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.


  1. Congrats on competing can be last tournament was in 1975 in a Kyokushin group...I took a third in kumite and won a pair of getas! bruised ribs and very sore feet.

    I give you credit and you have my deepest respect starting Karate at an age when many of our peers are thinking of the easy life...hands palm to palm.

  2. In your home, at the dojo or in front of a crowd; it's the same kata.

  3. Watching the youngest set compete really made me wish I would have started earlier - say when I was 10 or so. If I would have slipped off my shoes and stepped on the mat when i was a pre-teen, I'd have 30 years of training under my belt! In my mind, I think that things will only get better with time and training, but my body may say otherwise! Time is quite the equalizer...

    Rick, I hear you, but there's still something different about competition kata. For me, the crowd really isn't the thing, but the judging is. The ring becomes a fishbowl when there are five senior dans examining your every move. It suddenly becomes much more a question of what they THOUGHT of the kata than what the kata is/means to you. When I present, I've gotta tell them who I am, my style, school and form name. When I train, I just do - proving the old adage my sensei mentions all the time about kata totally true: kata doesn't change, YOU change...

  4. Hi Felicia, congrats on your trophy and well done for having the courage to compete.

    I understand what you are saying when you say you wished you'd started karate as a pre-teen. The same would be true for me but I honestly think that now is the right time for me to be learning karate - my mind is in the right place for it and I have the time to give to it. If I'd started as a youngster I think I would have given up by the time I left school and never have trained as hard as I do now. Some of us are destined to start our karate journeys later in life than others (and our lives be the richer for having waited)

  5. Thanks, Sue - but I don't think that it is an accolade I deserve at all. That's hard to swallow for me, but it is what it is, I guess.

    In track, medals were usually the name of the game. I always hated it when anyone wore their medals around after they stepped off the awards stand - always seemed so showy and unnecessary. This four-foot monstrosity reminds me of that - so I've been telling folks that I finished next to last.

    I might have stepped away from training at some point, too, if I'd started earlier - who knows? But I think you are right - we are where we are for a reason...

  6. I totally have that Robert Frost poem in my head now! LOL.

    Well done for competing and what a great opportunity for your students.

    Like Sue I hear you on the wishing you'd started earlier. I only started training in 2009 (at the grand old age of 33!). I never really had any interest in martial arts growning up but I totally wish I'd known then what I know now.... you couldn't have kept me out of a dojo if that were the case.

    I'm really glad that I'm able to give my DD (and soon my DS once he's old enough) the gift of martial arts study from a young age. It can only serve them well in life.


  7. Congratulations Felicia!

    "It's fun and I enjoy it." - Sounds like a great reason to compete. :)

  8. Marie, my son started just after his 10th birthday. He will be 18 in a few months and is an amazing karateka. He's also a dancer, so oozing grace and poise is what he does. But in my heart, I KNOW it was the martial arts training, LOL I'm sure your children will thank you for such an amazing gift :-)

    Michele, I don't compete that often - maybe 2-3 times a year - but every time I do, I think "Y'know, I ought to do this more!" Time and finances (college tuition deposit due in four short months!!) always say otherwise. But I do enjoy it a whooooole lot :-)