Yesterday, our little group from the Salvation Army caravanned up to Herkimer, NY for the Diamond Valley Classic Karate Tournament. Always a good mix of styles and talent, it was the very first tournament most of our students had ever competed in last year. Back then, they were brand new and not quite sure what this karate thing was about, but willing to give the tournament a shot. Although winning was not the focus, I'd be lying if I said it that watching our youngest competitors (all of five years old) leave their ring holding trophies that were almost as big as they were didn't make me smile a little.
This year, all but two of our students had competed before so the venue, format and time schedule were not new to them at all. They were focused and ready to compete - so much so that more than a few folks came up to us during and after the tournament to make a comment or two. They weren't just talking about the katas or sparring. Training partner Ed and I heard time and time again about our students' confidence and poise - and how gracious and humble they were both when they won and when they didn't. For us, that is what it's all about.
In the middle of the meet, the director called us over and asked us to wait with him for a moment in the center of the gym. He then presented us with the Top School award. It was our turn to be humbled - by the very students we instruct.
There was some amazing competition in all divisions (check out this video of weapon's grand champion Sensei Jeff Melander to see for yourself), but that wasn't all there was to see yesterday. Outside of the ring, I saw one of my parents tear up as he watched/filmed his seven-year-old's first ever kata presentation. I watched my sensei and many other high-ranking dans get out of their seats after judging all day, step into the ring to spar/present kata and give clinics on how to do the damn thing. And every Grand Championship given out yesterday - for kata, weapons and men's and women's kumite - was awarded to black belts in the "Executive" (over 35) Division. Score FOUR for the old-heads :-)
Here's what the Grand Champion's plaque looks like (this one happens to be hanging on the wall in my den now :-):
My honey was there with us - filming and helping with the parents to hand out water, fruit and granola bars and to get everyone to their proper rings on time. I watched the video this morning, saw some kata and kumite that I missed while judging and competing and remembered what an amazing learning tool video is. But even for those who haven't seen any video yet, I'm sure they learned as much as I did - including the fact that there is always more to learn. Hats off to you, Shin Ri Tan Kyu Martial Arts Academy students, for doing your best and re-enforcing the idea that a family (ryu) is much more than the people you happen to be related to.