Lessons from Winning

I’ve written plenty of posts about my tournament participation – mostly about losing in tournaments. When I have written about a tournament in which I won a medal, I’ve downplayed it. And… it’s been awhile since the last time I earned a medal. Part of that is due to where I am in my journey relative to the divisions I’ve competed in. It’s fairly easy to earn a medal if you’re almost ready for Intermediate but are still in the Beginner/Novice division. It’s not so easy to earn a medal if you’re new to Intermediate and are in the Intermediate/Advanced division. Advanced includes yudansha (black belts) so… Yeah.

I have plenty of bronze medals. There aren’t many ladies my age who compete. Most tournaments only three or four show up. There are various good reasons for awarding two third place medals, and I have some that I received for just being there. A part of me is uncomfortable with the medals that I got just for showing up. One of my sensei(s) (instructors) disagrees. “If nobody else showed up it’s because they didn’t have the [guts] to show up. You showed up. You earned that bronze medal.” At some level, I have accepted that opinion – the evidence for my acceptance adorns a tucked-away corner of my home.

I have heard that many karateka hide their medals and trophies, or even throw them away. This comes from a desire to stay humble. Some believe (correctly, in my opinion) that a medal or trophy does not indicate that someone is a better karateka than someone else. I understand this better now that I have earned a silver in an advanced division out of a field of eleven competitors (more below). I understand this especially when it comes to those of my bronze medals that feel, to me, like participation medals. But I still choose to keep my medals, to display them on the wall in a mostly empty spare bedroom that I use for practice.

I keep my medals – all of them – to remind myself that I am vibrantly and passionately alive. I’m looking at turning half a century old in twelve and a half months. I’m working against a lot of cultural baggage that still nags at me, probably because of what society told me when I was a child in the 1970s. I’m doing things that, from my late teens to five years ago, I never thought I’d do at nearly fifty years old. I’m more of an athlete now than I was in my twenties. I’ve given my children wings, now I’m finding my own wings. I’m loving almost every minute of training. As for the parts I don’t love, well – I love the results (ex: push ups build strong arms).

So now for the story of my latest medal. St. Patrick’s Day (2019) found me at a tournament our karate organization puts on every year. I spent most of the day in a judge’s chair and was glad to be up and moving after I changed into my gi and warmed up in the staging area. I didn’t pay any attention to who was in my division until we were ringside. I was too busy being silly with my older daughter, who was volunteering in staging. I walked immediately behind my daughter when she led us to the ring. Once my division lined up for competition, I was delighted to see eleven ladies, not the usual three or four. I hadn’t seen that big a field in my division since Nationals in July (read about my experiences here and here)!

I was grateful for the class I’d had before the competition. For the last half of that class, my sensei had us students practice our kata (forms) three times in a row, full speed and power. When we finished we were to move to the back of the room. I was the last to finish and the first to be called up to perform my kata in front of the class three times in a row full speed and power. I’d had maybe thirty seconds or less to take some deep breaths. Six times in a row with a 30 second break halfway through. I was exhausted but elated when I was done. For the tournament, I performed three times with maybe 2 minutes break in between as other ladies performed. Then, after another roughly 2 minute break while the other ladies finished up, I performed a different kata for the medal round (in accordance with USA-NKF rules). Every single time I stepped onto the mats, I thought, “This is easy compared to what I did on Thursday!” But at the same time, I couldn’t get cocky. I knew I was up against some stiff competition.

If the repechage sheet had been drawn up differently, I would not have won a silver medal. So there is an element of luck. Of course I have some skill after nearly five years of study: I won three rounds and I have a nice shiny silver medal. Yes, I earned that medal – I performed one difficult kata well three times and another kata once. But it’s that element of luck that is keeping me humble right now. I darn well know that sometimes, one’s best isn’t good enough.

That’s life.

Oh, and um… I got thoroughly trounced in kumite (sparring). Lost the first round pretty spectacularly. Long time readers of this blog know that I learn from losing. A field of eleven meant no participation medal for me for kumite. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about only having one medal (although I will work hard on my sparring). I’m tickled pink that all those ladies showed up to compete. I hope to see them again and again this season. The more the merrier!

Author: Joelle White

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

3 thoughts on “Lessons from Winning”

  1. I love this post. I agree that acknowledging what we do well is important, especially for us women. Being humble is an excellent virtue, but I often feel that it was encouraged more as a goal for men, and sometimes women have to be encouraged the other way: to stand up and claim what is their’s.

    I also love hearing about your tournaments, I hope someday to compete, or at least to show off what we learn in some way, but our practice is just starting to enter those events, and it seems to be mostly directed at the young men. Sigh. I hope to help change it, but it is hard by yourself.
    Thanks again for your posts; I have been following the others to, but have not had much time to comment.

  2. Thank you so much for reading – and no worries about commenting, I understand! Being humble is something we stress for both genders in our organization – the very first line of our dojo kun (we recite at the beginning and end of each class) is “Be humble and polite.” I commend you for helping your dojo enter the world of competition. It takes a little while to find your feet in that world, but it’s an exciting aspect of Karate! All the best to you.

  3. Oh, I like what you recite, and I was not trying to suggest that it should not be a goal of both genders. It should be! We do the same, but I think being proud of accomplishments is important too, and sometimes women do not allow themselves that. It is changing slowly too. 🙂

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