The Up Side of Defeat

black eye 2015 Joelle White
Bruises are fun!!!

“All beginners – over here!”  our jovial host called out.  Some twenty of us from six year old kids on up through middle-aged adults reported to the table at the side of the gym.  This tournament was a friendly little competition and not a qualifier for anything.  It’s a great tournament to go to for fun and/or for practice.  I recommend this tournament as a great first tournament for beginners who are a little shy about competition.

“All right – line up by height,” we were directed.  I scanned the line anxiously.  One of the guys a little older than me and roughly my size looked pretty tough, and beyond him was a bigger adult guy.  I was relieved when another adult lady showed up.  In most tournaments I’ve been to, competitors are divided by gender first, then age, then experience.  But this tournament isn’t a qualifier for State or Nationals, so anything could happen.  I could’ve been lumped in with the adult guys.

I felt pretty confident while beginning my warmup.   So what if the gal was bigger and younger than me – I’m used to that.  Heck, I’m old enough to be the mother of very nearly every student in my dojo.  I noted that her height meant I couldn’t throw kicks to the head.  I frequently spar with tall guys, so no kicks to the head didn’t worry me.  Then she ran through a sequence from her kata a couple of times.  Uh oh.  Yep – no doubt about it, she looked gooooood.  I gulped down anxiety as I worked towards breaking a sweat.  I noted as I worked out that she wasn’t doing much of anything to warm up.  I hoped that would work in my favor.

I was good and sweaty by the time we were called to the ring.  I know from prior experience that I was nowhere near exhausted.  I felt great – ready for anything.  I performed my kata confidently – the newest one I need for promotion.  The kata that had won gold in tournament last month.  I felt I did even better this time around.  When I was done, I waited in breathless anticipation for the whistles to blow and the colored flags to lift.  The judges snapped their red flags up and my opponent was declared the winner.  We bowed, backed out of the ring, and got our sparring gear.

“Wow, which kata did you do?”  I asked my opponent.  She’s from a similar style, so I understood her answer.  It was a kata more advanced than mine.  Clearly she was not only bigger and younger, but also on high end of novice in the beginner/novice division, whereas I’m only on the high side of beginner.  I knew I’d have a real fight on my hands.

“Wish I could’ve seen it, but I was a little busy,” I quipped as I strapped on my hand pads.

We bowed into the ring and faced off.


In my eagerness to try for gold, I fell into an old bad habit.

I have a little trouble with relative distances, so when I go charging in, all anyone really has to do is stick out a fist or a kick and I’ll drive myself onto it.  This happened more times in a row than I care to admit (sheepish grin here).   Finally I started to move sideways to avoid that.  Then the fight really started getting somewhere.  I did make the same mistake a couple more times, but overall I started doing better.  The fight was fast and furious – at one point I did get a little wild and the judges called a foul on me.  I felt awful about that.  With the clock winding down and the points accumulating on both sides, I grew desperate enough to make up for my lag in points by throwing a kick to her head – the three points would mean ending the match with me winning 9 to 7.  Much to my surprise I was able to kick higher than I thought, but it missed.  Not long after, the fight was over.

“I have never had a fight that intense before!  WOW!  You really made me work hard!”    my opponent congratulated me as we stripped off our fighting gear.  I was still coming down from all that intensity and couldn’t do much more than grin at her.

I sought out my erstwhile opponent in the bleachers later and we had a great time chatting, comparing the two styles we study, and watching other competitors from our organizations.  She’s definitely had more training than I have.  She even went to Nationals last year.  Because of her, I’ve begun mulling over the idea of trying for Nationals next year.   Clearly my opponent had a tremendous boost from that experience.

150430_MedalWhat about me? Did I get a tremendous boost from being thumped soundly by a gal who is clearly better than I am?

The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Old habits die hard.  Practicing with a stationary target (the punching bag in the garage) isn’t teaching me about relative speeds and distance.  My daughter is on hiatus from Karate due to medical problems.   Class meets only twice a week and the college dojo is on break for summer.  I’m going to have to figure something out.

Ceinture_De_Karate_Ou_Judo_clip_art_mediumOne of the things I like about tournaments is they are good practice for promotion – all those expert eyeballs staring at you and the big audience…  And when I get feedback after a tournament match I know exactly what I need to work on with an eye towards my next belt test.  Feedback from two Senseis and one Sempai after my competition was very valuable.  I very much appreciate them taking the time to give me honest evaluations and advice based on direct observation.

After all the hormones had flushed out of my system and the aches started setting in, I asked the on-site doctor for an ice pack. I assured him, “I’m all right – it’s just my body’s way of saying that at my age I should be home eating bon-bons instead of getting beaten up.” Yeah, it was a joke, but as I walked away, I realized that I actually accomplished something even though I was beaten. I am pushing my limits. I am squeezing the most out of each day. I am learning. I am growing. And that’s something I wouldn’t be doing if I were sitting on the couch eating bon-bons and letting life pass me by.

Author: Joelle White

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

9 thoughts on “The Up Side of Defeat”

  1. I just wanted to thank you for your blog. I’m 34 and started learning karate after signing our kids up last November. I made it through watching three lessons before I was dressed and in line with them. We have our first belt promotion tomorrow and I’m excited to shed my white belt. I think of you every time we do kumite and I run to the front of the line to grab the highest belted partner I can. Thanks for sharing your experiences in such a fun way!

    1. Hey, Maralana – good to hear from you! I guess you’ve been reading awhile if you remember me running up to the highest ranked belt – thanks for commenting and for your compliments! I’m really glad I can help on some level – that’s one of the many reasons I blog 🙂 Kudos to you for training with your kiddos! I’m 45 and I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last year, so you can do this stuff! Promotions are exciting – congratulations!!! You’ve been working hard 🙂

    2. Hi Marlana! Just wanted to add a quick word of support and congratulations. I say the first belt test is the toughest, because most people don’t even have the guts to try a class! Good for you. Best wishes on your karate journey! 🙂

  2. lol….completely relate to running into people’s kicks (those costo vertebrals are still reminding me a week later of last weeks effort)…..I think one class I ran into my senseis mae geri about 10 times with him finally asking : ” doesn’t that hurt?” before I asked him to actually show me how to not do it!! Our tourney is 2 weeks away…..nervous as the network has grown so not sure who I will be up against. Excited too though.

    1. Hi, Rach!!! Yep, I’ve done that running-into-the-kick thing too, although I quit after three and of course asked what I was doing wrong 🙂 Woo hoo for the tournament! You’ll love it!

  3. No losing, only learning! 🙂

    I’m so inspired by all of these tournament comments! Go get ’em,everyone!

    Quick tip on running into kicks… feint your charge, draw the counter kick, then follow it back. Adding that one beat at the beginning should get you in a little cleaner. 🙂

    1. Ossu, Ando! Gee, that advice sounds like something a couple of my Senseis have said to me 😉 I tried faking the charge Friday night – didn’t eat a kick but I also didn’t follow through effectively. I’ll try it again 🙂 Just gotta get the hang of relative speeds – I’ve done it on paper for Physics class 😉

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