Tournament Funny

I have various tidbits of takeaways and lessons learned from a very busy three days, and I’ll be sharing in between and around my posts about February.

150430_MedalMy first story is from the Yoshida Cup tournament just yesterday.

So I was hanging around near the staging area waiting for my division to be called and doing some light warmups, when I noticed Sensei Cheryl Murphy (yes, HER) doing the same. I started wondering, “Just how old is she anyway?” I was in the 35-49 year old Ladies’ Intermediate and Advanced division. I’m on the low end of Intermediate, Sensei Cheryl is very much on the high end of Advanced. I started sweating and it wasn’t because of the Hindu Squats I was doing. “She’s not 35, naaaaw, can’t be. Wait – what if she’s one of those people like me about whom people always say, ‘You look a decade younger’? Ohhh my God, what if she is 35?!?  She can’t be that old. No way. But… I could be wrong. What if I have to fight her?!? OMG!!! I am so going to die…”

I had to get a grip.  I started trying for more positive self-talk, “At least it’ll be over quickly.”

[Loud obnoxious buzzer sound here]

“OK, well, if I have to fight her, then it’ll be an honor and I’ll probably learn something.  That and I’ll have the bragging rights that I sparred with Sensei Cheryl.  More so if I can score even one point against her.”


So when my division was finally called, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Sensei Cheryl was not on the roster.  I knew a couple of the gals from previous tournaments.  And of course by then we were wearing either red or blue tournament belts, so I didn’t allow myself to speculate on the ranks of those ladies who were strangers to me.

My first round I was soundly thrashed by a fantastically skilled lady from Japan.  Later, I saw her wearing her black belt.  OK, no surprises there.  I had scored a point or two on her, so I felt all right about that.

It wasn’t until Monday morning that I had this thought…  I was peeing my pants about potentially sparring a big name I knew only because she was one of the instructors at camp last summer.  But for all I know, maybe that lady black belt from Japan who thrashed me was someone famous too.  I don’t really keep up with who’s who in Karate.  I didn’t get a chance to ask her name, so maybe I’ll have to wait until next year.

According to Wikipedia, I have three years to prepare for a potential sparring match with Sensei Cheryl Murphy.  Meanwhile, she can have fun with my younger buddies.

So after I cleaned up the mess I’d made of my gear (switching from aka to au and back again) I headed off to the locker room to lick the wounds of my defeat.  On my way there, I noticed two of my buddies in the younger division were about to start kumite.  I took my place in the stands to cheer them on, especially as they were in the same division as You Know Who.  Unfortunately, the way things worked out, my buddies didn’t have the honor of fighting Sensei Cheryl Murphy.  But I did get to watch her in action, and it was wonderful.

Dog Kiss

150430_MedalBack in October I registered for a tournament in the “intermediate” division.  My Sensei supported my decision, but I had plenty of reasons of my own.  The last major tournament I was in (read about it here ) I had a feeling I would need to move up to intermediate this season.  In the six months since that tournament, I’ve grown in my attitude towards sparring, which has opened the door to growth in skill as well.  I’ve also finished memorizing the Pinan series of kata.  I’d learned the final Pinan kata well enough to challenge myself to perform it in tournament.  No way is that a beginner kata, and I guessed it to be on the high end of novice, low end of intermediate.

This year I’m also in a new age bracket.  The one I’m probably going to be in for the rest of my life.  Ladies 45 and older.  Ouch.  I console myself with the fact that sooner or later a couple of younger buddies of mine will be in my division too.  So a broader age range does give me more competition, but there are still only a few of us.  That means the Ladies 45 and older are broken down into only two groups.  Group one:  Beginner and Novice.  Group two:  Intermediate and Advanced.  Advanced as in all those nice lady black belts I made friends with at a recent seminar.


