Tag Archives: competition

Surreal but Serene

It all started with flying headgear.  My right hook flung the old, ill-fitting, vinyl-covered foam across the room, where it struck the mirror before laying limp over the air conditioning grate.  I stepped back with hands up, giving the 15-year-old powerhouse the room to retrieve it, but she declined.  I insisted she return the protective covering to her head; she insisted I continue the fight.

I looked at her face, hidden behind long, disheveled hair, and for just a moment I could see it.  She wasn’t simply exhausted after the ninth fighting rotation of the class; she was irritated – more than was warranted by losing her headgear to the second or third punch of our match.

I looked to my left and quickly caught a glimpse of a grin on her older brother’s face.  Less than a minute earlier, she’d been fighting her greatest and longest-standing rival, an 18-year-old bulky brawler with good footwork (long-haired blonde in the picture below), who was good at keeping his hands in motion before punching.  My opponent was annoyed at her brother, and she wanted to take it out on me.  She wanted to be the one doing the beating for a while.


Against my better judgment, I got back in fighting stance and threw a jab to the top of her stomach.  Immediately after it hit, she was wrapped around my midsection and driving hard, trying to use her uncovered head to push me to the floor.  It was reminiscent of a fight earlier in the summer discussed here; only, my most logical and effective weapon of throwing upper cuts to a face in perfect position to receive them couldn’t be used.  I had to remember that she wasn’t wearing headgear.  Just as I was swinging my hips to fling her off of me, I caught sight of the wall she was rapidly approaching and knew her head would hit first.

“Wait a minute!”  I said as I pulled my hips back the other direction to slow her collide with the wall.  “I’m at a disadvantage because I can’t hit you in the head.”

“Hit her in the head!” her brother said while punching someone else.  She agreed.

I looked around for our instructor, thinking he’d put a stop to the MMA-style thinking these kids were famous for.  He was too wrapped up in his own match to say a word.  He was also used to granting their family permission to bloody each other.  So, with no one telling me I couldn’t hit her in the head unless she was wearing headgear, we proceeded.

It was among the more surreal experiences of my martial arts life.  For the remaining ninety seconds or so it felt like I was fending off a mugger – an upper class, suburban mugger with a few pounds on me, despite the three decades I have on her.  Fending her off required that I pummel the unprotected head (and body) of a doctor’s daughter – with the doctor in the room, saying nothing!  Go figure!

“That was not at all ‘light and fast,’” I said, quoting Siheng Mark’s directive on how to fight.  Moving on to the last opponent, still winded from fighting the kid and the eight opponents before her, I thought: What is with these teenagers?  Do they always fight like they have to take out the world, even with each other?  Or do they just need to prove that a middle-aged woman with really bad knees is not going beat them?

I don’t know the answers to my questions, and I don’t care.  I just know that the two teens who literally tried to knock me down this summer couldn’t.

Delicious Irony

I had a tournament yesterday.  It meant so little to me that I neglected to mention it beforehand on this blog, where I subject readers to all things kung fu in my life.  The obvious question is why it meant little to me.  The obvious answer is that the whole competition thing has become old hat.  That’s not it.  In fact, the DC tournament’s “seniors” division is actually 36 years old and up.  That puts me up against several more competitors than when the division is 44 or 45 and up!  The challenge is too healthy to be boring.

I started learning White Eyebrow at the beginning of February, and aside from time spent in June correcting the walk (which I was only told needed correcting the same day I left for Florida with Ava), I’ve taken to the form pretty quickly and could easily have learned the whole thing by now, were that Sifu’s inclination.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t do White Eyebrow at the D.C. tournament.  When I registered for it, I expected to know the whole thing by the time the day arrived.  That disappointment was a big reason the tournament felt like a chore, as I stretched out for my events, and felt even more like something for which I should have just forfeited the entry fee after I messed up the end of Lian Huan Tui.

Then, the God of my understanding decided to whip out the fantastic sense of humor that makes so many ironies just delicious.  At this tournament in which I competed merely not to have wasted the money, I scored a personal best with long staff that I can’t possibly beat in the future.  I should now retire the form from competition, having seen not one but two 9.9s out of a panel of three judges.  The third judge scored me at 9.7.

Frankly, I think they were ridiculously generous.  Though it felt overall like it was my best performance of the form, I was conscious of not having the proper grip on the staff when I began the spins, which made the spinning slower than it should have been.  Obviously, the judges didn’t care.

So I guess we can never know what’s in store for us, despite what we may expect, and even if in a low mood.  Just showing up can sometimes do the trick.

