A Karate Weekend

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.

 

Tournament 5/13/17

Yep, it’s time for another tournament blog post!  In past tournaments I’ve been easily the best, I’ve been definitely the worst, I’ve won or lost by a hair, and I’ve been the dark horse.  Heck, the tournament before this one I was injured and didn’t even compete –I just volunteered.  I’ve learned from every single tournament experience.  What happened this time?  What did I learn?  Read on!

Three days before the tournament (5/13/17) I was crawling around unhooking mats after class.  I hadn’t performed all that well while sparring a few days before, and it was on my mind.  Suddenly it hit me.  Each mat is one square meter.  Opponents start sparring from starting positions that are two meters apart.  Two meters is not a big distance, especially if both opponents move towards each other at the same time.  I realized I’d been treating two meters as if it were a much greater distance, hence my bad habit of moving in with, well… nothing.

It was one of those moments when I felt really foolish, but at the same time I was relieved.  I had identified a problem, and that’s half the battle of fixing it.  I felt even more foolish when I remembered all those drills in covering distance that we’d done in class.  I quickly turned to more positive thinking – at least I had some tools in my toolbox.  Three days before a tournament is not the time to try to fill an empty toolbox!

The tournament was so small we had only two rings and finished in about four hours.  It was so small that all intermediate and advanced women aged 18 and older were in the same division.  I knew my fellow competitors, so I knew I was most definitely the lowest ranked and the only Intermediate-level competitor.  I’m always thrown in with Advanced, so I didn’t mind that.  What threw me for a little bit of a loop was the tournament was so small that we were able to perform kata one competitor at a time instead of two competitors at the same time.  I was grateful I was performing in the second round because I had never practiced making the formal entrance for solo performance – this is usually for advanced and elite divisions.  I paid close attention to how this is done, and I’m pretty sure I did everything correctly even though I’d never entered the ring that way before.

I wish I could say my kata (form) was my best tournament performance to date, but alas, I stumbled.  I never stumble in that particular part of the kata that I was performing, and I do practice on mats periodically.  I didn’t feel particularly rattled by having to enter the ring in a different manner, so I don’t think I can blame it on that.  General nervousness?  I dunno – I’ve been to so many tournaments and belt tests that I’m not sure it bothers me anymore…  Fatigue?  After getting up ridiculously early and driving for three hours, I admit I was tired…  No, I can’t say it was fatigue that made me stumble because my kumite (sparring) was good considering the circumstances and my rank.

Only three of us ladies opted for kumite.  I was most definitely the lowest ranked.  Still, I made a good showing in the first round against the second-highest ranked lady.  I lost 8 to 6.  I recently wrote

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 think I’ve made some progress in that regard, but there’s still more work to do.  This tournament, I was in love with the realization that two meters isn’t all that big a distance, so almost every time I came off the line, it was with guns blazing.  Of course my opponent eventually figured out how to deal with me and came out on top.  If I remember correctly all four corner judges were sensei (instructors, plural) from both College and Home dojos.  Yes, feedback was given and bucket-loads of work will commence very soon.  I don’t mind.  Onward and upward!  That said, I got some compliments that I will treasure.

When medals were awarded, I stood by the sidelines cheering until my name was called to receive my third place kumite medal (there were only three of us competing in kumite, LOL).  As I stood in line with my fellow competitors, I was a little bit in awe of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these ladies, all of whom are more highly ranked than I am.  I train with two and am acquainted with the others, and I felt very privileged indeed to have competed with them.

After changing out of my sweaty, stinky gi (uniform) I sat in the stands to munch snacks and watch the rest of the tournament.  I mostly watched the judging teams working together.  Six days prior to the tournament I’d attended my third refereeing seminar, and one thing that was emphasized was the role of the Kansa (Match Supervisor).  I watched closely, but I really didn’t see that any given kansa had to do anything.  This is a good thing, it means the judging teams were working well together.  I enjoyed watching them.

There is one group of competitors that really stood out for me – the beginner/novice men.  Three guys – one maybe in his early 20’s, two maybe in their early 30’s.  At least one was a daddy.  While these three beginner men were practicing right before their division started, I had to resist the urge to go down to them.  They didn’t need a senpai (senior student) telling them what to fix, they just needed to get warmed up and steady their nerves for what might have been their first tournament.  As I laughed at myself I realized that I wanted these men to succeed.  Adult students are precious to a dojo, and these guys had the guts to try something new at a time of life when most men and women start spending less time on physical fitness.  I remembered some quote I can’t find now – something along the lines of “be the guy that other people want to see succeed, and you will succeed.”  I for one want them to succeed, and something tells me they will.  All they knew were their latest kata – one man performed the very first basic kata we learn.  They were challenging and stretching themselves.  One of my sensei pointed out (privately) to me that I could have challenged myself by performing the latest kata I’ve learned.  I immediately thought of those three beginner men.  Yes, there are things we can learn from our kohai (students who are lower-ranked than oneself).