10th kyu in our style

I really, really, really didn’t want to get a medal for beating up 10th, 9th, and 8th kyus.  So… Yeah.  I opted for the most difficult option.  And I’m really glad I did.  As expected, for kata I was in with a bunch of brown and black belts – yes, those nice lady black belts.  However, for sparring I was lumped in with the younger ladies (35-44) because none of the 45 and older ladies wanted to spar.  I didn’t place in either kata or kumite, but oh well.  I’d much rather have the experiences I had than win medals for easily beating less experienced ladies.  I had adventures I wouldn’t have traded for any shiny chunk of metal.

At this point, dear reader, you’re probably still wondering why this post is titled, “Dog Kiss.”  Ah, this is one of those delightful, unforgettable memories that I will treasure forever.

One of the ladies I competed with in kata is visually impaired.  She has the sweetest Golden Retriever guide dog, who she left ringside with a friend.  I was standing next to the dog when I was called up to do my kata.  Just before I moved to enter the ring, the dog gave my hand a kiss.  I thought that was really terrific.  I went into the ring with a light heart.  I do believe it was the best execution of that kata I’d ever done to that date, probably my best tournament performance ever.  I didn’t place – everyone else outranked me and therefore knew more complicated katas and looked better doing them.  But I learned that the attitude one takes into the ring is vital.

So, on to my kumite (sparring) adventure.  As I said before, I was anxious about all of those lady black belts making mincemeat of me.  I needn’t have worried.

A little background here.  We don’t necessarily know each others’ ranks because in competition we’re assigned to wear either a red belt or a blue belt for both kata and sparring.  That and different styles have different colors for different levels.  In my case, I had absolutely no clue.  Usually tournament officials will, well in advance, inform competitors of any change to the division they’re assigned to.  If they don’t, then usually both the division one signed up for is called to staging along with one’s newly assigned division, one’s name is called in staging and one is informed of the change.  If that doesn’t happen, the competitor is usually called by name to report to staging.  If all else fails, the competitor is called to the ring right before the division begins competing.  There was evidently some snafu in communication, so I was only called ringside and found myself among ladies of the younger age bracket (ages 35-44).  Everyone was wearing either red or blue by then.

When I entered the ring and began teasing out my opponent’s weaknesses, I honestly thought I was sparring someone slightly above my rank.  I landed a beautiful 3-point kick to her head – just mussed her hair.  I didn’t do too shabby with body kicks (2 points) and punches (1 point) either.  Eventually she figured me out and I lost by 2 points.  After the competition was over, I asked her rank.  Brown (not far from black) – and she went on to another round and placed third, so she was no slouch either!  My opponent’s techniques were so beautifully clean and controlled it was actually a pleasure being defeated by her!  There’s no doubt this was my best, most challenging tournament fight and I loved every moment of it.  I found out I’m more capable than I thought.

My adventures weren’t done.  I’ve been working out with the college dojo, helping as needed.  Most of the “kids” take the Karate class for only one quarter, some take two quarters.  A very few stick around for no credit.  These karateka know me from last year.  I’m definitely old enough to be their mother, so I’ve nicknamed myself “Sempai Mommy.”  I was really touched that “my kids” were ringside cheering me on in my sparring match.

01_Graphic1“Sempai Mommy” was done with her competitions by the time the college kids were in staging, so she was loaning her red and blue fist pads and belts out right and left.  My gear was in many more fights than I was!  I somehow was able to watch all the kids’ matches.  One young man was inspired by my three point kick to the head and executed it perfectly himself in his own match.  Another was kicked in the stomach, was down for a long time, then got up to give his opponent what for.  I’m so proud of them!  They all took home shiny medals 🙂

In between and around all this excitement, I made a new friend – a lady black belt who had been in my kata division.  She’s from a different organization and studies a different style.  We had a lot of fun chatting, comparing notes on style, etiquette, etc.   I’m really glad to have met her.