The only thing to dampen the moment was the absence of my son and fellow kung fu fanatic, who had taken off that morning for a month of Spanish immersion at a college in Vermont.  That, too, dampened my competitive fire, as I knew he wanted to compete as well but had other obligations.


Congratulations to my daughter for electing to compete in the more difficult advanced division, while allowed to compete with the intermediates.  She took home third and second place medals – and a great deal of personal and parental pride.

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And thanks to her father (bushy-haired guy staring at her in upper right hand corner) for coming out to support her – and having the presence of mind to capture my personal best on his phone!

The Payoff

Just when I thought there was nothing left to surprise me about tournament competition, along came a trip to New Jersey, where the United Martial Arts Referee Association is based.   Yesterday in Mount Laurel was the first tournament competition for my better half, after spending two road trips being the keeper of the camera while nursing a torn meniscus. IMG_20140531_105323 IMG_20140531_120757 She came home with two silver medals, though one should have been gold (and yes, I know I’m biased).

We were the only “elderly” women in the room, and initially thought that as the only members of the oldest competitor age group, we’d simply be competing with each other.  We thought wrong.  It turns out that in New Jersey, black sashes and belts only compete against each other; the “advanced” category is composed of solely of brown and red.  So both Merle and I were competing against much younger folks who matched our sash color – and still we both lost the gold by two-tenths of a point or less.  Not too shabby for a couple of old girls in a room full of competitors and judges who all knew each other.  Additionally, we seemed to be the only ones in the room doing the Northern Shaolin style of a Chinese martial art.

I had the whiplash-producing experience of competing in the “open” weapons division.  At this particular tournament, that meant the event contained all ages, all styles and both genders all up against each other with radically different weapons and forms.  Everyone over thirty-five got creamed in points by a twenty-two-year-old guy who pretty much seemed to fly.

The biggest surprise of my day was tying my all-time high score not with a weapons form but with the killer open hands form of Lian Huan Tui! That surprise alone was worth the entry fee. Gym training is definitely paying off.

Audience of Strangers

Everything hurts.  In descending order of degree, my knees, glutes, hamstrings, biceps, lower back, traps and calves are all aching – and I couldn’t feel more satisfied.  I got so lost in trying to nail the new spin section that by night’s end the ball of my right foot felt like it was missing several layers of skin.  The callus on that sucker is going to be fierce once I make it through the pain of forming it.

The squash court isn’t nearly as forgiving on the feet as the yoga room floor, but that’s the only place to practice on Wednesday nights at the gym, when yoga class runs to 8:30 and the yogis hang out until 8:45.  If I waited that long to train, I wouldn’t be home, showered and making myself dinner until almost midnight.  The choice is a no-brainer.  Tonight, it came with a ton of attention.

IMG_20140514_205624The yoga room is dimly lit and off-the-beaten-path.  The squash courts are more centrally located.  The result:  A boxer gave me a thumbs up and a big smile after stopping to watch me on the way to the bags;  the guys playing on court one watched me through two rotations before resuming their game; and everyone using a day locker across the hallway from the courts took time to get an eyeful as well.IMG_20140514_205622 If I keep practicing White Eyebrow on the courts, I’m going to feel like I’ve performed it in a dozen tournaments before I even finish learning it!  Now that I think about it, the very public nature of the training is probably why I feel so satisfied.IMG_20140514_202635I took fewer water breaks tonight and did very little sectional practice.  I did all of what I know of the form in every practice rotation, and I did it the best I could – because I was being watched.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever been conscious before of how an audience of strangers keeps me focused on doing my best, when there are no points to be scored or medals to be won.


I am now.

First of Many

My daughter always calls me on the way home from Sunday visits with her father. These days, I’m often still cleaning up from training at the gym or just starting the evening’s dinner when she calls. In that event, she leaves a voicemail telling me that she had a good day; she’s tired; she’s only a little bit hungry; she loves me; and she hopes I like her message. That’s almost verbatim. Her Sunday call is a perfect example of the tendency toward repetition and habit that people on the spectrum are known for. But this Sunday’s call was different.

In this call she told me how her father’s decision to play Dungeons & Dragons with his younger son and our eldest (who joins in by Skype before leaving for work) prevents her from really spending time with him. It was obvious information that I was previously aware of, but I’d never heard her express it with the terms and tone she chose that day. She spoke with analysis, instead of complaint, and sadness, instead of irritation. She sounded as if she’d turned the first of many corners onto a higher level of maturity. She sounded so markedly older, I saved the message.

