Beyond the Comfort Zone

About a month ago I was invited to help with a small tournament about half an hour’s drive from my house. Another karate organization was hosting this tournament in the gym of a private school. The little tournament, held this past weekend (5/19/18) was for children to learn about what a tournament is like in hopes of generating more interest in competing in regional, maybe even National, tournaments. I thought it was a great opportunity to get more experience with judging, especially because I didn’t judge for the Oregon State Qualifier in favor of focusing on competing.  Yes, I got the judging time that I was after, but it turned out I got so much more. It was a much-needed kick out of my comfort zone.

I earned my USA-NKF Judge D license in February  and so far I’ve been declining opportunities to do more than what I’m actually licensed to do. At local tournaments it’s OK for a Judge D to do more than just throw flags. I have to confess I didn’t study all the things a referee needs to know. I had not practiced the hand signals and calls that a referee uses. Up until this little tournament I was coasting along, worrying more about developing an eye for good points than anything else.

I arrived early and helped out with a few last minute chores. During a break I was informed of my duties. I was to referee as much as possible. My dismay at the prospect of refereeing was quite obvious.

“I haven’t studied how to be a referee!” I whined at the tournament organizer.

“I read your blog. I know how much you value learning. This is a time for you and others to learn. You will make mistakes. We all will make mistakes. That’s OK. This is not a high-stakes tournament. I wanted this to not only be a learning experience for our children, but also for you and the others who will help out today. Now, do you know how to start a match?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how to stop a match?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how to call points?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how to resume a match?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how to close a match?”

“Yes.”

The tournament director assured me those calls and signals were enough to start with. I was assured that the kansa (who oversees the judges and referee) would prompt me when needed. Most of all, I was told that nobody was expecting me to be perfect – in fact, it was a given that I would make mistakes. This was a time and a place for me to do exactly that, and to learn and grow in my skills. Both gentlemen who were serving as kansa(s) for the two rings were kind enough to walk through a match between imaginary contestants with me for a few minutes. They gave me some much-needed feedback and then went back to overseeing the final preparations for the day. I spent time rehearsing some things on my own until the start of the tournament.

I was surprised when I learned that one of my fellow students from my own dojo would be refereeing for the first time that day too. She has worn a judge/referee uniform more often than I have, so I had always assumed that she had refereed at least a few times at local tournaments. Nope – like me she had only ever thrown flags and had declined opportunities to referee.  I was glad someone else was in the same boat I was. We reassured one other and cracked jokes. I felt much better.

Competitors were divided into age groups. Kata (forms) are performed first. Judging kata is coming much more naturally to me than judging kumite (sparring). For kata competitions there are five judges. One sits front and center, the other four sit at the corners of the mats. After two competitors complete their kata(s) the front and center judge calls for a decision, gives two blasts of the whistle, and all five judges lift either a red or blue flag to indicate which competitor they are voting for. This sounds simple, but… The front and center judge has to be aware of when the four judges have taken their flags off their laps and are ready to signal their votes. The front and center judge has to lift his or her flag at the same time as the other judges – which means delaying a little after blowing the whistle. I’d had a little practice with this at a tournament last month and got more this time around.

Refereeing sparring matches is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. The section for kumite rules in the WKF rulebook  is a heck of a lot longer than for kata. There are quite a few calls and hand signals that a referee needs to know, most of these are for calling warnings and penalties However, we were using modified rules – we simply gave a verbal warning on the first offense. I personally didn’t need to use signals for warnings because none of the competitors I refereed repeated their fouls. Overall, the number of actual warnings were rare owing to the good sportsmanship exhibited by the children.

The ideal situation for sparring competitions is to have four judges sitting at the corners of the mats and the referee moves freely around the mat – and, of course, there will be a kansa to oversee the officials. At one point we had only a kansa and three judges/referees. I’ve seen this situation in every tournament. Some officials get sick. Some leave to coach their students. Some officials go on break (especially lunch break). Some have other places to be in the afternoon. Crazy people like me both work in the ring and compete. When there are four corner judges, the referee does not get to vote on which competitor has scored a point. I was thrown for a loop when, later in the tournament, we were down to two judges and me. Suddenly, I, as referee, had a vote.  There’s a hand signal to go with it that I most definitely hadn’t practiced. I still need more practice with this situation. I was grateful for the feedback and tips I received.

