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!