I thought about us girls being together in Pittsburgh just one day earlier, how young she’d seemed waiting impatiently for her event to be called, and how proud and confident she was after scoring so well. It seems a stretch that the one and a half minute it took to perform long staff in public for the first time would add some maturity to her. But who knows? Earning a black sash definitely changed my brain chemistry. Maybe her kung fu milestones are changing hers.

Girls’ Day in PA

At the Steele City Tournament today, I received a higher score winning silver than I did winning gold in Florida.  That says it all about the quality of my competition.  I was edged out by a tenth of a point to a well-executed spear form that I’d never seen before.  I thought as I watched the nimble thirty-something-year-old (no bitterness here, really…) that I was going to have to knock it out of the park to score higher than her.  I was quite proud of my performance, but a homerun it obviously wasn’t.

Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.  And if I could, first place wouldn’t be worth much.

Now, the really cool news of the day: my girl and I received the same score for the same form – only she came home with her first gold!


For the next tournament, we’ll finally get my better half on the floor!  After operating the camera for two tournaments and waiting out a healing meniscus, she’s more than ready to add her own medal to the family stash!


Practice Space

The first time I booked a room in a hotel recommended by tournament organizers, I knew I would never do it again. On this trip, I’ve been well rewarded for ignoring advice that probably comes with a kickback. The room we three girls are sharing – for a notably lower price than where the tournament folks are staying – is so big, I brought the staff inside to practice. Last time, I just left it in the car until the next day’s competition.


Now, did my girl take advantage of the practice space? Of course not. She took a soak in the tub. We’ll know soon enough how that choice plays out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it works out well for her.


“So, I am definitely not going to Pittsburgh, because I have the ACT this Saturday!” my son told me this morning in a surprising text message. I responded with no small measure of incredulity.

I wondered how I could possibly have missed this. I, the keeper of the family calendar by default, had overlooked a major academic test for my eldest held on the same weekend of a tournament? There had to be something in the water.

I scoured the school calendar that’s been pinned over the television in my cubicle since September. The damned test wasn’t listed on it! My ego was momentarily restored. Once I regained my equilibrium, the mama bear in me breathed a sigh of relief. Watching my boy spar in competition would have to wait for at least another three months.

Nine hours later, my equilibrium was upended again.

“She can’t come in. This is an adult facility. The only way she can work out in the gym is if she’s working with a trainer.”

“But she’ll just be practicing kung fu with me.”

“Can’t do it. What if I another parent sees her and says, ‘I thought you said my kids can’t work out. Why is she allowed to?’ I can’t have that happen.”

“But I told the woman who signed me up I’d be bringing my children sometimes for extra kung fu practice, especially before tournaments. And I told her how old my children are.”

I was talking half to the gym employee and half to myself. Did I forget that my girl is only old enough to use the pool, or was I not told? I wondered. I honestly couldn’t remember.

I apologized profusely to my daughter and kissed her goodbye before my better half carted her back home. I felt bad through the first sloppily executed minutes of training, until my partner returned to the gym and told me to cut it out. Apparently, my daughter couldn’t get out of the car fast enough to go play computer games undisturbed. I was the only one bothered by her denial of practice time before the tournament.

I pondered whether to cancel this trip and have her wait until the local June tournament. But I wasn’t back in the house for more than five minutes before she happily asked me: “How much is my share for the tournament again?” That put an end to the idea of waiting another two months. I’m not about to squash a newfound commitment to the art she’s been going along with for half of her life. My equilibrium could never be that upended.

Three Minutes to Choose


A trip to the martial arts equipment store is always happy news to at least one of my children. Today it was my youngest who was so thrilled she squealed loud enough for me to hear her in the background through the phone.  She outgrew her staff more than a year ago, even before having to perform Long Staff twice to earn her red sash. She simply used one of the staffs in the rack at the school for her tests. But Saturday is the last weapons class before the tournament next weekend, where she’ll have to bring her own weapon. So today was the day.


It took her all of three minutes to choose. My girl is not a shopper.  Here’s hoping she stays that way.


I watched her as she waited for it to be cut down to her proper height.  She looked like she was doing the form in her head, and I could relate.

May she be instantly comfortable using her new staff.  May she have as much joy as I have with mine!

Testing Mama Bear

The first time I saw him spar competitively, I kept stepping to the edge of the ring and leaning forward, as if to pounce.  Each time the glove made contact with his face forcefully enough to snap his head backward, the mother bear in me wanted to wrap his opponent up in a headlock and make him cry uncle… or just cry.  My son would not have appreciated that.

“Your mama bear can be scary sometimes, even when it’s on my side.”  He gently told me that as a ten-year-old, when he wanted to handle problems he was having with boys in a new school, and I wanted to take the matter into my own hands.  I’ve been sure ever since to ask if he wants my involvement in an issue.  The answer has always been no.