The growing and stretching and moving beyond my comfort zone didn’t stop at refereeing. No indeed. The dojo(s) (karate schools) these kids are from also teach a form of Sumo wrestling. I backed out of judging Sumo at first, but after watching a division, I understood what merited a score and how to signal it. So – yeah, suddenly I was judging a form of fighting that I’d never even watched before. I have to say that watching those nimble young kids grapple was fun. No, they didn’t wear, um, whatever that’s called around their loins – they simply wore their gi(s) (uniforms) and head protection. It looked like fun and a lot of hard work. I never in a million years would’ve guessed that someday I’d judge Sumo bouts!

I also learned about giving the athletes their medals. I hadn’t thought about it or noticed it before, but there are little things that make this ceremony go smoothly. After one division had done their kata, kumite, and sumo, I had the honor of actually hanging medals around the athletes’ necks as their parents looked on proudly. I hope we succeeded in getting these children and their parents more interested in tournaments.

Sure I was a little nervous, but I grew more confident as the day went on. I knew my kansa had my back. And yes, I messed up. But so did everyone who stepped into the role of referee that day. No harm was done, and we all learned and grew in skill. That was the whole point. I was very impressed that most of the judges were children. They were good judges and they were every bit as mature as us adults when it came to gracefully accepting feedback and learning from mistakes.  My friend from my own dojo did very well too.  She was working in the other ring, but from what I saw she refereed most of the matches – even the Sumo matches.  I think all of us were more confident at the end of the day than we were at the beginning.

Because this was a tiny tournament, we were done in the early afternoon. The two karateka from my own dojo had places to be and so took their leave. After cleanup I was the only representative of my organization to go out to lunch. Having fun trying new types of food, discussing the competitions, and talking shop was a good way for us to strengthen ties with one another. We have been and will be working together for a lot of tournaments to come.

This time that I invested went way beyond just myself. Of course there were personal takeaways. Yes, there was growth in my skill. I experienced far more growth than I originally anticipated. But so much more was accomplished that day by everyone, not just myself.  The children were happy, their parents were proud. Those of us who were officials invested in one another and reinforced the ties between our organizations. We’ll see the effects of that day for years to come. Who knows? Maybe this was the first tournament for a future Olympic athlete.  It was an honor to be a part of this event.

Tournament Weekend 3/18/18

I’ve written about my tournament experiences ten times already on this site. If you look to the right sidebar on your PC and scroll down a bit, look for “CATEGORIES” and click “Tournaments” you can read all of them. The themes vary: narratives that barely touch on anything deeper, funny anecdotes, and even an account of what I did and learned when I was limited to volunteering due to prior injury. Likewise, the last time I went to a tournament I also did not compete but I was in my new role as kata and kumite judge (USA-NKF Judge D). In every single post I’ve written about significant lessons learned. Most of the lessons are about what needs improving in my karate. One was a lesson in life’s little quirks  and another was about a lesson that I learned when I was a teenager that was reinforced at one of my first tournaments as an adult. So there are a good many similarities among the posts. This post will be a bit different – very little narrative, mostly analysis.

My role in tournaments is changing. I’ve been competing and volunteering for quite awhile but now I am also judging. This past tournament was my second time judging but I didn’t spend the whole time doing so. I was surprised by an assignment to volunteer for the first two or three hours. I was needed to help with staging the athletes – a very pleasant task, actually. The powers that be really wanted me there because I’d done well in that capacity in the past. When things slowed down I was released to judge. Then, when it came close to time for my division to be called to staging, I changed clothes for the second time that day and warmed up in staging. I wore three hats that day.

My responsibilities within those three roles (volunteer, judge, competitor) are considerable. During the seminars the day before the tournament I had another role to play – student. No matter which role I play I am representing my Karate organization and Karate in general. People are watching. Cameras are everywhere and videos go on social media. Mistakes are public. This point has been made over and over again in judging/refereeing seminars and pre-tournament officials’ meetings. But of course even as a volunteer working behind the scenes if I mess up the effects ripple outward. It’s a lot of pressure and I’ve been trusted with a lot of responsibility. I take comfort in the fact that I have many mentors – and even some who don’t really know me all that well have come alongside me to guide me when I needed feedback. I really appreciate their investment into my success, and as a bonus my “karate network” grows.

