Sunday, March 23, 2014

HERstory

"Every day you learn something new."
- Dennis Brown (musician)

Last year, I went to a tourney in Philly that was one of the worst I'd ever been to - for "executive" competitors, anyway. It made this over 30 girl feel like a total afterthought once the entry fee was paid. But the training partners I went with - all in their 20's - had a great experience, as their rings were run smoothly, none of their center judges took phone calls during the competitions, everything in their respective rings went off without a hitch and their judging was relatively fair. What was a crappy tourney for me was actually a pretty good one for them.

This weekend, I went to a tourney that I'd heard offered lots of competition for senior competitors. The flyer was on my fridge since September and I was pretty happy it fell on one of my off weekends from work. II was happy to see lots of grey-haired judges because I was hopeful they'd be competing as well. And many of them did, which was great for the MALE executive ranks. Not so much for the females.

Adult black belt competition was dead last. They had lots of age group categories (19-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60+) for kata, weapons and sparring, but while there were male competitors to fill every bracket, there were only four executive women - a three of them were in the 19-29 division. The promoter's brilliant idea was to put the women together and make it one big "over 18" category. When I asked why, he chastised me for not pre-registering (so he would know how many women would be in each division - which I don't get, because even if I would have pre-registered, I still would have been the only woman in my division) but finally did me the "favor" of allowing me to compete in my age division - like he did for the lone 60+ male competitor. 

Here's the thing about the lone senior male: he presented his a weapons, a "soft" form (no idea what that is) and a regular empty-hand form solo - which allowed him to win his division and make it to three different grand championship rounds. When the women were finally called (after all the executive men did weapons and empty-hand forms), the center judge of the ring told me that since I would be the automatic winner, he was sure that I "didn't just want to do a demo" and thought, in the interest of saving time, I'd be fine with just presenting in the Grand Championship. Funny how no one was worried about the time being lost when Mr. 60+ presented three times by himself (they even presented him his award the same way they normally do: with all three judges greeting and congratulating him after his "win" and been announced; for me, the promoter's daughter handed me the award as I was straightening my gi. "Nice job," she said as she skipped away.). Part of me wanted to insist on being allowed to present my kata in my division - just in the interest of fairness alone - but I worried that my insistence would have been seen as arrogance - and that the judging in the Grand championship would have reflected that.

I should NOT have had to worry about that.

For those of you keeping score at home, it went like this: 
Although we both "won" our division, senior dude paid $55 to enter, presented kata six times and competed in Grand Championships three times while I paid the same $55 and was a "one and done." He probably had a decent tourney while my experience there absolutely sucked. There's something not quite right about that - but the something new I re-learned this weekend is that a "good tournament" is a totally relative experience.

I'm so tired of wasting my time, money and gas traveling up and down the east coast to get to these tourneys only to find that I'm not really the type of competitor they are marketing to. It sucks to be seen as unimportant to the folks putting the tournament together, it really does.

So, although I really hoped to be able to compete until my 50th birthday, I'm calling it quits a few years early. This will be my last season doing this tourney circuit stuff. If I hadn't already committed to a few tourneys this summer, I swear this weekend's disaster would've been my last. 

It's such a shame that a desire to compete and the ability to put in the training time and get to the competition site isn't nearly enough. 

To every karate tournament organizer out there who doesn't make sure the five-year-olds and the 50-year-old females have the same kind of quality experience at your tournament as the 6- to 18-year-olds do: shame on you. Sexist, ageist and "you aren't as important" implications are pathetic and have absolutely no place in anything martial at all - even if it is "just" a regional tournament.

It's Women's History Month here in the states. This just doesn't have to be my history any longer...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dusting and Cleaning

Last month, we traveled to a tournament in NYC. An annual event, it is free, well-run, free and a great way for our students to see a competitive martial environment without any fears (by us and parents) of them getting injured due to poor ring management/judging. Did I mention it was free?

Pulling off a fee-less tourney is not easy. Other than the space usage rental, the biggest expense is undoubtedly the awards. Think about it: awards for top three in every division adds up. So how did the tourney organizers supply awards without having to go into their pockets? Simple: they recycled trophies from their association's students and replaced only the placards/plates on them.

Consequently, some of the awards were smaller or larger than others. You'd think that would hardly be a "thing" - especially at a free tournament - but it was.

While waiting for the assigned ring to begin for three of my students, I overheard a mom saying the following to the woman standing next to her:
"He won, but look at the size of this trophy! It's not nearly as big as the one the kid who won in the 8-10-year-old beginners ring got! Can you imagine?"
Did she forget that she paid not one thin dime for Junior to compete - nor was there a spectator fee for her to watch Junior do his thing?

Typically, tournament registration fees range from $45 to $75. If mom, dad, nana and pop-pop come to watch, they pay about $10 each just to get in the gym door. Even if Junior wins and takes home a ginormous trophy, the family is quite a bit in the hole once travel expenses and lunch are factored in. Should the size of the trophy the main issue here?

Competition should be about testing your mettle in a relatively safe environment - at least that is what we pass along to the students who do compete in our school. Sure, be happy if you happen to pull off a victory or even place, but be just as happy that you had the courage and fortitude to step into the ring in the first place.

Besides, the bigger the award, the more you have to dust. Seriously.

In the interest of cutting my household cleaning duties in half, I think I need to donate a few awards towards next year's event.