Monday, September 30, 2013

Misty, Water-Colored Memories

I remember the first woman I saw in the dojo. She was a green belt, I think - and I was still in sweats and a T-shirt (hadn't even gotten my gi yet). Back then, I was so busy trying to figure out these hand, foot and body movements that I didn't realize I was one of only two adult females in a class of 30 people.

I also remember the first female black belt I ever saw. She was fierce in the dojo but really nice and humble out of it - and I still train with her to this day. Shortly after that, I met another female black belt - a sixth-dan who no longer really trained (although stories about how she had to sneak into the YMCA in a baseball cap to train with the men back in the 70s and how she once knocked out a guy she was sparring with a ball-of-the-foot roundhouse kick to his temple were legendary). So yeah, three women in the span of about four years.

I also remember every time I was made to feel like less than in the dojo because of my sex including:

  • How everyone thought it was a cute that the female first black belt I ever met knocked some hardened Marine on his butt his first night on the mat (when she was a teen) after he volunteered to be her uke for a self-defense technique. He was apparently so embarrassed that got up, walked out the door and never came back. 
  • Crawling on the floor after class looking for that same black belt's contact lens after some thug of an instructor sent it flying during sparring because she'd taken him to the ground during another training session a few days earlier. His payback was because he was also embarrassed about  being "shown up" by a woman whom he out-ranked.
  •  Being shown techniques by an instructor that would, as he put it, keep women from damaging their "freshly manicured" fingernails. 
  • Training as a brown belt and having every guy in the room wanting to turn up the dial when it was time to spar because no one wanted to get beaten by a "girl." 
  • Hearing a not-so-energetically done technique being described not as weak or inefficient, but as "girly" to the very young woman who had just done it.
  •  Witnessing a student with amazing potential be told that she was going to be a great female martial artist someday. 
Frankly, I'm tired of letting it go, ignoring it or assuming the person who said it didn't really mean it "that way." What other way is any of that supposed to be taken, I wonder? - because whether meant as an insult, said as a joke or uttered without ill intent doesn't matter; the result is still the same.

When I meet other female karateka at tournaments or seminars, I feel like we are kindred souls somehow - and they seem to feel the same. We almost always start out by asking and answering the same questions to/from each other: What do you study? How long have you been studying it? How old were you when you started? Is it easy to fit training into your busy life? To me they are students of their respective arts. It still shocks me to realize that in some places, we are thought of as FEMALE students, as if the distinction is a very necessary one. I don't quite get that, truthfully.

We've managed to show that phrases like "Stop acting like a retard!" or "That is so gay!" are so ridiculously insensitive. We've also managed to weed them out of our everyday vernacular as well. Here's hoping we can do the same for anything that ends with " a girl!"

Saturday, September 14, 2013

10 Rules for Large Tournament Competition

For weeks I'd been prepared for a rather large tournament - and between the anticipation of stepping into the sparring ring again after a six-month absence from competing, working out some kinks in a kata I'd never presented before and figuring out whether to stay overnight between competition days or drive the two hours home, those weeks before were kind of a blur. But before the memory of the one emotional high (getting into my sparring gear not once but THREE times!) and that awfully ugly low (missing the women's kata grand championships because I could not hear the announcer call it even though I was standing smack dab in front of the speaker. I know, I know...) totally fades into the outer recesses of the gray matter, I thought it prudent to jot a few things down so I won't forget them when the next rather large tournament comes around.

Without further ado, I present "Large Tournament Rules for a Successful Competition"
  1. Pick a spot to stash your gear so you can go elsewhere to warmup (or just move around a bit) without having to tote all your stuff along. Consider this your home base for the day.
  2. Locate the bathrooms early and try to keep home base as close to one as possible. It is inevitable that your efforts to stay hydrated will conclude with a mad dash to the restroom just as your event is announced. If you start near one, it will be easier to get to it, finish quickly and get where you need to be without working yourself into a panic.
  3. Find out if the event is run on a time table without assigned rings or on a flat "Women's 40 -49-yr-old kata in Ring 3 sometime after all the other events assigned in Ring 3 are done" schedule. It matters - especially when it comes to deciding when to warmup and when to eat.
  4. Bring food - especially if you are an adult black belt - because you will not compete until near the end of the entire tourney. The bagel and OJ you had for breakfast will be long gone by the time you need to warm-up for your competition.
  5. Know how to find the announcer in case the noise from the event makes him/her start sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher, because you will need to know if and when your event has been called.
  6. Do not stand up/walk around for the entire day as it drains your energy and can really zap your legs (which you won't realize until you are standing on said zapped legs trying to present your kata). Find a chair or a quiet spot near your home base and use it.
  7. As...umm...different as the glitter bos and kamas may look in musical and extreme form competitions, do try to keep your mouth closed while you are watching. You can learn something from the precision of their footwork and timing.
  8. People can and do warm up with their 6' bos almost anywhere - so be careful when you get near what looks to be a non-live ring so you don't get whacked in the shins or poked in the gut.
  9. Keep your phone or paper and a pen handy. You will run into at least a handful of folks your age who are out there doing what you do. Trust and believe you will strike up or get pulled into a conversation with at least one of them and you might even want to exchange cell numbers or look each other up on FaceBook. You might also forget their names as soon as you pack you gear bag into your car, so writing it down helps.
  10. Have fun. Easier said than done - especially when the butterflies start to flutter or the kumite gets a little heated, but worth it in the end. Think about it: if it isn't fun, what's the point?
These rules can apply to smaller tourney competition as well, I suppose. They all become important at different times during the course of the competition day, but the last one is my favorite. Feel free to add some if you'd like :-)