Excellent training, breathtaking countryside, a tournament in an air & space museum and a friend to share it all with. I had a great weekend. I came back refreshed and eager to get to work on the things in my karate that need improvement.
Bright and early Saturday morning (6/24/17) I picked up my friend S. T. She is from Japan and has just finished up her studies at the community college where I work. We’ve been training together for a few months now, and it will be hard to say goodbye in a couple of weeks. After a little over three hours we rolled into a city just outside Portland, Oregon.
We were a bit ahead of schedule so I introduced my friend S. T. to the joys of thrift stores. It just so happened that I needed shorts and found a pair immediately. The shorts still had the original store tags on them, so I showed S. T. the original price and the thrift store price. To top it all off, Oregon has no sales tax. I explained the thrift store’s mission. S. T. was impressed.
In due time we reached our destination. My Dojo Sensei (the head instructor of the school where I study) had contacted the Dojo Sensei of our organization’s Hombu Dojo (headquaters) and obtained permission for S. T. and I to attend Saturday class there. It turned out to be a very tiny class and I was very definitely the lowest ranked. I absolutely love it when that happens.
Under the direction of one sensei (instructor), three of us worked intensively on kumite (sparring) for ninety minutes. I was the only one who hadn’t earned at least a Shodan (first degree black belt) yet. I’ve learned not to be intimidated under these circumstances. We had a lot of fun together and I learned very valuable lessons. The sensei who led the class had been wanting to help me ever since he saw me bopped on the nose two seconds into a sparring match with someone one rank higher than me. He sure got his chance, and I am grateful.
At the end of the class, the sensei who led us told me that my kumite wouldn’t be fixed tomorrow, nor next week or next month. But, he continued, if I continue to practice what I’d learned, eventually it will sink in and I will improve. I believe it. I already knew I couldn’t expect a quick fix that would win me the gold medal in the tournament the next day. Learning new skills and honing existing skills is a process that takes time.
My gi was soaked with sweat, I was happily tired, and my brain was full of what I’d learned. That’s my excuse for not practicing kata (forms) on mats after class. Bad karateka (one who studies karate). Bad, bad, bad karateka!
Over bottles of juice at a convenience store, my friend S. T. and I looked up local attractions and decided to visit a lavender farm. We drove through beautiful farm country. S. T. was in awe as we rounded the bend of a road and came upon a particularly beautiful field.
“THIS is America,” she breathed, “I cannot get this view anywhere in Japan.”
I had to agree.
The lavender farm was interesting and beautiful. I did not know there are varieties of lavender, and my friend and I delighted in trying to tell the differences both in form and scent. We enjoyed the antiques and befriended a dog. I got a kick out of the chickens – one was black with a white “wig.” They weren’t as friendly as the dog.
Because of the heat (100 F, 38 C) and overall fatigue, we decided to check in to our motel. S. T. took a nap while I washed our gi (uniforms) and visited a convenience store. It’s a good thing I decided to wash the gi (plural). I had thought I’d packed my everyday gi and my nice competition gi, but it turned out I’d packed my everyday gi and a ratty old gi. My everyday gi had to suffice for the morrow’s tournament. After I hung the gi to dry, it was my turn to relax while S. T. finished her nap and looked up some information about a university she’s thinking of transferring to. I jotted down notes from the morning’s class, then I had the luxury of reading a novel for a good solid hour.
Dinner was another adventure for S. T. The only Cracker Barrel restaurant on the West Coast opened up a few months ago. It had been years since I’d been to one. Because it was 100 degrees and I was walking into a Cracker Barrel I had a hard time remembering that I wasn’t in Texas! When my meal arrived I got my Japanese friend to try the Southern staple known as “grits.” She asked if it was rice, and I replied one can easily make rice grits with a grain grinder. She enjoyed her BLT and we both enjoyed the reasonable prices.
Talk about having trouble remembering where we were… On the way back to the motel I decided to stop at a gas station. I forgot that in Oregon, one is not allowed to put fuel in one’s vehicle. The gas station attendant does that. The attendant was cheerful, and I was grateful for his humor. He must get at least five out of state tourists per shift who forget to stay in their cars.
I for one slept like a log.
After a quick breakfast of juice, toast, and fruit in the motel lobby, we were on our way. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning, and good thing because the drive was spectacular. It was farm country nearly all the way to the tournament venue. The morning sun was beautiful, illuminating trees, grass, and flowers. We climbed up a ridge to what I guesstimate was 500 feet ( 152 meters) and spent a good long while driving a road along the top of that ridge. Every so often we’d have spectacular views of the Willammete Valley, its farms spread out like a quilt below us. S. T. and I were both in awe.
We descended into the valley and drove through vineyards to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Last year I wrote about competing under the tail of the Spruce Goose in the aviation part of the museum. This year, the tournament was held in the Space building. It was good to see Oregon friends as we hustled about to get ready for the tournament. I got a kick out of competing among and below space capsules, a model of Sputnik, and experimental aircraft designed for use in the upper atmosphere.
I spent most of the day watching, napping, and snacking. I really enjoyed seeing tiny tots who couldn’t have been older than three. At the opposite end of the spectrum were more seasoned warriors. Truly, Karate can be enjoyed by a wide range of age groups. Whenever I could, I tried to sit where I could hear the coaches. I would like a thorough grounding in and experience in judging and refereeing before I move into that realm, but it doesn’t hurt to listen and observe now. Eventually I had to go to staging and get warmed up.
Just before my division was called I got a chance to see friends in action. I cheered a gentleman who is my kohai (a student lower ranked than oneself). I helped him learn the kata (form) he performed and was immensely proud when he won gold. He did well in kumite (sparring) too, as I knew he would. My Japanese friend S. T. did not compete in kata, just in kumite. She had a ferocious fight that was fun to watch. Her opponent really gave her a run for the money. I was in awe of S. T. that’s for sure!
My division was small, just two of us. At the last tournament, one of my sensei had pointed out that I could’ve challenged myself by performing the kata I had most recently learned (its name is Jion). Just for him, I did just that this tournament. I won gold in kata. The sensei who had instructed me the day before was right – I didn’t receive a magic fix that would get me the gold medal in kumite (and as I said before, I wasn’t expecting one because learning new skills takes time). However, I did notice I was a lot better at staying loose. That’s progress. My opponent and I know each other pretty well by now, so this match I realized that I have to build my repertoire. Off the mats, we are starting to get acquainted, and we had a very nice chat after we were awarded our medals.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Oregon friends and hit the road. S. T. and I spent the hours in the car talking and silently mulling over the experiences we’d shared. Soon, S. T. will go home to spend her summer back home in Japan, then she will start a new American adventure at whichever university she chooses. As much as I enjoy my work with the local community college’s International Student Program, the goodbyes every quarter are hard, and after Spring Quarter is the worst. I’m sad that I will say goodbye to my friend soon, but I’m very happy for her and I’m immensely proud of her.