takes a lot of courage to step into the ring - as anyone who's ever done it before can tell you - so as long as they did their absolute best and kept their chi and fighting spirits high, all would be good. They did that and more.

With so many rings, it was hard to keep track of everyone, but they competed well. They stepped in, did their thing and learned a lot in the process, which is a very good thing. Two of our girls - both 14-yr-old 7th kyus - took home first and third places in kumite (which was good as they didn't have to spar each other) and a second place in kata. Both of them got shiners from the same competitor, but they didn't grumble or complain when the young lady's hit was not given a warning as it should have. Way to fight like girls, ladies!

Still, with all those competitors, there were only two of us competing in kata in the "old lady" division (female black belts 35 and over) - myself and training partner, Peg. An amazing karateka, she, like me, started karate at an age when most are toning down their physical pursuits. Extremely talented, she trains hard - and it shows in everything she does on the mat. I admire her a great deal, so, it was kinda tough to get my head set to compete against her. But I followed her Empi Ha with Senchin and, much to my surprise, we tied - although her scores were more consistent than mine (the one judge that gave me a 7 was the one that saw me hit myself in the lip on the opening move because he was the one I was facing; the other 2 gave me 9s). Once the low and high scores were dropped, I won by a mere half point. I felt like a fraud.

Honestly, Peg's kata was better than mine yesterday. I was nervous and, because I'd spent most of the day sitting down judging the underbelts, I hadn't warmed up nearly as well as I wanted to/usually do, so my footwork felt a teeny bit off. I don't feel I was the better competitor that day and was very embarrassed by the four-foot trophy they presented me with. I swear, I really wanted to just disappear under the floor, I really did.

But because I won, I was allowed to compete in the kata grand championship against the winners in the other three black belt divisions. I knew I had the least experience going in and stood almost no chance of winning, but I did it anyway. And, to challenge myself even more, I did a kata I'd never done in competition before: Hangetsu, which I usually reserve as a back-up in the event of a tie. I felt too big and too conspicuous with my 6'2" self in that ring, the lone Amazon in the black gi. It didn't go terribly, but it wasn't my best presentation, either. Truthfully, I felt a little embarrassed when it was all over because it wasn't as good as the others.

But you know what? That's sooo not the point of karate for me. I train to gain knowledge and improve over MY best, not everyone else's. Sure some days are better than others, but that's life sometimes. It just reminds me that there are more than a few miles to go yet on this path - and as many bumps and hurdles to overcome in the process. But it's the journey, not the destination that is important, and I've got nothing but time.

So why compete in the first place? Truthfully, I really only wanted to spar - because it is as close as I ever hope to come to a real, live "put up your dukes" combat situation. Kata competition for me is about learning to recognize and practice the art of my martial art. The grace is not something that is innate to me, so I take competition as an opportunity to push my learning envelope a little. Plus it's fun and I enjoy it.

And getting a good smack down every now and again keeps the ego in check, I think - and I am one very humble creature this morning, that's for sure.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Too Much Information

OK - pet peeve time. For me, it's sloppy gis during training. I'm not talking about the gi jacket that gets disheveled after you're tossed across the floor like a rag doll, but untucked shirts that dangle below gi tops and belts that are gapped or twisted in the back way before the warmup even begins bother me to no end. But you know what gets me the most? Undergarments that peek out between the splits in traditional-tie bottoms. Ack!!

It seems a shame to step on the mat with trimmed nails and a freshly washed gi only to have your underwear announce to the world that they are ready to work well before you've even produced a bead of sweat. Sorry, but that is totally gross. Cover that up already!

Seriously, if someone else can see the waist band of your BVDs or knows what color thong you have on, that's definitely TMI. There's a reason it's called UNDERwear.

Granted, some folks might not know is "in the streets" - so if you have a training partner who's flashing a little more than their devistating technique in class and you don't wish to embarrass him or her, point them a pair of shorts, a needle and thread or any MA website that sells elastic-waist or slit-less drawstring gi pants. Friends don't let friends train with their undies showing, IMHO.

OK - rant over. Thanks for indulging me...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"E Squad" Adventures

There are six women in my dojo. Two are busy with school and aren't actively training right now, so it isn't often that we out-number the men on a given evening. Last Thursday night's class - when only the four females gi'd up to train - was a rare exception.

Sensei S, the only male in the building, started us off by moving the class into the mat room to work on break falls and rolls. You'd think with three shodans and an ikkyu, we'd have been talking about things like the importance of protecting the head or where to look during the roll. Instead, we questioned whether our female hips were actually going to go where we wanted them to as effortlessly as Sensei's did when he demonstrated what we'd be working on. It's obvious that we women are built differently than the men we train with, but with only "us girls" in the room (Sensei was out-estrogened, hee-hee), we could discuss with each other on the sidelines what we usually say to ourselves in the privacy of our own heads. And on occasion, those conversations were overheard by whomever was on the mat working the technique with Sensei, making her dissolve into a giggling puddle. Not that our all estrogen class was any less structured or formal than normal, but every now and again, one of us would relax too much while being guided into a throw/roll or launch ourselves too high to get some assisting momentum behind us and end up plopping loudly onto the mat. And no explanation was necessary because the rest of us understood what that momentary "This is gonna be difficult because my butt is just too big" pause was about.

This post is not a plug for an all-girl training environment - although I've often wondered what receiving instruction from and learning with nothing but women would be like. I rather like training with the "Y" chromosome set because they push me when sparring and challenge me to think on my feet. But sometimes, it's OK to hang out with the girls, though. There's something unique about that unspoken understanding when your training partner has a mental block and can't even attempt a technique because of a simple fear of how or where she'll land. No one assumes she's weak or that her reaction is indicative of how all women will react in a similar situation. We know that it is her "something" without having to discuss it or explain it at all - because everybody's got theirs. It is what it is.

In the aikido class I started training in about a month ago, I've been present a few times when Sensei M. has led the class. A fourth dan with a booming voice and a curly ponytail that whips around when she's giving instruction or being tossed around during the training sessions, I met her when I surprised her in the changing room before my first class. Use to being the only woman in the place, knocking before entering the ladies area wasn't something she was accustomed to doing, she said. We both got quite a kick out of that.

In karate, I occasionally train with another Sensei M. Busy competing internationally and teaching Krav Maga as well as USA Goju, she thoroughly kicks our butts cardio-vascularly during class. She's an amazing practitioner and instructor who is always willing to pass along what she's learned to others. But still I remember a fourth dan spar her once like she stole his wallet when she was only a nidan - all because she swept him to the ground while sparring the week before. He hit her so hard that he knocked out her contact lens, which I remember crawling around on the floor trying to find with her after class. Ugly, ego-driven and unnecessary, it was what it was - and I won't train anywhere near that yondan today as a result. I can't see that happening with other women, though. Not that it couldn't, just probably wouldn't.

Three cheers for the E Squad :-)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On the Road Again: Harlem Goju Association Seminar

Yep - we hit the road again a few weeks ago, loading up the van and heading to the Harlem Goju Association Seminar. A requirement for all Harlem Goju karateka, Grand Master Sam McGee invited training partner Ed and I along with our students to join in as well - and we graciously accepted. Our new promotees did workshops on controlled falls, kata and bo. They also got to watch some amazing practitioners present open-hand and bo kata. It's good to get out of your own dojo every now and again for something other than a tournament, I think. Judging by the smiles, I can assume our students shared that sentiment.