I don’t think I’ll ever shake the impulse to physically protect my children, though they are now about the same height and weight that I am and more – and have spent quite a few years sparring.  I controlled the protection impulse the day of the inter-school sparring event some four years ago, but the desire to jump my son’s opponent was apparent enough to get me teased about it later.

I will face the biggest hands-off-mama-bear test of my life in a little more than a week’s time when my buck-sixty-pound son climbs into a ring with total strangers who, like him, are trying to win a medal for their sparring ability.  I’ve watched many a tournament fight.  They are intense, testosterone-driven battles that frequently injure and produce blood.  My boy is super fast on a good day, with a wicked, flicking roundhouse kick that can take out a kidney.  But he also has a propensity to drop his hands and leave the ring with blood on his face.  And there’s a brain behind that face, one that I don’t want sloshing around in his head, making him punchy somewhere down the line in his life.  I want him to obtain the outside validation that we all seek for skills that only matter most when publicly displayed, but I want him to live a life that’s long and healthy far more.

This is the last year that I’ll have anything to say about it, anyway.  Come his eighteenth birthday, he can sign himself up for any competition he chooses.  So perhaps the fact that I’m letting him find out now, while I have a say, how he measures up in full-contact competition means that the mama bear in me has already passed her greatest test.

A Smile and a Fist Pump

“If you do the Pittsburgh tournament, you can only do one event, because the entry fee is so high. But if you wait until June and do the D.C. tournament, you can compete in as many events as you want. D.C. has one price for everything.” I explained tournament economics as carefully as I could to a preteen who’s never bought anything more expensive than a birthday present for her brother, then waited for her to make the more cost-effective choice. She didn’t.

“I’ll do Pittsburgh.”

“You will? You understand that I can’t pay for both? If you do Pittsburgh, you can’t do D.C. – unless you pay for it.”

“Then I’ll wash more cars to pay for it,” she answered in a tone that implied I had somehow managed to miss her obvious solution and should be ashamed of myself. I watched my smiling daughter grab her towel and head for the shower, wondering who or what had taken over the body of my youngest child.

Only two weeks have passed since I told her she’s now the official family car wash, and I’ll pay her a couple of times a month for this specific job, while the remainder of her clean-up detail would still be just chores. She agreed without complaint but looked worried.  After all, it’s work; and she doesn’t like work.  She tried to console herself with talk of expanding her comic book collection with her pay.

Now, with her first paid foray with the sponge and hose just days away, the worried look has been replaced by a smile, a fist pump and a desire to wash the car more often than it needs – all because her father’s difficulty getting a day off from work forced her to come to a tournament she wasn’t supposed to attend.  Once there, she wound up competing, placing and wanting a shot at a higher medal.

I’ve always said that God has an interesting sense of humor, and this was definitely a punch line that I didn’t see coming. But I’ll take it, happily – along with a very clean car!

On the Circuit

Tournaments are scheduled to be an all-day affair, but I had never personally experienced one that was.  Until Saturday.

At the Fort Lauderdale tournament last month, I spent four hours warming up and cooling down over and over and over again, before my event was finally called.  It was a factor of having dozens of competition categories all slated for the same ring and not knowing exactly how many were ahead of mine.

In Charlotte on Saturday, rings were assigned on an ongoing basis, with none pre-assigned before the competition began. None.  We waited more than four hours for the first of the three of us to be called for an event; it took an additional two and a half hours after the first call for all of us to be done on the floor. So from first stretch to last bow, we spent almost eight hours warming up and cooling down, over and over and over again.


I did a lot of quacking in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The extreme test of patience made Saturday my best day yet at being a duck.  Most surprisingly, I was not alone.

I like to say that my daughter is me without the filter.  That missing filter is usually a very big deal.  But with a little late-in-the-day help from a smart phone, her complaints numbered exactly three and lasted a matter of seconds.  That’s in a day that was eight hours long – and followed immediately by a seven hour car ride home!

What keeps an experience that looks crazy on paper from being as insane as it sounds is being in a room with a couple of hundred other like-minded enthusiasts who’ve driven just as long or flown just as far as you have.  A Florida man I made friends with in Lauderdale greeted me like we’d known each other for years, and my son left the building with plans to meet up early in the summer with a fellow competitor he spent most of the day talking with.  It’s not just a competition circuit; it’s a community all its own – much like any professional sport.  And that community is a fringe benefit to an experience that can otherwise try the most passionate of martial arts souls.

Next up Pittsburgh.  I’m sure the gang – or much of it – will all be there.