Worth More than Gold

Last weekend I drove three hours and stayed overnight Saturday (3/18/17) in order to support the yearly tournament our Karate organization hosts.  I’d pulled my left hamstring earlier in the week (don’t ask – I was totally stupid).  I could still limp around and because it was my left leg I could still drive.  Sitting was murder, which left me with lying down, standing, and limping.  Because I made steady progress in healing I’m fairly certain that being mostly on my feet all weekend helped my injury.

Obviously I didn’t compete.  Yes, I felt a little sad about that.  But really, the whole weekend was very rewarding.  I’m not going to sprinkle this post with references, but I will say that many of the lessons contained in Pixar Studio’s first “Cars” movie applied to this tournament experience.

Upon arrival late Saturday morning I immediately found a task to do.  At least a couple hundred medals passed through my hands as they were removed from plastic wrappers and put into bundles of 2 bronze, 1 silver, and 1 gold.  I was able to chat with other karateka as they drifted in and out to help or to admire the medals.  I was also able to catch glimpses of the seminars.

I observed at least two of our Sensei (instructors) enjoying their chance to be students – and they have decades of study under their belts.  It was a good reminder for me to always pay attention to my own development in the art of Karate.  I must always keep a beginner’s mindset – a willingness to try new things and to discover my capabilities. I also noted many karatekas’ joyful demeanor as they went through the drills that were taught.  Many of those obviously happy folks were wearing black belts.

Yes, folks, this Karate stuff is supposed to be fun.  It’s hard work and tournaments commonly make people nervous, but we must not lose sight of that element of fun.  I’m going to have to keep that in mind if I ever get into coaching.  There’s going to be intense pressure inherent in that position but if I keep that spark of fun maybe it’ll keep me from making some mistakes in how I treat people during tournaments.  I’m grateful to have many excellent examples among my Sensei-s as I learn how to build positive behavior in myself and in others.

Mid-afternoon found me attending another referee seminar.  It’s good to hear information from different  instructors, even better when you’ve attended seminars by two top-notch experts.  This time I was better prepared because I’d actually read the rules before the seminar.  I took lots of notes and truly appreciated drilling the calls again.  I have a better understanding of one of the new rules/calls and how the judging team works together.  During the last part of the tournament I watched not only the athletes but also the judging team.  This helped reinforce what I’d learned during the referee seminar the previous day.  I have some good tips on how I can practice before I am eligible for certification.

Certification.  Wait, aren’t I already certifiable?  I began Karate again at age 44.  That’s insane, right?  Nope.  I have a new friend who assures me that there are 70 year old ladies in Japan who compete in sparring.  Yep – not just kata (forms) but sparring as well.  Rock on, Grandmas!

Saturday night I was tired from the long day and from life in general, and my leg ached a bit.  It was time for my sanity break.  OK, yes, I know, my sanity is already broken – the evidence for that is I acquire bruises for funsies, as Jackie Bradbury puts it.  I took a long, hot bath (a rare luxury for me) to ease the pain in my leg.  Then I spent some time with my Grandpa – in a manner of speaking.  My mother recently put together photos, information from books and websites, and transcripts of interviews with my Grandpa into a small book. I finally have his stories from World War II in chronological order and in context.  There’s no doubt in my mind where my tenacity and fighting spirit come from.

Sunday morning I woke up at my usual time (5:30 AM), got my day started and arrived at the venue at 7:00 AM as I’d promised.  I had some tasks to do that I’d promised to do months ago.  I finished with that well before deadline and before I knew it I was helping with staging the athletes.  Much to my surprise I found I wasn’t limping nearly as badly as I had the day before.  I think the mild exercise helped the healing process.  During the course of my work I exchanged pleasantries with karateka whom I hadn’t seen in awhile and chatted a little with my fellow dojo-mates (many of whom both volunteered and competed).  I made some new acquaintances as well.

One of the highlights for me was having rows of little kids following me from staging to their ring – it was so cute to see them walking along behind me like ducklings.  I’d have loved to have picked up the tiniest among them for a hug, but I think they would have kicked my butt if I’d tried.  Still, they were absolutely precious.

During a time when the rings were backed up and no divisions were being called to staging I started practicing kata without doing the stances.  I heard whispers.  One person identified the kata I was practicing, another wondered why my stances were beyond atrocious (my words, not his).  At one point I forgot what to do next.  Because the lower half of my body was hardly engaged it was difficult for me to remember what to do with my arms.  A Sensei of my acquaintance happened to walk by so I asked for help.  He’d seen me limping around so he simply reminded me of the next couple of movements.  I finished up.  I think I have a better appreciation for how the whole body is involved in even the most basic movements.

I was a bit sad as I led the last division to their ring.  This was my division.  We all know each other, and if we see someone new we immediately make her feel welcome.  I handed over the repechage sheets to the table crew, returned the clipboard to staging, and went back ringside to watch and cheer them on.  There was another division finishing up so “my” division didn’t start right away.  While waiting, I watched everything I could see.

I saw beginner, intermediate, and world-class athletes sparring and I realized something.  There are people who enjoy working on cars so much that they will take a car’s engine out, take it apart, clean it, replace everything that’s worn out, and put it back together again.  That’s what I want to do with my sparring.  I want to adopt a couple of things I saw and I want to break bad habits.  I want to re-build.  I’m glad I can count on having good instructors and fellow students to help me along.

My division started and I cheered for everyone.  Observing my fellow ladies and the judging team helped me stave off the frustration of being injured and unable to compete.  While I was watching something happened and my attention was drawn elsewhere for a few minutes.  If I hadn’t been injured I wouldn’t have been in the right place at the right time to help for as long as it took until someone more equipped took over.  I was then able to rejoin my comrades and cheer for them until after their medals were awarded.  All too soon it was time for me to make the rounds and say goodbye before my long drive home.

I have my rewards.  I learned some things and I have some things to work on.  I made connections with people and reinforced existing friendships.  I had the satisfaction of helping others have some fun.  The next day I received a bit of recognition which more than made up for the sadness of not being able to compete.  Be that as it may, I still want to compete and I admit a medal or two would be nice.  But medals aren’t everything.  Some things are worth more than gold.

Author: Joelle White

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

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