I’m not sure any of these adventures would’ve happened if I’d registered as “Novice.”  I might or might not have made that new friend.  I know I’d have missed the college kids’ fights because I’d have been in the ring at the same time as them.   I wouldn’t have had the best tournament sparring match I’ve had to date or learned I’m more capable than I think I am.   And I certainly wouldn’t have received a dog kiss right before performing my kata.  These unexpected adventures were delightful, and I’m very glad things turned out as they did.  Some things are worth more than a medal 🙂


Beyond the Medals

01_Graphic1When I was a kid I pursued winning for the sake of getting tangible proof that I’m good at something.  I was too immature to see beyond the big, shiny loving cup.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a nice prize or wanting one.  But I’ve since learned that there’s loads of other reasons to enter any sort of competition.

Whether or not I win anything, preparation for a competition teaches me a lot about motivating and pushing myself.  Sometimes there are setbacks along the way and I fret.   The day before the tournament on Saturday I was a bit sick and had to tell myself it was OK to withdraw – I’d have that much more time to prepare for the next tournament.   I reminded myself that between illness and extra hours at work, I hadn’t practiced much.  I ended up feeling better (little did I know it was a 24 hour window peculiar to this particular bug).  I won both kata and kumite in my division but I’m not at all satisfied with my performance.  More practice would’ve helped, and it’s a lesson I won’t forget.

black eye 2015 Joelle White
Bruises are fun!!!

So is competition all about performance?  If it was, I would have simply stayed home.   The primary reason I went to this particular tournament was to have fun.  Yes, bashing total strangers around a ring is fun.  Yes, playing a game of make believe trying to convince people that I’m “ringing” some big biker dude’s “bells,” breaking his grip on my wrist, then finishing him off as he’s doubled over in pain is fun.  Seeing black belts and tiny little kids do their stuff is fun.  Cheering for people I know and even for people I don’t know is fun.  Hanging out with my daughter, watching her, and hearing her cheer me on is fun.  When I get frustrated in practice I have to remind myself that tournaments are fun.

karate ladiesCompetition is not just a test of how well you do compared to others.  It is a challenge for yourself, a test of your own abilities.  This can lead to growth.  This time around I deliberately chose the kata I’ve most recently learned, not the kata I performed the last two tournaments.  I wanted to see where my kata breaks down when I’m under the pressure of expert eyeballs staring at me.  The tournament was as close to promotion conditions as I could come.  I now know what I need to watch out for and fix before my next promotion, whenever that may be.  I received feedback on my fighting, so now I know what to work on next.  So you see, tournaments can lead to improvement and growth.

150215_SproutsTournaments are a place to test personal growth as well.  We should encourage and express appreciation and respect for one another no matter who wins.  I love it when I can hug someone after we’ve bashed each other around a ring.  Good manners are imperative – we are, after all, fully capable of hurting each other, so it’s wise to behave like ladies and gentlemen.  If we can do this under the pressure of tournament conditions, we are doing well indeed!  Tournaments are a chance to be a good example, especially to any children who are watching.

Other organizations’ students come to our tournaments, so it behooves me to join the effort in supporting their tournaments in turn when I can.  Volunteers are usually welcome no matter where they come from.   Of course the extra entry fees are very welcome – I strongly suspect all the money goes towards renting the venues.  It’s good for everyone to see and fight against different styles.  So really, tournaments are about more than just each individual competitor.

150430_MedalAll that said, I admit I do love winning and I do love the sound of medals clanking on my chest.  Who doesn’t love that sound?  The particular medals I won this past weekend are beautifully designed – hats off to the unnamed artist!  There is room for appreciating the tokens of success.  But I think I’m gaining far more than pretty chunks of metal that I’ll never wear again.

Tournament Weekend – Part Two of Two

Sunday 2/8/15

As is typical for tournaments, it took for-ev-er to get through kids’ divisions.  After the teenagers were called to staging, I nudged my daughter and a Sempai from our dojo and joked, “See those kids in staging?  They’re the little kids who were competing soon after we arrived.  We’ve been here long enough for them to grow up!”  I think next tournament I’m just going to wander around campus, find comfy chairs and read, eat lunch, then mosey back to the gym.

