Sunday, April 17, 2011

Veni, Vidi, Vici

The short of it is that yesterday I competed at a local tournament, still able to step into the ring and perform after all these years.

That’s it so feel free to stop reading here. The event itself, the moment in time, now gone.

The story, well that’s another issue.

Perhaps the story started 37 years ago when I competed for the first time.

Perhaps the story started 33 years ago when Ron Martin judged me as a black belt for the first time.

No, that’s not it. The story started in late January of this year when Dr. Harper told me I have stage two diabetes and I had to make significant changes to my diet and exercise to survive.

The back story is not the issue, the fact is I simply stopped eating all of the junk that was destroying me, started walking at lunch (I’m now up to 2 miles) , eating less and monitoring my blood sugar three times a day.

It’s all had an effect. I’ve lost a lot a weight, but have more to go. I think my blood sugar is getting under control. I’m learning new lessons about diet, exercise and myself. The walking makes me stronger, but it also makes me weaker for my karate those nights, but I daily walk stronger and faster and I can do more with my karate at the same time. There is pain for the effort but pain is a old story for training, pain tells me I’m alive and improving.

No the story started after the Doctor’s prescription about changing my life. I knew I had to set new goals, find new horizons. Karate wasn’t enough. And the accumulation of things from age and arthritis which had slowed me down, well I’ve learned some of my problems were from the diabetes and my new changes were restoring my capability.

Restoring it but not making me young.

I decided I had to set one more goal and as a local karate group was going to have a tournament in April, once again I was going to try and compete, and more so I was going to do it with something new and challenging to me. I decided on the kata and set a goal that I had to be able to perform it correctly by the end of March.

The kata I picked was one shared with me by my friends. Joe Swift first shared it’s existence about 10 years ago. Mario McKenna translated the accompanying text and actually discussed my performance at a visit he had with me years ago, from his own experience training in the system of its origin.

I had worked the form over the last 10 years mainly because of technical features about it’s technique that attracted me, but the ongoing physical changes had made it’s practice take a step back in my study.

The reason I decided to compete with it was because of 5 challenging kicking techniques in the form, especially challenging for me.

The first night I ran the form I asked my students what they thought. I got no reply which I understand, but I had brought my video camera and had them film me. That was the only eye I needed. To say I was bad was an understatement. That record became a good point of where I had to travel from.

Early March I ran it for the guy’s once again. I know I had done a pretty fair job the previous Saturday, but once again when asked they would not reply and thankfully I had the camera with me. That video told the tale but I knew the answer for when I went home and took my evening blood sugar reading it was 35, dangerously low. The answer to that was to eat appropriately and I did so and watched my performance. I looked like I had no energy and guess what I literally had no energy.

One of the hardest lessons is how to eat and train. On Tuesday I was up to 2 miles walking, worked the entire day and then had two classes in the evening. I had to work out a better way to eat for training days. It still is a project but we’re learning about this and getting better. At this point I had a solid handle on the correct diet and correct blood sugar range, it’s how to integrate that knowledge for training is the next journey. You see it’s not about losing some weight, the diabetes isn’t going away. It’s about changing my life forever. My saving grace is my wife had been feeding me correctly all along, it was all the other stuff that made the difference, and my amounts being gradually cut back have been working.

So the next two weeks training and eating more for breakfast and lunch on class days made a difference. I showed my kata to my students at the end of March and they agreed I had gotten stronger.

I sent in my competition fee.

Now let’s go back those 33 years to my first meeting with Ron Martin as one of my judges. My last Isshinryu instructor had returned to the Air Force and I was training myself, a situation which remained for the remainder of my life.

As a shodan competing with Isshinryu at a tournament in Easton Pa. Ron graciously awarded me a score of 2. After the division I sought him out to inquire what I could have done better. Ron responded quite emphatically about my performance and my stances but then explained why he made that statement. In turn I started looking, I watched his students performance and the incredible stance work they used.

Next I traveled to Salisbury and closely watched my original instructor, Tom Lewis, and saw how correct his stance were. Continuing now that I had a template to observe what others were doing in their performance I continued to gather information.

The end result a lifetime of focus on one aspect of my art and my students art. I never trained with Ron, but we saw each other frequently in the years I was competing and attending tournaments in Pennslvania. Then I moved to New Hampshire in 1985 and my efforts continued. It turns Ron Martin had lived in Derry, long ago. His parents home is very close to where I live today. Several years ago he was up visiting Richard Bernard and the three of us had coffee together and I reminded him of that 2 and the direction his comments had to affect my karate. Now once again he was to be my judge.

