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.