Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Kareem Syndrome: Knowing When to Say When

Everyone who has ever competed has lost on occasion. But they'd all probably be lying if they said losing was fun.

I don't always win the three or four times a year I actually compete on the mat. I didn't always in track and field throughout high school and college and I didn't in grade-school baseball or math team, either. I also didn't in all the card and board games played with my family when I was a kid (my dad hardly ever "let" me win), so I should be used to it by now. But, honestly, on the mat when I spar, I've done pretty well. And on the occasions where I've gotten beaten - especially when I've gotten beaten badly - I learned so much about how to think on my feet, how to better use my 41" inseam to my advantage, etc. etc. Because I always learn more from the loses than the wins, I can't really say I have a problem losing.

But I can say that how badly I feel about the loss and how much I learn from it depend on how I lose. As horrible as I feel about being out-classed/out-gunned (as in not-really-in-the-same-league-as-my opponents), I feel even worse when I don't do the best I can on that particular day or when I let my head get in the way, y'know? For me, it usually plays out a little something like this: work for months on particulars ---> map out a specific game plan ----> have said game plan fly out of the window as soon as I bow in ----> get my hiney handed to me ----> spend the next week or so berating myself/wondering why I even compete at all. It's exhausting.

That was my reality after a tourney last month. My kata went horribly wrong and I actually forgot that I had legs when it was time to spar (because I never used them). It. Was. Awful. So much so that whenever a sliver of memory from a piece of my last fight or the kata presentation ran through the grey matter, I let out a grunt and a face/palm (if there were people around) or a little scream (if I was alone or at home). Sometimes it was while on my computer at work, which made my office mates poke their head into my space to see if I was OK. Sometimes it was while I was brushing my teeth or making dinner which made my housemates wonder if I was still sane. Each time I flashed back, it felt like I was right back in the thick of it, stinking up the joint. That was my reality for a solid two weeks. And it sucked. A whole, whole lot.

I lost, and that's fine, but the real me - at her best without the deer in the headlights fear - wishes competitor me would have at least competed better. And I'm most upset that I didn't. (I just screamed again, dang it!)

The benefit of hindsight is knowing now what you should have known then, making it easier to see how you coulda/woulda/shoulda done this, that or the other differently. The craptacular part about it is knowing that you can't change the outcome one freakin' iota.

Yes, every trite but inspirational phrase you could ever think would apply in this case has already been thought about and meditated on: It didn't kill me, so I'll be stronger, I hope. It was a pretty dark place emotionally, so the dawn can't be far behind. I didn't succeed, so I will be trying again at some point, I know. But it still stings and I still feel crappy about it.

But in my introspective month since the tourney, a tiny nugget of truth has been trying to poke through: my competition confidence is really, really shaky, often getting derailed with even the slightest breeze.  It sucks - mostly because I haven't quite figured out how to change that reality. I get so nervous about how I'll possibly be perceived - a relatively new-to-karate, former track person who, at 46, probably should not be out there trying to bounce around on a tricky knee against people who are young enough to be my offspring. It sounds lame as all get out, but there it is. I'm afraid I'll end up looking like Kareem before he retired.

The legendary Sky-Hook
OK, so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an NBA phenom long before he dueled Bruce Lee in "The Game of Death." A 7'2" mass of wiry arms and legs, he was best known for his incredible offensive style of play complete with his amazing sky hook. He is the all-time leading NBA scorer who also has six championships and six regular-season MVP awards under his belt - but I can't get the image of his 1989 season out of my mind - because in the last few months of his 20-yr professional career, Kareem looked like time had finally caught up with him. His offense was much weaker than usual and his beloved sky hook just wouldn't fall most times. I remember watching a Lakers game mid-season and thinking "He probably should have retired last year." It was kinda hard to watch and very sad in a way.

Although I might never be as great in the ring as Kareem was on the court, I still don't want to look like my best days are behind me. My biggest confidence shaker and derailer is that I possibly could each time I step into the blue lines that are the ring. It sounds totally stupid, I'm sure, but it's true. But, like I said, what to do about that is the $64,000 question.

Wow. Guess I've licked those wounds to a nice shinny glow, huh? Onward...