I’ve been networking for awhile but this tournament I connected with a set that I have been a little timid about – those who are among the highest ranked in their organizations. After I audited a judge/referee seminar I got to chat a little bit with someone who is highly placed in the USA-NKF. I raised my hand during a kata seminar and served as a demonstration student so that the instructor could teach us about spotting the kihon (basics) within a kata (form). This meant I got feedback from a seven-time world champion. At lunch I sat down with a very highly ranked Okinawan karate practitioner. I learned a lot about the characteristics and history of Okinawan karate and what to look for when judging Okinawan kata. I competed against a Japan National Team Member and Asian Karate Federation medalist (yes, she made mincemeat of me, I lost 8 to 1). She and I found out we have daughters the same age and promised to see each other next year. I suspect my karate network will continue to grow as I rub shoulders with more and more karateka of all ranks during tournaments and seminars.

I’m getting more out of seminars. I’m spending less time trying to figure out how to make my body move the way I want it to. I have more techniques hammered into my muscle memory thanks to kata (forms). If I’m learning a new way of moving I can compare and contrast to what I already know. A first for me was at one point a seminar leader walked up to me and my partner to suggest that we add something to the sparring drill because we had quickly grasped what had been taught. He was pushing us to the next level and we gleefully plunged right in. When I attend seminars I am now starting to look for teaching ideas and warm-up exercises that I could use in the future. This tournament I gained some insight into how to be even more discerning when judging kata (forms).

I’ve only judged for two tournaments but I’m finding I’m more comfortable judging kata than kumite (sparring). I’m building familiarity with kata that I don’t personally know – and yes as a matter of fact I can judge them and am licensed to do so.  I follow the WKF guidelines (page 31). I’m becoming more aware of details that I need to teach students. I’m building a rudimentary knowledge of the characteristics of different styles other than the one I study. Judging kumite (sparring) is a different story – I’m not as comfortable with that. The section of the rules dedicated to kumite is a lot bigger. It’s fast-paced and I have to make split-second decisions. Of course I accumulated more tips and feedback this past tournament. I do think I have improved a little since the my first tournament. As long as I keep making progress I’ll be satisfied. I’ve been told over and over that every single judge and referee had to stumble a bit until they hit their stride. The rules are still being tweaked, so even the highest World Karte Federation members are still learning!

All this might seem very “advanced” to those who are new to karate, and yes I have made progress since I first stepped into a dojo. I’ve learned a few things but I still have a lot to learn. I know I’ve touched on this before in previous posts, but I’ll write it again: I still am a beginner and always will be. A friend of mine, Clifton Bullard, once heard his sensei say to a newly-promoted Shodan (first degree black belt), “Congratulations – you are now officially an interested beginner.” To expand further on this, Clifton writes:

What he said (as nearly as I can remember it after 30+ years lol) was that it meant that you know how to be a student, so now you must BE that student, and learn how to become something more. At a different point, he said that shodan was not the end of the journey. It meant that now your bags were packed and you were ready to start YOUR journey.

In spite of the fact that I’m moving into more advanced roles and material, I am still packing my bags. Stay tuned to this blog for more!

Another New Role

I’ve been to karate tournaments as a spectator, a competitor, and as a volunteer. When I earned my brown belt last summer I became eligible to try for a judging license. This past weekend was the culmination of over a year of preparation. For the last year I’ve been reading the World Karate Federation rules and auditing referee seminars. I’ve watched officials at tournaments. I tend to be a “whole to part” learner, so it takes awhile for details to settle in. I spent January hammering in as many details as I could and hoped they were the right details. I got my criminal background check and SafeSport certification done in plenty of time for the seminar and subsequent exams to earn my USA National Karate Federation Judge D license. I took practice tests and hoped for the best.

I won’t go into detail about what I did wrong in the first tests on Saturday. But I will say that I am now far more familiar with the format of each test therefore I now know how to study for each of the first tests. There’s more license testing in my future! My poor performance in the preliminary exams called to mind my experience with the SAT (a standardized test for US high school students who are planning to go on to college). My grades were quite high so obviously I knew how to function in the context of high school academia. But when I took the PSAT (Pre-SAT, administered as practice a few months prior to the SAT) I scored poorly. After receiving my scores I bought a book that was full of tips, practice questions, and practical advice. I did much better when it came time for the real test and scored highly enough to get admitted to the colleges I was applying to. I may have done poorly on the first tests for my judging license, but I will do better when I re-certify or try for a higher license.

