Yesterday Mr 6 and I competed in our second Karate tournament. It was a really long but enjoyable day. The smile you see on my face in the above photo is a good reflection of how I felt throughout! The “thermal” style gi I am sporting and the slightly blue tinged lips are an indication of the temperature in the gym….I think I must have “warmed up” at least 5 times during the day…..sometimes just to actually warm up, rather than in actual preparation for any particular event!!
This year the tournament was open to both network and non network dojo and consequently we had nearly double the number of competitors that we had last year. This made it more exciting certainly, even if it made it long. It was very efficiently run, but even so, I didn’t get lunch until after 4 pm (which must have been the longest I have gone without eating a meal in a very long time….but I guess my mind was elsewhere for a change) and didn’t leave until nearly 5pm, having been there since before 830am!
After several weeks of preparation, and some last minute team organisations (through 2 of the 3 network clubs I train with regularly), by the time the tournament came around this year, I actually felt reasonably prepared…..even if some of the preparation was a little eleventh hour for someone who likes to be ready way ahead! I can be flexible, and patient, and even calm about these things now though 🙂 !
When I compare how I approached this year’s tournament with last year’s, I get a sense of just how far I have come in the last 8 months (both in mindset and skill set). I entered my first tournament (last year) with a fair amount of prodding from both the Sensei I trained with at that time. (Since then a third has also taken me on, for which I am grateful). Last year I had no idea what to expect, so it was with some initial trepidation that I signed up at all. However, there was a theme to what my Sensei were saying to me, that encouraged me to enter. The basic thrust of it was to do with the following: stepping outside your comfort zone, giving yourself something to aim for, and being a winner even if you don’t place because you at least gave it a shot! Never one to knock back a challenge (personal or otherwise), I agreed to enter….initially saying I would sign up for one event (kata) and eventually completely throwing my hat in the ring and signing up for everything on offer. (In for a penny, in for a pound, eh?)
This year, I was probably the first to sign up, as soon as the registration forms went live! I loved the last one so much, I couldn’t wait to get back in the ring (so to speak). Mr 6 was pretty excited about it too and I noticed that he actually stepped up his training and started paying attention in class (and even practising and wanting me to help him with his kata etc at home in between times). This year my main concerns were about how I could participate and compete with / for all 3 of the clubs I train with and find enough people interested for the team events, which I felt I understood more this time. I found I was able to enthusiastically encourage others to join in through being able to tell them about my experiences last time around.
Last year I remember being really nervous in general, and not knowing exactly what I was doing in terms of etiquette. I felt under-prepared and not confident I was doing the right thing, not just in terms of the etiquette but even in terms of my Kata / kumite. I remember feeling quite nervous on the mats which didn’t help matters. I remember thinking about what the judges would think rather than focusing within and on the task at hand. That said, it was still a valuable (and enjoyable) learning experience and I felt a sense of pride and achievement for having taken part, which I suspect (in hindsight) was the whole point of the exercise for me at that stage.
This year I felt a lot more prepared (partly due to attending some rules seminars, partly due to having more experience under my obi and partly due to practising it in all 3 dojo and at home – a lot!!). This year I don’t think I actually felt nervous (excited yes, but not nervous). Being on the mat seemed natural, and the etiquette more automatic so I didn’t need to actively think about it. Consequently I was able to get up there and do my thing without worrying about anyone else or worrying about what they might be thinking about what I was doing.
Having had a few very useful pointers in the rules seminars regarding the team kata and bunkai events, all three of the teams I was involved in were able to focus our preparation more towards what was expected of us. As well as providing a chance for team work and cooperation though, it allowed me to get to know some of my training buddies a bit better which was great.
Similarly with the kumite event, having had it explained several times how to play the game and score points (and this year with more experience and a better level of understanding of the event), I entered with more of a game plan, and rather than actively thinking, was able to be a little more automatic and free flowing with things. I felt less on the back foot and more confident to attack and look for openings to do so, rather than just going in blindly, wondering why it wasn’t working (and even worse, dwelling on it rather than letting it go and getting on with it). I felt more able to get out the way and deflect blows, and, fairly importantly, I felt little apprehension this time about getting hurt. I now know full well what it feels like to get hurt (and am still recovering from a decent kick I failed to block a few weeks ago when doing some practice sparring) but the long and short of it was that I wasn’t afraid. Even when I faced off with a woman from another club outside the network who out ranked me by at least 5 kyu ranks (grades) and who had performed a fairly kick-arse kata in a preceding event, I just calmly approached the match with the same mindset. There was just a sort of clarity that I haven’t really felt before when sparring, even in the dojo. Perhaps this is Zanshin??? Whatever it was, I hope it happens more often; it was a great feeling!
As I have mentioned before, one of my goals this year has been (and still is) to learn how to learn kata more efficiently. In the last 6 months I have learned (or at least started to work on) nearly 10 kata and continued to work on at least 2 or 3 others from last year. While this may seem excessive, especially given many traditional styles have fewer than that in total, this exposure therapy has greatly helped me get over a bit of a learning block. Within the competition this year (between individual and team events) I had to perform 3 different kata across 2 different styles. I had some level of apprehension about performing the right kata in the right event but once I was on the mat I was able to focus and know what I was doing by using various cues (including, where possible some superman style sideline Gi jacket changes!). The most potentially confusing event was the team kata, which turned out to be an open event in which I was competing in 2 of the 3 teams. No time for changes then, so I just had to focus on the people to know what I was meant to be doing!
The bunkai event was also interesting, in that my partner and I were very much the underdogs; as 2 yellow belts it could have been quite a confronting situation competing against 2 Ni Dans (2nd degree black belts) and 2 senior brown belts (one rank from black belt), but I felt we had prepared well, so I wasn’t actually fazed when push came to shove (which in essence was what we were doing in that event incidentally!). We didn’t win the event, but getting a very good score felt like a win, and just being in it and representing our club was a win for me!
As a parent it was also great to watch Mr 6 and compare his efforts with last year. His hard work paid off and he really tried very hard and did his best in everything. Although one of his flag sparring matches was probably the comical highlight of the day (I am still hurting from laughing so hard!!), he actually was playing by the rules and ended up winning the match. It was so good to see him so happy with himself and so proud of his achievements. I think participating was really good for boosting his self esteem and also his enthusiasm for training. I was pleased to be able to tell him how proud I was of him too, and be able to discuss the link between all his hard work and his subsequent achievements; (he entered all but one possible event and placed in every one.) Even if he hadn’t placed though, I would have been equally proud as he showed good spirit and tried to follow all the rules…… I was, however, a bit taken aback when he asked why he couldn’t do real kumite (like some of the other kids did in the tournament)……..It’s one thing to not be worried about getting yourself hurt but another when it comes to your little boy…..I said we’d talk about it next year!
PS – Not that it matters much to me but for those of you curious as to my results, I also placed in all my events (twice in the event where I competed for both clubs’ teams!!). To me though, it was more about taking part, reflecting on growth, and setting goals for development; that is where the real prizes are!