OK, sure, I have only one third-place medal given to me because there were only three competitors in my division for kumite.  Everyone knows I lost in both kata and kumite.  But I gained a lot. As I jotted notes down and started the draft of this blog post, I realized that I am starting to learn more from each tournament.  The days before and the days after a tournament are a part of the experience too, and those days influence future development.  I also learned I am more capable than I thought even though I still have a lot of things to learn and improve on.  Last but not least, I learned that our kohai can be good examples for us.

I am feeling less intimidated about testing for my next belt.  No, I don’t know when I’m testing – I will test when my Dojo Sensei says I’m ready.  This next test will be significantly harder than any belt test I have previously taken, but this tournament has shown me that I am making progress.  It was a yardstick for me to measure myself with, and I am satisfied with the results.  Now – back to the dojo.  Back to sweat, back to hard work, and back to sore muscles.  I have lots of things to work on!

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.

Gambling

“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.

In the Shadow of the Spruce Goose

SprGThe first time I saw the Spruce Goose, the largest airplane ever constructed, was in Long Beach, California.  I think it might have been 1987 and a couple of months prior to that family vacation, I’d made the decision to quit Karate.  If someone had told me then that at age 46 I’d be one belt rank higher and competing against people who significantly outrank me in a tournament held under the tail of the Spruce Goose, I’d have told that person, “You’re crazy.”

Question6_CrazyLife is crazy.

In 1992 the Evergreen Air and Space Museum acquired the Spruce Goose and built a new home for it in Oregon.  Someone got the idea to rent part of the building for a Karate tournament.  As someone I spoke with put it, “I’m spoiled now.  Smelly old college gyms are never going to be the same for me again.”  I agree.  For one thing, there was plenty of daylight – I hate not being able to have at least some natural light.  Best of all, we were surrounded by really awesome airplanes and jets.

Ceinture_De_Karate_Ou_Judo_clip_art_greenI almost cried when I first saw the good ol’ Spruce Goose again after so many years.  I’ve come so far in the last two years.  Even though I’m only one belt rank higher, I’ve done far more than when I was a teenager.  I am more than I ever was.  I understand more but at the same time I’m dimly aware that there is so much that I need to learn.  Yeah, I should not have quit then.  But on the other hand, I would not be having the same adventures I’m having now.

My first lesson from the tournament was during the opening ceremony.  Someone was complimenting the head of the organization that was running the tournament, or maybe it was the head of the entire style that organization studies – I don’t remember.  But what I do remember is the gentleman saying this:  If you say, “I can’t,” a Sensei says, “You can’t?  Oh good!  Let’s get to work!”  Words to live by for sure.

03_Image2As I started practicing my kata on the mats before the tournament began, I noticed a gentleman practicing Rohai Shodan.  I enjoyed watching this gentleman practice because not only am I learning Rohai Shodan for my next belt test, but the gentleman practicing was from a different style and I loved comparing what he was doing to what I was taught.  After the tournament began, we had the same idea – the staging area was not very busy, had plenty of space, and overlooked the main floor, so he and I headed up there to practice while we waited.  The gentleman inspired me with his patient practice, so rather than loaf around, I followed suit.  Both of us settled into our own rhythms of practice, watching the tournament, and walking.  In addition to my kata, I occasionally threw head-level roundhouse kicks at a concrete pillar in order to practice hitting without harming an opponent.

Soon after my division was called to staging, the usual ladies from Oregon trooped in.  Three times now they’ve driven four or more hours to beat me up, so this time I thought I’d make the drive myself so they could beat me up more conveniently.  I have no idea why they weren’t at the last tournament I was in.  That’s the only tournament this season in which I’ve won a medal.  That said, they’re a neat bunch of gals, and it’s a pity we live so far apart.