Sempai and I were called into staging at the same time, so he and I warmed up, stretched, and did some very light and easy sparring drills together.  My division was called first because it was smaller than Sempai’s.  Much smaller.

I have two medals – one for kata, one for kumite.  Color?  Hee hee hee.  If I were just three months (to the day!) older, they would be silver. But in actuality, they are gold.  How’s that work, you ask?  I’m 44, so I’m in the 35-44 year old female beginners’ division.  I was the only one in that division who showed up.  The other lady was in the 45 and older female beginners’ division, and she was the only one to show up.  A judge explained that we’d both get gold no matter what – but we’d have to work for it.  Accordingly, we were in an exhibition match.  After the judge went back to his station, I winked at my opponent and said, “I won’t tell if you won’t tell!  Let’s put on a good show, and this’ll be our secret!”  We had a good laugh over it.  Then she proceeded to win at both kata and kumite.  So to me, I’m second place, and I’m happy with that.  I’ll just pretend the extra “oomph” that makes my medals gold is for the personal triumph of surviving Saturday.

Now here’s the really hilariously funny part.  A young giant Sempai half my age whips my tail, uh, coaches me in kumite.  My opponent was six inches shorter than me.  I had a hard time adjusting and she was speedy quick!  She beat me fair and square.  Bonus – she’s in the organization of dojos I trained in when I was a teenager.  I was very pleased that a Sensei from a sister dojo hung the medals around my neck – he and I have been acquainted since before I started training.

Immediate feedback from one of my Senseis, who was able to take a break from judging to watch me, was exceedingly useful.  I have some new goals to work towards.  I’m really excited about one goal – working on the cadence and rhythm of kata.  I was a bit rushed during tournament.  I’ve since gotten more tips on that, and I’m going to have to spend plenty of practice time exploring and experimenting with that aspect of kata.  It should be interesting!

My daughter and I stayed until the end.  Man, oh man, that last division to go up (18-35 advanced men) was a great show – the best was last and the stadium was mostly empty – the vast majority of people who came to the tournament missed the very best part!

After the tournament was over, there were so many people helping with loading the truck with mats and such for storage I had trouble finding work to do.  I was dog tired, so my daughter and I simply went home.  I slept like a rock.  The pre-dawn walks with my dog the next three mornings were interesting – I avoided going downhill because all the muscles that engage when walking downhill were pretty sore.  I survived Karate on Monday, but on Tuesday I was so tired that I volunteered to teach squirrel-ly little boys their kihon katas rather than work on my own katas.  I needed that break, and on Wednesday was doing just fine again.

I still can’t believe I did all that!

Tournament Weekend – Part One of Two

I had a very busy weekend a couple of weeks ago (7th and 8th of February).  I attended a seminar, did some volunteer work, and competed in a tournament.  I learned and experienced so much!  The seminar and judges’ certification workshop was on Saturday, the tournament itself was on Sunday.  I’ll write about Sunday in Part Two next week.

The seminar consisted of about a dozen of us from three different styles of Karate, the instructor represented a fourth style .  A Sensei and another student from sister dojos within our organization were present, it was good to see them again.  One of my classmates was a little 9 year old girl who wears the same color belt as me but is from a different style.  She and I were definitely trying to figure each other out – she was thinking, “Why does that lady look like a beginner?” and I was thinking, “How is it she’s doing that advanced kata so well?”  Everything was much more clear after I asked her how many promotions she’d been through.  She’d tested twice as many times as I have 🙂  I absolutely loved it that there were so few of us  because we got plenty of individual attention and there was enough room for everyone to move freely.

The seminar ran three and a half hours – emphasis on goals, athletic mindset, drills for conditioning the body for changes of direction and speed, giving feedback to people and to ourselves, and we got feedback on our katas.  Afterward, I wrote down plenty of tips and drills in my training notebook.  Some of the drills required a bit more athleticism than I thought I had.  I was wrong about that – I did just fine.  We were all so “into” what we were doing we forgot lunch, so we ate it after the seminar.