Honestly this form is more than challenging, the slightest mistake in my takeoff causes me to flounder. I picked it because of the personal challenge. If I just wanted to do a strong job I would have selected one of the Isshinryu forms I’ve done for decades, all worthy. But I picked this to work.

It’s interesting how many things came back. I stopped competing regularly about 1984, having satisfied my need. After that time I only competed for fun and challenge. Isshinryu became more of a strong personal art for me and when I’d compete I’d take other of my loves. I’ve done so with Bando Staff, Northern Mantis, Northen Shaolin and Shotokan too. Isshinryu became very personal for my students.

But getting back into the grove I found myself improving for the old tools, the mental disciplines.

Going through the kata while walking or driving, sitting at the desk, all are as important as doing the form itself. The kata is just karate technique I’ve done for decades. The mind directs the body’s performance.

Long, long ago I discovered my performance was better when I had spent more and more time mentally reviewing the forms performance. Still the same. The kicks I had to perform required I had correct posture and my mental review how to shape my spine actually worked to make my performance match my ideal. How many times did I practice the form the last week, 6 times. How many times did I perform the form mentally, dozens and dozens.

The tournament setting is just the Void. I enter the Void, my will directs my body and I perform. If I perform correctly only I remain in the end.

To prepare for the day I first stopped my walking the two days proceeding the tournament. I didn’t need the recovery pain after those walks this time. I then decided to carbo load on Friday night and had a spaghetti dinner just like the marathoner’s do.

Saturday I awoke and had my standard breakfast and left for the tournament. I also had a snack with me.

Then I had to wait, a wait that would last 6 hours. Not knowing when I’d be competing I wasn’t going to go outside and have a quick lunch. Late morning I consumed my snack and the day continued waiting.

Finally my time came. I used an Eagle Claw Chi Kung drill to pull my mind together while the ring was being organized. An extremely useful skill, not magic but concentrating on the moving arms and breathing clears the mind and calms the soul.

My name was called. I approached the head judge, Ron Martin, announced my form and then stepped back and took a breath.

I made no mistakes. I maintained my balance and executed a strong form. I then stepped back.

I knew I did exactly what I planned to do. I and the form were one and then there was I.

My reward, well I received a medal placeholder and am very grateful for that, but my reward was the look in Ron’s eyes when I stepped back. That’s all I need.

The moment is gone. That challenge is past and new goals must be found as I create myself anew each day.

I think back on how one minute of one day out of a lifetime of days has so many memories and lessons connected with it.

I’ve only ever competed but to push myself, and after all these years it’s still the most valid reason to step on the floor.

Competition isn’t for others approval. It’s not for judges scores. It’s not for the applause of the crowd, but by taking the time to step on the floor, you put yourself in the place to push yourself to your maximum. In my experience whether in kata, kobudo or kumite, the same still applies.

Now this tale is done.


Dan Djurdjevic said...

Bravo Victor - by name and by noun!

gojute67 said...

Great Job Victor! You are right.... It's all about the work and yourself... and the reward is not a trophy or money.

Mark Cook said...

Thanks for sharing Victor.

Shihan-Dai Baker said...

Sir, I will repeat what I said at that tournament - it was an honor to be in the same ring as you. You are a living example of what the art is all about. Respectfully, Brent Baker

Victor Smith said...

A comment received by Martin Ron Sensei and Hanshi - This is a very instructive story. I found his memory to be amazing and his rendition of all the events mentioned…are absolutely accurate. It would have been possible for Mr. Victor Smith to tell the tale, in a manner that showed him in a more flattering light. To his credit, he chose to tell the truth…warts and all. I indeed was the head judge in the ring, both times. 33 years ago, I was very critical and disappointed in Victor’s Kata. I chose to give him what he deserved and not what would make him feel good, but keep him from placing. Flash forward 33 years later and here I am, the chief judge once again, with my mind made up, to once again give him only what he earned! I well knew how difficult the Kata Victor had chosen was to perform. A high risk, high reward Kata if there ever was one. I could see his confidence, as he approached the judges and announced himself. I admit to wishing that he would do well, but that would ultimately be up to him! He performed really well, with NO breaks in balance, while performing a Kata that is a break in balance waiting to happen…multiple times! As he stepped back to receive his scores, he was looking me right in the eyes!! As the chief judge it is not appropriate for me to show any facial expression at all. In this case, and in these remarkable circumstances, I was unable to keep the light out of my eyes or the smile off my face. After more years than some people are alive, Victor had fully redeemed himself, for that “scarlet 2.” May the road always rise to meet my very good friend; Victor Smith. With admiration and respect.

I can only add it's not where we start but where the road leads in the end. Victor