I redeemed myself during the practical part of the exam. The day after the first tests us candidates were assigned to rings for the actual tournament. For kata (forms) there are five judges who each get a vote, and for kumite (sparring) there are four judges and a referee – in other words, I was part of a team that made decisions. Candidates for licensing were mixed in with more experienced judges and referees so we had a lot of support and feedback. We were evaluated as we worked as parts of the teams we’d been assigned to. Mostly the examiners were discreet as they observed us candidates, although I did laugh silently to myself when one of them took the role of referee and I was, therefore, part of his panel for a few bouts. He absolutely was looking at my judging then – he had to! But this was later in the day so I didn’t think anything of it. By then I’d hit my stride and he’d probably done enough evaluating and most likely was giving someone else a break.

After the last competitor received medals us candidates were called over to receive our patches and certificates. I felt like crying with relief but of course I didn’t. That one moment when I knew I’d earned my license meant just as much to me as winning a gold medal in competition. USA-NKF Judge D is the lowest of the low, but that’s OK. It’s a start, and until I earn my first degree black belt, this is all I’m qualified for. Throughout the tournament I had a generous helping of support and feedback from one of the sensei (instructors) from the karate organization I belong to. He’s leading a workshop on judging and refereeing tomorrow (2/17/18). It’ll be worth the three-hour drive to get there. I’m sure there’s more I need to know about judging and I’d like to practice refereeing even though technically I’m not eligible for that role yet.

Here are some highlights of the weekend.

One part of the exams on Saturday involved us going one by one into a room alone with the three examiners. While we were waiting, someone quipped, “What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?” Of course several of us also started quoting the movie (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) and telling funny stories involving quoting that movie during karate. Being rather silly while waiting our turns was a great way to let off some nervous energy.

Men’s blazers and shirts have all sorts of pockets everywhere. Women’s blazers and shirts don’t. I had to hide my whistle under my tie because I didn’t have a shirt pocket. I have to figure out how to affix my judge patch to my blazer – no problem for the men, they have cute little flippy magnet things that fit in the breast pocket that my blazer lacks! At one point I fumed, “It doesn’t have pockets. When I went to my fitting at Chez Alison, the one thing I forgot to say was ‘Give me pockets!’” Yes, there are more than a few karateka who are Doctor Who fans.

The very first division I had to judge was kobudo (weapons). I’ve had a few classes in bo, a few lessons in Filipino Martial Arts, and zero experience with using a point system to judge. There’s not much in the way of guidance for kobudo judging in the rulebook.  I was able to think on my feet with the point system, but what about judging something that, for all intents and purposes, I have never done myself? And what about judging a division where there were 3 bo, 1 set of canes (“sticks”), 1 set of nunchaku, and 1 eku all competing in the same division? How do you judge different weapons against one another? I already knew that looking at the lower body helps tremendously when judging empty-hand kata. Weapons are no different. Beyond that, I have to thank my online acquaintances and fellow martial-arts bloggers Jackie Bradbury  and Brian Johns. They’ve shown me what good weapons-work looks like. I’m not saying that I have nothing more to learn about judging weapons, it’s just that I wasn’t completely floundering when I was put into that situation.

The last division I judged were elite level athletes. I was assigned to that ring because one of my examiners thought I could handle it (this was a very high complement considering my dismal performance in the preliminaries the day before). I was judging young men in the peak of physical condition all of whom had more years of training than I. I’m sure they’ve been to more than just local tournaments. Total and complete contrast with me, a slightly-lumpy middle-aged matron who’s only been training for four years. And yet, there I was – sitting in a chair and holding flags for signaling my opinion. But yet I wasn’t nervous. By then I’d been judging all day. I reminded myself that I’ve been watching and evaluating kata at tournaments and in the dojo for quite some time. Not to mention I’ve been fixing my own bad habits and polishing the little details of the kata I’ve learned. So I sat back and enjoyed having a front row seat to some really good kata performances. I had to get very nitpicky with these competitors. Winners won by a hair most of the time.

After all was said and done, someone asked me about my weekend. I replied that it was nerve-wracking, exciting, and educational. I was both prepared and unprepared. I have a lot to learn and I know I will have help when I need it. As far as judging is concerned I consider myself to be the equivalent of a new orange belt (10th kyu – the first belt one tests for in our system). Judging at tournaments is another new role I’ve begun playing since I earned my brown belt (“low brown,” 3rd kyu, three more tests before black). The title of my blog site, “A Beginner’s Journey” is still very relevant!

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!