I enjoyed traveling with the competition team, watching Middle and his friends kick and punch and do artistic things with their bodies and weapons. I was happy to see them win trophies and celebrate their victories. That's all it was for me - a fun way to keep the kids interested and engaged and a boost to their self-confidence performing for others and doing well.
Then I began jiu-jitsu.
For a year, I had been traveling to tournaments, cheering on Little and his teammates, kids and adults alike. Some of the adults have been our friends for years - Teen Ninja Gurl, my Morning Workout Buddy, and the Guru. All three are fantastic and very exciting to watch in a tournament. So I've been an avid spectator, traveling to Philly, Baltimore, and DC, enjoying it all from the sidelines, even after I had begun training as well.
The fact that there are rarely any women my age, rank and weight class took a lot of the pressure off. No one could blame me for not wanting to compete in a bracket that wouldn't be appropriate for me. But when the in-house tournament was announced - to be held at the school, just so that we could experience what it's like to compete in an actual tournament with brackets and medals, I was told there should be some women in at least my rank and weight class. I agreed to do it.
I was nervous - this was certainly something well outside my comfort zone, but then getting out of my comfort zone was kind of the point of this whole pursuit in the first place. I saw the bracket - 3 25 year old women and me, thankfully all white belts at about 125 lbs. One was from our school, two from Maryland.
Long story short, I had three very even matches and won two of them. It was a double elimination tournament. I took first place and went home with a gold medal.
It was a satisfying experience, and I wouldn't be averse to doing it again if asked, if only to support the other women who came out to compete. It's pretty disappointing to prepare for a tournament and travel and pay for registration, only to find that there's no one to go up against, and this is definitely a bigger problem for the women. I also really appreciated the opportunity to test myself and my skills at this point, to help know where to direct my efforts moving forward. I was curious, and I will likely be curious again as to where I stand.
That was February 21st. Much to my surprise, less than a month later, my coach (who has been dabbling with Taekwondo on the side) asked me to do a karate tournament with him.
I laughed. Karate tournaments are for kids, not grownups. I've never done one, and never intended to do one, especially now. But his Taekwondo instructor was making it a requirement, and he didn't want to do it alone. Somehow he used the Jedi Mind Trick on me and I agreed, just this once, to do a karate tournament, the same kind that I used to truck the kids to for years and years. No one would have to know - we'd go and do this and fulfill his requirement.
Then I found out that a big group of kids from my own school was going (although not The Master himself). Now I had to actually prepare and do well. I spent a few days practicing Koryo and modifying my third bo staff form, and I did some point sparring the night before.
Long story short, I did well. There were no adult women (big surprise) so I went up against the older grandmaster men. I competed in weapons, open hand forms, and sparring and got 2nd, 3rd, and 1st respectively.
This, however, I would not likely do again. Taking home these nice trophies made me smile, and I was glad that the years of perfecting my stances and power and snap had enabled me to hold my own against the grandmasters. But in this realm, I'm not looking to prove anything. The experience of competing will undoubtedly add to my skills as an instructor and mentor, but once was enough.
So there you have it. Two tournaments this winter / spring, which went very nicely. I waited for some time to actually write about them, but I felt I would be remiss if I left them out of a blog that has become almost exclusively about my martial arts journey. There's a corner of my room that now houses three trophies and a medal, in addition to my collection of belts. (I was promoted from yellow to orange belt in judo the same day as the karate tournament, so my yellow belt joined with the trophies.) At some point, I'll hang everything up and make it all look nice. The hard work really does pay off, and that part of competing certainly was gratifying.