Three years ago I was invited to train with those who were going to compete at the USA Karate Nationals. “Come find out what you’re made of,” the yudansha (black belt) challenged me. I did indeed find out what I was made of, but I didn’t make it to Nationals until this year (2018). I had fun training during two summers (2015 and 2016). During those summers I was one of a few karateka who couldn’t go or didn’t want to go to Nationals but who enjoyed training hard and supporting those who were competing. Last year and this year it was not possible for our group to have that specific training.
In an ideal world, all four summers I would have had both the financial resources to travel and a good bit of tough training outside of normal class time with a close-knit group of mentors and comrades. I really don’t want to go into why these things never happened in combination for me. I have moved on from the angst I felt about that. This year I decided to heck with it, I would go to Nationals anyway.
Whenever I caught myself moping about “the good old days,” I reminded myself that I spent two summers learning how to train for a big competition. The advantage to being mostly alone this summer was that I could customize my workout. I used a spreadsheet to create a circuit workout – arms, legs, abs, kata, and drills. Three times I did have help with sparring outside of class, but for the most part I had to rely on regular class. For kata I simply worked on things that my sensei(s) pointed out during regular class. I buckled down and got ‘er done. I also sought help with my angst and was encouraged to simply have fun and to learn from the experiences of preparing and competing.
I did learn and I did have fun.
At this point in my story, it would be grand if I could say I won medals at Nationals. Oh what a great thing it is to be the underdog who triumphs! Well, that might have happened if I had registered as Intermediate. Karateka who have trained for four years can register either as Intermediate or Advanced. I didn’t feel right about the prospect of creaming someone who has only been training for two years, so I registered as Advanced. Besides, I’m used to testing myself against those who are better than I am (that’s a polite way of saying I’m used to getting my butt kicked in competition). Intermediate and Advanced for my gender and age have always been combined in all the local tournaments I’ve competed in, so that’s three seasons I’ve been competing with ladies who have trained longer than I have. I’m on the low end of Advanced, so – yeah, no medals for me at Nationals.
It’s not about the medals. I’ve blogged about that over and over again. I got what I came for. I was there for the experience. I was there to pressure-test myself. My performance of Bassai Dai kata (form) was my personal best performance ever. I need to raise the bar for myself now when it comes to kata – and not just Bassai Dai, but all the kata I’ve memorized. My kumite isn’t as bad as I thought, and when I watch the video I do see improvement. I acquitted myself well and, for once, didn’t get any warnings. A national competition held in a big, noisy convention center was a very high-pressure setting but I dealt with it calmly. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and anytime that happens there is growth.
So was 2018 really the worst year for me to go to Nationals? No. It was the worst year for me to stay home. I darn well knew how to prepare for the competition. I don’t think I could have looked at myself in the mirror if I’d stayed home moping about the circumstances not being perfect. I honestly don’t know if all the stars will ever line up exactly right. I hope they will someday. But let’s say that my financial situation had allowed me to go to Nationals in 2016. There’s one thing I have now that I didn’t have then, and that’s a USA-NKF Judge D license. In my opinion competing in Nationals was simply icing on the cake. I’ll write about my judging experiences in my next blog post!