The Pressures Of Competitions (Part 1)

In the next few days, 19 members of the SKA will be participating in an open tournament. For the few, this is their umpteenth time on the competitive tatami, but for the most of them, this will be their first time.

Competitions (to me a form of test) brings pressure to all involved. For the coaches, it is the pressure of preparing the team. For the team manager, it is the pressure of getting the logistics (& everything else!!) ready. For the seasoned team members, it is the pressre of improving their track record, or moving up to a new category. For the newbies, it is the terror of stepping on an unknown tatami to face an unknown opponent, and last but not least, for the supporters (family members, friends, sponsors, etc)  the pressure of watching their team endure what would normally not be ‘civilised behaviour’ ; attacking an unknown person unprovoked. So you get the picture, pressure cooker all around.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of competitions.

But, it is a necessary evil. Though I do not like to enter competitions (personally, I hate the attention when standing in the middle of the tatami and having tons of people watching…… as an instructor, I hate allocating training time to train the few who are entering competitions , time taken away from training the on how to better use their body (& mind) in perfecting their technique and making each technique as a defensive.. and offensive tool at any scenario), it gives an extra dimension to a students martial art development that dojo training, no matter how intense can provide. We all like to think we give the best training, compared to other dojos, but the reality is, peer to peer ‘fights’ (for lack of a better word) among dojo mates (no matter how competitive) does not give that same edge, that same adrenaline rush we get during a fight (kumite or kata) during a competition. In a dojo session, we worry about hitting our friend too hard, or a kohai (junior) intimidated by a senpai (senior), or reversed, a senpai worry pushing a kohai too much. A smile or a snicker from our dojo opponent will also get us smiling.

This is not lack of discipline, this is human nature.

The dojo is not a battle ground, it is a place of learning, a school.

Then competitions becomes necessary, to test the skills of our modern day weekend samurai. Imagine this, a soldier spends his whole life shooting at targets on the practice range experience a different psychological hurdle when staring at a live human target down the barrel of the same rifle he (or she) has used thousands of times before. Lobbing a live grenade into a practice bunker is different than consciously lobbing a live grenade a group of enemy hostiles. Some handle the transition easier than others. Some, not all.

So there we stand, into the shadow of the valley of death (forgive my moment of dramatisation) either staring at an opponent on the opposite side of the referee, wondering what kind of fighting experience he has (or not), or, as in kata, staring inwardly, focusing all our will and training not to cock up our well rehearsed kata, ignoring the facial, body and verbal language of all those around us, so that we may execute our routine as hoped.

But before we can get there on the tatami, we are at the dojo, training. Competition Training, Squad Training.. whatever you call it. The focus of such training is not only to give your team a fighting chance, but a chance to actually bring back some faux silverware to adore the dojo walls. The majority of the ‘OPEN TOURNAMENTS’ run of the rules defined by the Word Karate Federation (WKF). So preparations are made to give the participants the best chance to win within the rules set by this organisation (the following view is made from a perspective of a Shotokan instructor):

[KATA TRAINING] Heian and Tekki katas for the most are out. Face it, no matter how brilliant your Heian Yondan or Godan, it can’t compare to the like of Seipai & Seinchin (unless your opponent performs them really badly). So you have to do the 4 Shotokan Shitei kata – Kanku-dai, Jion, Empi and Bassai-dai. In a normal dojo (my yardstick for normal dojo is a dojo that follows the JKA/SKIF style training syllabus), it’ll take sometime around a year and a half to two years for a student to have gone through the 8 kyu levels before to start learning the Shotokan Shitei Kata. That is, in this world where time is now measured in nano-seconds,  a long time for someone to stand aside and watch his/her ‘senior’ pack up their gear and travel to kingdoms far far away in search of glory and fame. What option is there left? One, the newbie enters the competition with his exceptional Heian kata and lose. Or in the words of a certain ‘life coach’ (whatever that means); gain experience. Two, the coach/instructor has to teach the relatively new student an ‘advance kata’ do that he has a fighting chance. Either way, they lose. I don’t know about other instructors, but my students, have been pressuring me to teach them an ‘advance kata’ so that they have a chance to win. And these students have still yet to come to grips with basic kata. So, to either keep the student from walking out and joining a dojo that can fulfil their needs, or to satisfy their own inner ego and to stop the losing streak and not be patient while the students gain ‘experience’, we teach them one advance kata. Then it snowballs, two kata, three kata……….. no matter the result, they both lose.  Soon the dojo forgoes the Heian katas altogether and other unpopular kata for having no ‘return value on investment’ and the decline starts. It is wrong to teach a 6th Kyu Bassai-dai or Kanku-sho?? It is wrong if it is meant to bolster the dojo’s competition chances. It is not wrong (my own opinion) if it is used as a tool to show the student the possibilities of kata training (lets face it, the Heians are not the most exciting kata on the Shotokan roster).

Back to today, I had earlier conducted a private training for some students heading out for fame and glory this weekend. 3/4 of the training was on kata (OK.. I’m guilty of favouring kata to kumite… so shoot me). I have a shodan, practicing Kanku-sho, Hangetsu, and Gankaku, a nikyu practicing Bassai-dai, Jion and Kanku-sho, and a rokkyu practicing Kanku-sho, Heian Yondan and Heian Sandan.

My analysis : the shodan has to get over his insecurities on what makes a kata ‘hard’ and just execute (not perform) the kata from the heart and not be too analytical of his kata, the nikyu has to push herself the extra 5% in all her moves, and that kata has to come from good kihon and the rokkyu.. oohhh the adorable six and a half year old rokkyu (didn’t I say that she was only six and a half years old??) has got to stop comparing herself from her brother and sisters and just enjoy herself in whatever she does. But kids just don’t get it when we say, winning doesn’t matter… what matters is that you give 110% when you step on the tatami. The bigger battle is with yourself. If you have done your best, then you have won, medal or no medal…. And children, heed my warning, do not stoop to plastic and robotic kata movements, noisy breathing and body slapping.. you know how much I hate those. Make your kata come to life.. heart and soul… better to crash and burn that to fade away.

Unsu by Yahara Mikio Sensei

I’ve got to stop now, the word count on my typing editor shows 1300 words and counting.. that is more that I wanted to do by a thousand.  Tomorrow I will digress (or ramble) on the effect of competition on kumite training and my analysis of the remainder of the training I had with three wonderful kids earlier today…. or was it yesterday???

Doryoku,

A.H.

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