Back in October I registered for a tournament in the “intermediate” division. My Sensei supported my decision, but I had plenty of reasons of my own. The last major tournament I was in (read about it here ) I had a feeling I would need to move up to intermediate this season. In the six months since that tournament, I’ve grown in my attitude towards sparring, which has opened the door to growth in skill as well. I’ve also finished memorizing the Pinan series of kata. I’d learned the final Pinan kata well enough to challenge myself to perform it in tournament. No way is that a beginner kata, and I guessed it to be on the high end of novice, low end of intermediate.
This year I’m also in a new age bracket. The one I’m probably going to be in for the rest of my life. Ladies 45 and older. Ouch. I console myself with the fact that sooner or later a couple of younger buddies of mine will be in my division too. So a broader age range does give me more competition, but there are still only a few of us. That means the Ladies 45 and older are broken down into only two groups. Group one: Beginner and Novice. Group two: Intermediate and Advanced. Advanced as in all those nice lady black belts I made friends with at a recent seminar.
I really, really, really didn’t want to get a medal for beating up 10th, 9th, and 8th kyus. So… Yeah. I opted for the most difficult option. And I’m really glad I did. As expected, for kata I was in with a bunch of brown and black belts – yes, those nice lady black belts. However, for sparring I was lumped in with the younger ladies (35-44) because none of the 45 and older ladies wanted to spar. I didn’t place in either kata or kumite, but oh well. I’d much rather have the experiences I had than win medals for easily beating less experienced ladies. I had adventures I wouldn’t have traded for any shiny chunk of metal.
At this point, dear reader, you’re probably still wondering why this post is titled, “Dog Kiss.” Ah, this is one of those delightful, unforgettable memories that I will treasure forever.
One of the ladies I competed with in kata is visually impaired. She has the sweetest Golden Retriever guide dog, who she left ringside with a friend. I was standing next to the dog when I was called up to do my kata. Just before I moved to enter the ring, the dog gave my hand a kiss. I thought that was really terrific. I went into the ring with a light heart. I do believe it was the best execution of that kata I’d ever done to that date, probably my best tournament performance ever. I didn’t place – everyone else outranked me and therefore knew more complicated katas and looked better doing them. But I learned that the attitude one takes into the ring is vital.
So, on to my kumite (sparring) adventure. As I said before, I was anxious about all of those lady black belts making mincemeat of me. I needn’t have worried.
A little background here. We don’t necessarily know each others’ ranks because in competition we’re assigned to wear either a red belt or a blue belt for both kata and sparring. That and different styles have different colors for different levels. In my case, I had absolutely no clue. Usually tournament officials will, well in advance, inform competitors of any change to the division they’re assigned to. If they don’t, then usually both the division one signed up for is called to staging along with one’s newly assigned division, one’s name is called in staging and one is informed of the change. If that doesn’t happen, the competitor is usually called by name to report to staging. If all else fails, the competitor is called to the ring right before the division begins competing. There was evidently some snafu in communication, so I was only called ringside and found myself among ladies of the younger age bracket (ages 35-44). Everyone was wearing either red or blue by then.
When I entered the ring and began teasing out my opponent’s weaknesses, I honestly thought I was sparring someone slightly above my rank. I landed a beautiful 3-point kick to her head – just mussed her hair. I didn’t do too shabby with body kicks (2 points) and punches (1 point) either. Eventually she figured me out and I lost by 2 points. After the competition was over, I asked her rank. Brown (not far from black) – and she went on to another round and placed third, so she was no slouch either! My opponent’s techniques were so beautifully clean and controlled it was actually a pleasure being defeated by her! There’s no doubt this was my best, most challenging tournament fight and I loved every moment of it. I found out I’m more capable than I thought.
My adventures weren’t done. I’ve been working out with the college dojo, helping as needed. Most of the “kids” take the Karate class for only one quarter, some take two quarters. A very few stick around for no credit. These karateka know me from last year. I’m definitely old enough to be their mother, so I’ve nicknamed myself “Sempai Mommy.” I was really touched that “my kids” were ringside cheering me on in my sparring match.
“Sempai Mommy” was done with her competitions by the time the college kids were in staging, so she was loaning her red and blue fist pads and belts out right and left. My gear was in many more fights than I was! I somehow was able to watch all the kids’ matches. One young man was inspired by my three point kick to the head and executed it perfectly himself in his own match. Another was kicked in the stomach, was down for a long time, then got up to give his opponent what for. I’m so proud of them! They all took home shiny medals 🙂
In between and around all this excitement, I made a new friend – a lady black belt who had been in my kata division. She’s from a different organization and studies a different style. We had a lot of fun chatting, comparing notes on style, etiquette, etc. I’m really glad to have met her.
I’m not sure any of these adventures would’ve happened if I’d registered as “Novice.” I might or might not have made that new friend. I know I’d have missed the college kids’ fights because I’d have been in the ring at the same time as them. I wouldn’t have had the best tournament sparring match I’ve had to date or learned I’m more capable than I think I am. And I certainly wouldn’t have received a dog kiss right before performing my kata. These unexpected adventures were delightful, and I’m very glad things turned out as they did. Some things are worth more than a medal 🙂