The tourney was scheduled to start at 10AM. Philly is where I went to college (Go Owls!) and I love that wonderful town with all my heart, but it is still three hours away - which made me think it was a good idea to go down the night before so I'd have some fresh legs on which to compete. Saturday morning, I headed out of the hotel around 8:30AM, finished eating breakfast at exactly 9AM at a spot that was supposed to be five minutes from the venue (according to my GPS) but didn't arrive to register until a little after 9:30AM (because the address listed on the tournament flyer was wrong. I know!). As it was my first NASKA-rated tourney, I was a little nervous, but felt comfortably relaxed as I changed into my gi and started to warm up, watching a little of the kata, weapons and self-defense competitions while trying to stay lose and alert so I wouldn't miss my ring call. I noticed that the age divisions were kind of strange - with a hybrid "45+" category (the norm is usually 10-year division blocks after the 18-29 group, specifically 30-39, 40-49 and 50+) - and the black belt kata for the old folks was after all the other black belt divisions has completed kata, weapons, self-defense AND both point and continuous sparring, but as I had spoken to the event director earlier in the week and was assured that the meet had always ended by 3PM in the previous 10 years they'd hosted it, I wasn't even the slightest bit concerned.
Guess what time this "executive" entered the ring to start competing? 3:35PM - and I had to drag the tourney director away from watching (not judging, mind you) the point sparring competitions to get him to consider rounding up a few judges and moving us to one of the three empty rings.
The ring he set us up with was in the corner of the facility - right next to a group of young kids tossing tennis balls against the wall. Every now and again while we were warming up - and even after our competition finally started - we were interrupted by a ball bouncing through the ring, followed closely by a pair of little legs following blindly after, totally oblivious to idea that the ring was "live." The center judge tried to find the tourney director again to ask him to corral the kids, but because he had one again disappeared into the crowd to watch the point sparring matches in our old ring, the competitors - those waiting on deck and those warming up - had the honor of keeping the kids and tennis balls at bay while their parents sat and watched us.
The three judges assigned to the ring kinda looked like they'd rather be anywhere but where they were seated. The center judge even answered a phone call between competitors and was still on it when I was called up to begin my kata. I politely waited for him to finish - but he didn't until one of the other judges nudged him in the ribs and said "She wants your undivided attention." Ya think?
I approached them, stopped at a respectable distance so as not to have to shout my intro (name, style and kata) before asking for permission to begin. That's when the nudging judge held up his hand and asked me who my instructor was - like THAT was the most important piece of information he could possibly need from me at that moment. It took a lot for me not to just throw up my hands at that point, grab my gear bag and call it a day. But I got through it.
I ended up finishing third in the division. When shaking the hands of the judges, the nudger admonished me for leaving the "My sensei is..." part out of my introduction. "He should be acknowledged for his hard work," he said to me. Mr. Center judge added that my score actually would have been higher, but he noticed a slight slip and had to deduct for it. I almost asked him if that was before or after he hung up his phone.
Tired, emotionally drained and hungry, I had already decided that I would not do kumite. My division, of course, had no other competitors at all and my first fight of the day would have been in the grand championship, against young women who had had at least two fights each already and who had probably eaten and digested lunch. Ready to get out of the place already, I went to pick up my award and was told they had run out. "Sorry - but we'll mail it to you if you just leave your address," the woman at the awards table said.
The three 20-something training partners I went to the tourney with would tell you it was a good one because they were in the ring competing at 10:15AM and their competitions ran relatively smoothly, but not one of the 45+ competitors would probably say the same. I don't understand how part of the tourney's population - 10 of us total - were treated kinda of like after-thoughts although we paid the same entry fee as everyone else. For us, it was a waste of a lot of time, effort, energy (and money!) to attend (the 45+ traditional kata winner chose not to even enter the grand championship) - and most of the "executives" I talked to said they wouldn't even be thinking about attending next year. If the promoters and judges would have spent half as much of time, effort or energy making sure the tournament was as good a spot to compete for the over 35 crowd as they did was for the under belts and the younger black belts and grand champions, I might be writing this post now - or totally re-thinking this whole "sports karate" thing.
Feeling a little Rodney Dangerfield-ish at present - but a good laugh is a good thing, so I'll leave you with a little of his hilarity: