Many people are aware that I promote events with the Professional Karate Commission and am very honored to have been selected to be a part of Region 2 as such. Last December, at our annual promoters meeting, I asked again to add a division for 43 years and older in the black belt men’s weapons Kata. I have been asking for this for three years based on feedback I have heard from many of the senior competitors. During the meeting it was stated (by my good friend Donnie Michael, director of Region 2) that if I agreed to compete they would add it. Well, open mouth and insert foot! Before I could think about what I was saying I said absolutely. I am a man of my word, which is a valuable part of being a TRUE black belt as I see it so this year I have agreed to compete.
It has been at least 10 years since I have competed with any sincerity and seriousness at all. I have hit an occasional tournament here and there for fun but mostly just messed around. The PKC events are different though because the competitors are by far the toughest one could ever go up against and many of them compete at least one weekend every month. As I drove home from that meeting I thought about what I agreed to and it hit me that I really don’t know if I have what it takes to compete at that level any longer. Not because I can’t work on it but because I have been so focused on growing my dojos, training and promoting that I haven’t had time to even consider training to compete. On that drive home the butterflies set in and let me tell you friends…they are REAL.
The day of the first tournament, last Saturday (1-23-16), I woke up after only getting a couple of hours of sleep. My nerves are shot, my stomach in knots and I just want to crawl back into that bed with many excuses why I can’t do this. I love tournaments but I haven’t wanted to compete since I retired 10 years ago. I just haven’t had the itch to do so and have been more focused on being the best teacher, promoter and referee I could be instead. Regardless I got up, got my shower, put on my gi pants and headed out the door because I gave my word and that is all we have that makes us men/women of honor as black belts.
So I get to the event and Mrs. Jones, the promoter’s wife, asks me “What are you doing here” as I stood inline to register. I reminded her about the meeting and she said she didn’t realize that began at their event. She also said “a lot of people say things these days but not many live up to them”. I agreed with her but I promised myself that I would live by the example I expect from my students so here I am. At that time I felt a bit more at ease and did right up until it we bowed in. During the bowing in part of the event my stomach began its twisting, turning and jumping fits. I calmed myself down again as fast as I could. When we lined up to begin the Kata division and I saw who I was up against my heart sank once again. Here we have David Baldock, Steve Leffel, John Manley, Jeff Davidson and more of the absolute best Kata people I have ever seen…and me. The division began and I watched each competitor do their best. My nerves were killing me, my stomach saying run for the bleachers and my willpower saying stand firm! About half way through the division I am freaking out because I find out I am dead last to perform. I just want to go and get it over with so I can get in a ring and have fun judging. Then it becomes my turn.
I bow into the ring, I announce my name, system and Kata. I back up and bow. Everything goes blank and before I know it I am done with my Kata. We call this Mushin in Karate which means “of no mind”. I listen to the scores thinking I didn’t do well but I bow out and smile anyway. Then they line us all up and begin announcing the winners. The call out 4th place, they call out 3rd place and right away I am thinking “Nope you didn’t place”. Then I hear my name for 2nd place and I am in shock. It felt great but I just can’t believe it…even now I am struggling with it.
At the end of the tournament it is time to do weapons Kata. The entire day, in the back of my mind, I am saying don’t cut yourself, don’t lose your Kama. A Kama is a razor sharp sickle and mine are sharp enough to take your finger right off. Then it happens again…the butterflies come back trying to get me! I end up going last in that division to and it was a tough one to say the least. I bow in and right when I begin my Kata I noticed a child running behind me so, on my first move, I had to look back and make sure there was no one there to get hurt. The rest is a blur as I did the Mushin thing again. As they line us up and begin calling out 4th, 3rd and 2nd place I am frustrated because I don’t think I placed again until I realized there were only 4 of us in the division so that means I got 1st place. They call my name and I am in shock again. Even now I still can’t believe I placed.
The entire trip home I am thinking how I can make my Kata better, both empty hand and weapons. I am also remember a saying by Judo founder, Jigoro Kano Sensei, where he proclaimed “It is not important to be better than someone else, but to be better than yesterday”. I have made this statement to my students thousands of times over the years always relating to them that they are only in competition with their own selves. That being said I now remember that the butterflies are real, they do exist and they are pesky little buggers that I can’t wait to go away. Regardless I am a man, and black belt, of my word so let’s see what the rest of the year has in store. I doubt I place that well again but I will do my best because that is the black belt way…the only way to be.