“Ladies, you need to perform a second kata this round,” announced the head judge of the tournament ring.
My eyes bugged out and I gulped. I had not prepared a second kata (form) for this competition. I had spent most of my kata practice time prior to the tournament polishing my best kata and working a little on the vexing new kata that I need to perform for my next belt test. I squashed a panic attack. I realized I had a choice and I made it in an instant. I decided not to contest the judge’s announcement even though I had every right to raise my hand to signal I wanted to confer with the judge.
There aren’t many ladies my age who compete in Karate, so tournament officials combine the intermediate ladies with the advanced ladies. There were four of us competing in kata last Sunday (2/12/17). Two of us ladies were advanced, and another lady and I were intermediate. I won against the other intermediate lady and went on to the next round to compete against the advanced lady who had won her first round.
When an intermediate karateka (one who studies Karate) is competing in a mixed division against an advanced karateka, the rules for intermediate competition apply. I was not required to present a second kata. I could repeat the kata I’d performed in the first round. I had won my first round with a kata that I’ve been working on for well over a year (its name is Bassai Dai). I know my performance of that kata just keeps getting better as I refine it and discover more about it. Obviously the judges thought I performed that kata well. I might have won the gold medal performing that kata again for the second round.
But in the instant that I had to make the decision something stopped me from raising my hand to confer with the judge. I realized I was going to earn at least a silver medal even if I tripped over my feet and splatted myself on the mats. I began to feel almost mischievous. I decided to throw all caution to the wind and perform a kata that requires one to balance on one leg not once but three times (the kata’s name is Rohai Shodan). Even a little wobble would count against my technical performance score. It’s pretty daring for someone my rank to attempt to perform it in tournament. I was challenging myself.
In a heartbeat the moment of decision was gone. I was committed to my choice. I made the formal entrance into the ring, bowed one last time, announced the name of my kata, and began my performance. To my left, my fellow competitor began her kata. The judges were watching, the spectators were watching, and the big glassy eye of a camera’s telephoto lens was pointed my way. All that faded away – it was just me and my imaginary opponents who I was systematically destroying one by one.
Kata is a lot of things. It’s part moving meditation. It can be a textbook on how to fight. Kata contains all sorts of lessons as one puzzles out applications for the movements. One’s body gets used to moving in new and different ways. Weather permitting, I like exploring how terrain affects the movements. And let’s face it, kata is part war dance. I have a tiny smattering of instruction and experience in the art of acting. When I am in a tournament or belt test I draw on my acting abilities and capitalize on the war dance aspect of kata. “And now I shatter your elbow,” I silently snarl to my imaginary opponent, and my face reflects that sentiment. I was totally in that zone for Bassai Dai and even more so for Rohai Shodan.
For me the hardest part of kata is standing at attention at the end. I have to control my breathing after a rather vigorous athletic activity. Sometimes my opponent is performing a longer kata. I can’t watch – I must remain at attention while she finishes. It usually takes only a few seconds for the judges to show their votes for who won and for the winner to be announced, but sometimes it feels like an eternity. I can’t see the judges behind me nor may I turn to look, so I must wait for the head judge’s announcement. I knew I’d done a good job technically, and I knew I had injected some panache into my performance. I felt fantastic while I was pretending to block punches and shatter joints. But my heart raced while I stood at attention. Which medal would I be taking home?
When the head judge announced I was the winner, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe I had really pulled it off. I knew I had been gambling. Taking the risk had paid off.
The universe has a way of keeping one humble. After the victory in kata, I got a silver in kumite (sparring). Um… There were only two of us for kumite, so… Yeah. Sheepish grin here. I think I have a lot of work to do.