I had some time to kill between lunch and setting up for the tournament, so I moseyed into the gym, where I knew black belts from all around the region were earning or renewing their tournament judging certifications.  I knew a young black belt, a young brown belt, and a man who is at my own lowly rank were going to do a bit of sparring so the black belts could be tested on their judging skills.  I was looking forward to seeing the young black belt in action, as I’ve watched him in tournaments and he’s quite an accomplished young man.

In for a penny, in for a pound.  I was still in my gi, so I was put to work.  I tell you I was scared at the prospect of sparring the young Sensei, but I didn’t have to be scared.  I sparred the same two people over and over – the guy my rank and the brown belt.  I’d fight the brown belt, then I’d fight the guy my rank.  I’d get a break while the black belt fought the brown belt, then I was up again to fight the brown belt, then the guy my rank.  I don’t know how many fights I was in.  I’m guessing ten – two minutes or eight points, whichever came first.   This required a good bit of stamina, but the Sensei who roped me into this situation in the first place knew I’d kept up all right at Gasshuku (extended training) last summer.

From fighting round after round, I finally got the sense of what I needed to do with each man.  When I sparred the guy my rank, I absolutely had to control the fight because he hits hard – if I stopped manipulating him, I was toast.  With the brown belt, I ran through my bag of tricks and made up more – actually did score a couple points here and there.  Because the brown belt really outclassed me, I had to stay loose, I had to keep in mind the objective was to train the judges.  I had to let go of scared and embrace fun – even mischief.

When the black belt and the brown belt were sparring each other, they deliberately threw in a few things in order to get the judges to call fouls and warnings.  That was fun to see.    I was on the receiving end of mischief myself.  During our last two fights together, the brown belt deliberately danced away from me in order to get the judges to call “delay of fight” and to annoy/baffle me.  He also grappled me just to get the judge to stop the fight quickly and called a foul (holding with both hands is illegal).   I have no doubt he could’ve thrown me, but I sure as heck buckled down so as to make it difficult.

The second time the brown belt grappled me, my adrenaline got the better of me and I managed a strike to his neck – totally illegal. Fortunately, mid-strike, I realized what I was doing and was able to slow myself down a little bit.  I’m very surprised that I didn’t have a foul called on me – I thought I was in serious trouble (a million pushups for sure), but no one said anything about it, except the brown belt was forgiving when I apologized.  On one level, this action was very bad – we were only playing a game for the benefit of training new judges and I should’ve remained in control – I was firmly planted and even if I’d been thrown, I know how to fall safely.  On another level, this action was good because now I know I have what it takes to fight back in a serious situation.

After all was said and done the brown belt was really nice to me and showed me how to shut down the “dancing away” gambit when I asked him to.  He was very forgiving about the neck strike.  I definitely need and want to learn more about grappling – it is part of our heritage but it’s illegal in tournament.

Before sparring one round, I got to play a trick on a black belt who was renewing her judging certification, and I didn’t have to do pushups afterward!  I was quietly asked to not wear my mouth guard into the ring and to smile real big at the judge.  She didn’t catch on at all, so I had to really ham it up and point to my mouth before the fight began.  The “Oh, no!” look on her face was priceless.  I grinned and winked at her, then shoved my mouth guard in.  Fun stuff!  I have an idea to put together a kit with men’s and women’s jewelry, a lanyard with a name tag, some hair ribbons, and oddly matched sparring gloves – all of the illegal things judges might encounter if the volunteers in staging aren’t screening the athletes closely enough.  There should also be a protocol in place so that nobody pulls a stunt like actually sparring while wearing a watch or sparring without a mouth guard.

Saturday night, there were so many hands to help set up for the tournament that I didn’t have much hard work at all.  I chatted with a Sensei from another style while we put together bundles of medals for each ringside table.  Pizza was provided, and boy did I need it.  I went home tired and slept like a rock.  A pre-dawn walk with my dog on Sunday morning loosened up some of the stiffness.

Next week – the tournament itself!