Winning the Game, Keeping the Friend

I remember the first time I fought against a friend in a tournament.  I was a teenager up against another girl from my dojo.  We were both a little scared, I think.

After we did nothing but bounce around for too long, the judge called a halt and admonished us, “Ladies, this is not a tea party.  Throw some techniques!”


I decided then and there I would win the match even if it meant losing the friendship.  I also knew that if she was a sore loser maybe I didn’t really have a friendship after all.  I proceeded to score point after point and won.  I was so scared that I’d lost her friendship.  She was fine.  Remembering this experience helped me a lot this past weekend.

My daughter has seasonal volunteer work that is a bit of a drive away from home, so after her work, rather than rush all the way back to our “home” dojo to maybe make it on time for class, we visit a sister dojo closer to her work.  Last Fall I made a new friend roughly my age and sometimes the same rank, sometimes my junior, maybe someday my senior, LOL.  We missed each other during the long winter when my daughter didn’t have her volunteer work.  My friend didn’t go to the tournament last month but she was at another tournament just a few days ago.  Sure enough, we were in the same division.

We know each others’ karate pretty well by now.   In fact, in preparation for the tournament, we critiqued each others’ kata (we did the same one).  We’ve sparred together nearly every single time I’ve visited this dojo and we’ve critiqued each others’ favorite moves.  The Senseis even had us do our kata together as if we were in a tournament and pronounced us very closely matched.   I knew I had some real competition on my hands for the tournament.  I also knew neither of us were about to simply bounce around, too scared to throw the first technique.  When our division was called to staging, we learned it was just the two of us.  No other ladies in our age group/experience level showed up.

So how did we do?  Who won?  We both did – this was her first tournament and she did very well indeed.  It was a close match in kata followed by some pretty fierce kumite.  What exactly did I win?  Glad you asked!


I think my friend and I are closer than ever now.  The exchange of sheepish grins after the judge (her Sensei, who has trained both of us!) called fouls on both of us at the same time.  Bear hugs immediately after we were dismissed.  Complimenting each other.  Our eyes shining with pride at each others’ achievements as medals were hung around our necks.  These things are priceless.  That is the best thing I won.  But that’s not all I won.

When I performed my kata in this tournament I really felt like the kata was a part of me and I was a part of the kata.  I don’t know how else to explain this.  I was coached pretty intensively after class one day, and it made a huge difference.  I still have my scenario of a bar fight and my specific cast of characters and what they’re trying to do to me, but now there’s something more.  It’s more like if I let go and trust what I’m doing, the very movements of the kata will tell me that I have a considerable amount of control over how the fight is going .  So in my imaginary fight I’m less reactive and more proactive.  I feel like this is a clumsy expression of what’s going on.  I wish I could pin it down with words, but maybe that’s the beauty of kata – that it can’t be pinned down.  Anyway, performing that kata well and realizing there are depths I’ve never sounded is another thing I won in tournament.


How about what I won in sparring?  I’m taking baby steps forward in improving strategy.  A few minutes after I knew my friend would be my competition, I realized she knows what I like to do in sparring.  I decided then and there to fight completely differently than what is normal for me.  I took a leaf from my daughter’s book – she loves her kicks.  So I practiced kicking while waiting around in the staging area (I practiced lots of other things too so that my friend wouldn’t catch on).  I’d already put in hours with the punching bag in the garage.   Changing my game gave me an edge.  Let me quantify that edge.  Three points.

Throwing a kick to someone’s head can be deadly.  That is scary to me.  I recently came close to accidentally killing someone with a punch.  I’ve long since known my kicks are quite powerful, but didn’t worry much about them until I could actually kick at my chin height.  While sparring in the dojo if I want to throw a kick to the head I deliberately aim for four inches short of making contact.  Up until the tournament I never once made contact.  I saved contact for the punching bag in my garage.  I didn’t go full-out, but practiced the very light, very controlled contact that would score but not injure.  When I pulled off that precisely controlled kick to the head during the tournament, it was a fantastic feeling.  I knew when my foot made contact my friend was just surprised and not hurt.  I relished the judge’s call of three points and the wild cheering from friends on the sidelines.  Except for the tallest guy, all of them had experienced my four-inches-short-of-contact kicks to their heads.  I won that.

OHHHHHHHHHHH, you want to know what medals I got… OK, I get it!


Gold.  And this wasn’t like last tournament where I would’ve gotten silver if I had been born three months earlier.  My friend made darned sure I had to work hard to get first in both kata and kumite.  Maybe next time she’ll win.  All I know is both of us will be working very hard to incorporate what we’ve learned from each other into our training.  We’ll both get better.  We’ll make each other better.  Isn’t that what friends are for?


Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

6 thoughts on “Winning the Game, Keeping the Friend”

  1. Friendly rivalries are the best. That’s what drives progress faster than ever.

    Congrats on the gold by the way! But I think you’re more thrilled by having an awesome rival. Haha.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Logen! Thanks for the congratulations. Yep, I’m really glad to be sharing the journey with someone who can give me a run for the money. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Whew! The suspense was killing me!

    Congrats on the medals. More congrats for participating in the first place. Most congrats for having your priorities straight! 🙂


    1. Ossu, Sensei Ando! [bow]
      Thanks for the congratulations and for taking the time to read! LOL, I do like to tease my readers on occasion 🙂

  3. Congratulations! That’s some serious hardware! 🙂 I have a feeling that you better have a bigger display case. I’m willing to bet that this is just the beginning. Course I realize the martial arts isn’t all about winning trophies and such. But it doesn’t hurt. When you go against a friend in the ring, it’s like the saying goes, “it’s nothing personal”. Inside the ring, it’s all business but once it’s over, whoever wins the friendship should always be there. At least that’s how it should go. Times like that makes one realize who the real friends are. Great post as always. Good luck and have a great weekend! All the best and full respect.

  4. Thank you, Steve!

    I have no idea how or if I’m going to display my stuff. I’d love to have something for my belts, but beyond that, we’ll see. Yep, nothing personal in the ring, LOL! You have a great weekend too!

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