Photo courtesy of Sami
Photo courtesy of Sami

While we were waiting for the competitors in our assigned ring to finish, I felt an irrational desire to run away.  I breathed deeply and looked up at the tail of the Spruce Goose.  I couldn’t quit, not with that huge tangible reminder of all the could-have-beens and all the regrets.  I thought to myself, “I’ve come way too far to back out now.  I’ve got to trust my training.”  I looked around.  The competitors in the ring next door caught my eye – they were in the division I was in last season.  Yeah, the season when I won all those shiny medals.  I watched them while they practiced and I concluded that I was exactly where I needed to be even if it meant not placing.

Four of us competed in kata, I tied for third place.  I know I did wonderfully on my kata until I got off balance during one of the final movements.  Of course I lost.  After I exited the ring I had to remind myself to see the big picture.  I first started memorizing Bassai Dai kata last winter and I’ve worked hard on it since.  This is a kata most styles wait until black belt to teach – my organization requires it for the 5th kyu test.   I have only begun to scratch the surface of it, and I’m improving and learning more.  Yes, it was disappointing to wobble but I recovered and finished the kata with the proper demeanor – and that alone is something I can be proud of.  I looked again at the huge airplane tail looming above the venue and knew that the loss was nothing compared to what I’ve gained in the 29 years since I last saw the Spruce Goose.

One of my fellow competitors bowed out of sparring, leaving only three of us.  I didn’t get the bye – it was just as well because I get nervous watching other fighters before I’ve had some time in the ring myself.  Once I’ve had a fight, I’m OK with watching.  As we entered the ring, I looked at my opponent and knew I was in for a heck of a fight.  I’ve seen her fight before and I’m fairly certain she significantly outranks me (competitors wear only red or blue belts for tournaments).  I reminded myself I have more tools to use than I did at the last tournament.  I happened to be facing the Spruce Goose as I entered the ring and took up my starting position.

SpruceGoose2The huge aircraft dominated the scene behind my opponent.  I reminded myself again of how far I’ve come.  I knew that in the face of almost certain defeat, I had a choice.  Knuckle under and hope it was over quickly, or stay calm, do my best, play the game, and learn.  I chose the latter.

I was right, it was a heck of a fight.  I slipped and fell once and went to the mats again later because my opponent dumped me on my can for kicking too slowly.  The first time I went to the ground, I rolled out of the way before my opponent could score three points.  The second time I went to the ground, I saw an opening and side-kicked while I was still on the ground.  Unfortunately the shushin had already called a halt the instant before my foot connected with my opponent’s abdomen, so I didn’t score.  But at least I’d prevented my opponent from getting three points.  I’ve never tried that before.  All in all, I didn’t do too badly.  She won with eight points, mostly punches.  I scored five points – two with punches, three with my signature move (roundhouse kick to the head).  Not bad.  But I missed my coach, who is a Sensei at a sister dojo.

I’m not going into all the details about why my coach wasn’t there and all the assumptions that went down on both sides.  I let Affiliate YMCA Sensei bring up the subject, and he did.  “You need to learn to text me when you’re in staging,” he told me.  What could I say but, “Ossu!”  I suddenly understood the beauty and efficiency of that word.  Frankly, if I’d made excuses, thrown blame, etc. I’d have still eventually ended up saying, “Ossu!” at the end (maybe after a bazillion push-ups).  And really, I do need to move into the 21st century.  My cell phone was in my car because I couldn’t imagine needing to make a phone call, I didn’t want to receive phone calls, and I didn’t want the phone stolen out of my gear bag.  I totally forgot that a thief recently stole my credit and debit cards but left my “Dumbphone!”  Anyhow, I still think push-button phones (as opposed to rotary dial) are pretty groovy, so it never occurred to me to call or text someone who is in the same building as I am.  Go ahead and laugh.

So I came home with two bronze medals for losing the first rounds of both kata and kumite.  Funny how that works, but hey, they’re nice souvenirs.  The host organization had nice goodies for every participant, including Kung Fu Panda stuffed toys (I gave mine to my younger daughter*).  But the best takeaways from this tournament were not the material things.  The best takeaways were the lessons I learned in the shadow of the Spruce Goose.

Photo courtesy of Sami
Photo courtesy of Sami

* My younger daughter is autistic and has had a hard time controlling herself this school year.  She has lashed out physically at people in her frustration.  I gave her my Tigress doll from the tournament and talked with her about how Tigress never hits people for things like being told she can’t use a calculator to do math.  I hope my daughter will remember that and think about it this summer.  I might have to bring the stuffed toy out again before the first day of school.  Time will tell, but my daughter really appreciated the gift.