Monday, July 28, 2014

Memory of a Karate Tournament


The Open American Karate Tournament was established maybe a decade before I began training.

Some schools live for tournaments, some schools never attend. Others do so on occasion. People love them, hate them and everything in-between.

On a personal note, they were a challenge for me from my earliest days. To go and compete in forms and kumite (sport sparring) against unknown opponents and judges. After my Black Belt and totally on my own, they helped me find focus to my training. I was in Scranton, Pennsylvania area, and we had some of the greatest forms and kobudo technicians in the nation competing in that region.

Going out in open competition allowed me to focus my abilities, and push myself harder than I would have done just teaching and training. No I was not a great competitor, but competing against them gave definite goals for myself at that time.

If I had to pick one tournament to describe the entire experience, it would be the one held by Joe Brague in Williamsport, Pennsylvania about 1980 or so. Not because I was a champion, for I wasn't, but because of the nature of the competition and the real lesson I discovered by accident at the end of the day.

My wife, Maureen, was born in Williamsport and she came along that day to show me her hometown.




One of Joe Brague's students was Gary Michak, who at that time was ranked by Karate Illustrated in the top 20 in Mens' Black Belt Kata, Kobudo and Kumite. Garry had made quite a name for himself in Open Kata Competition with his form set to the music of 'Superman' and his all Blue Gi.

As the day progressed, there were an incredible number of forms competitiors present.

I remember Gary and his brother George Michak among the other Goshin Jitsu Kyu Juo competitors, John Hamilton and Vince Wards fine Shorin No Tora competitors, John Chung from Jhoon Rhee's School, Ron Martins' Goju students, Cindy Rothrock from the Shaolin School of Wilkesbarre, Dale Kirby and his Iaido from Kentucky as well as many other fine competitors my memory leaves out. Truly among the finest in the country at that time.

There is no way I can recall all of the fine performances taking place. Gary's 'Superman' performance always stands out in my mind. Then John Chung doing a flying side kick in the midst of his Tae Kwon Do form and seeming to hang in the air forever. Cindy Rothrocks double hook swords, and all the rest.

One notable event took place during one of the Black Belt forms divisions. The division head judge was Jerry Durant, founder of the Goshin Jutsu system, and Joe Brague's instructor. One of the competitors completed his form and after scoring, Mr. Durant stood up and began to walk off of the competition floor. Joe went running after him saying " Sir, you can't leave the division isn't finished." Whereby Mr. Durant replied, "Joe, my kidneys have voted and the division waits." Leaving the entire tournament chuckling.

An other unique event of the day was Victor Moore, an early 60's karate kumite champion, was present a chimpanzee named Trudy. He was promoting the chimp for some possible movie career as he had taught it karate.

It was a long tournament, and following the old pattern, the finals were to be held as a separate event in the evening. Then there would be the Grand Championship competitions, demonstrations and even a show with the Chimpanzee.



My wife and I were planning on leaving, but I was approached by Cindy Rothrock. The students she rode with had to leave early, and she was going to be in the evening finals. She inquired whether we could give her a ride home.

I had been training in Yang Tai Chi Chaun with Cindy's husband, Ernie Rothrock for about 9 months at that time. Ernie was husband and her kung fu instructor, of course if you haven't read the magazines since about 1980, you would not find reference to that fact sine their divorce. He was running his schools and rarely attended karate tournaments.

I looked at my wife, she looked at me, our eyes may have rolled but we both said 'Sure, we'll stay and take you home."

So after the day's tournament my wife gave me a long tour of Williamsport and we took our dinner, and went to watch the evening festivities. The competition was very good. I have no idea who won, but it was among the best divisions I've ever seen.

Trudy the Chimp during the show, stood amidst gyrating go-go dancers and did nothing. The chimp had been hanging around for the entire day and was too tired at that point to listen to their handler.

Finally we picked up Cindy and were riding back towards he home south of Wilkesbarre, and our own home, too.

Along the way, Cindy was tired and discussed the day from her perspective. After a while it was obvious she was upset by some of the comments being given to her.

As an aside, there is great psychological warfare taking place between senior competitors and their instructors most of the time. As in all warfare, anything to give you and edge.

Cindy explained she was getting tired of hearing comments from the Judges like, "You really weren't trying hard enough today, you weren't giving you best stuff."

Now Cindy was among the best competitors in the region at that time. A year later she would enter the national circuit and for 5 years dominate weapons and forms with her skills. Eventually she moved on to the world of Martial Arts movies, as many of you are aware.

She continued, "They just don't understand you don't stand up in front of the judges and try do take it easy. Every time you compete you're giving 100% of what you have on that day. Some days' 100 is different from other days."

And that is the lesson. Not just Cindy Rothrock, everybody always gives 100%, every time. Its just a fact that that 100% differs from person to person. You don't judge the person's effort, you judge what they do with it. You don't judge the student's commitment, you judge their performance on a given day and hour.

The names and people fade each year, but the lesson remains.

Advanced Karate by Masutatsu Oyama

One surprising find over the years was the book "Advanced Karate" by Masutatsu Oyama. It holds a treasured place in my library. More so for what it shows how he saw karate's potential for use.






Saturday, July 19, 2014