Back in the late Nineties and the first couple of years of this century, I competed in several Gen-Ki tournaments in Chicago. They were big affairs, with hundreds of competitors. It was fun to go up against mainly karate people and win first place. My students and I brought home quite a few 6-foot trophies. At that time, there were several really great tournaments in Chicago. One was a huge open tournament with internal arts divisions that attracted Hsing-I, Tai Chi, and Bagua competitors. Gen-Ki was mostly devoted to karate but at the time, I was building a winning track record was felt that I needed to compete and win. One of the great things about Chicago tournaments is the contact that is required in sparring. In brown and black belt competition, you can't score a point unless you hit or kick your opponent. It isn't a game of "tag," like critics call tournament sparring. It gets rough and it's fun.
For the second time this year, I had a completely different reaction when I went to the Gen-Ki tournament again this year. Nancy and I spent Saturday night at her brother's house and had a fun visit playing with our 1-year old niece. We got up Sunday morning and went to the tournament.
We sat there waiting for competition to begin, and as I looked around me, I realized I was the only kung-fu black belt there. I saw one guy walking around from a karate team who I had competed against 7 years ago--8 years ago--and beat him in both forms and sparring.
I found myself completely unenthusiastic about competing. It was a real "been here done this" moment.
Earlier this year, when we lived in Tampa, Nancy and I drove over to Clearwater for an allegedly "open" tournament. It was full of karate folks, many of them practicing "extreme" karate. I looked around, felt like a fish out of water, and realized I didn't really need to prove myself against these guys, competing with internal arts against karate guys with karate judges. So we left.
Sitting there on Sunday, Nancy must have felt what I was thinking. She turned to me and said, "You know, you have absolutely nothing to prove with these people."
It was a beautiful day (there aren't many left in the Midwest this time of year) so we got up, I grabbed my elk horn knives and we drove back home and enjoyed the day. Even took a bike ride.
I'm very interested in doing demos and even competing in internal arts divisions, but I've lost my interest in being the only kung-fu guy in a karate tournament. I enjoy my friend John Morrow's tournaments and there's a great one each year in Dubuque that attracts more of a variety of competitors. I'll keep going to those, but I'm more interested in internal events these days.
When you're starting out, it's important to establish a track record and build a reputation. The last Gen-Ki tournament I attended 4 years ago, I won the "masters" form division and I won the 50-and-over sparring. I was asked to spar for Grand Champion and beat the 35-40-year old winner. Then I was outpointed and won runner-up Grand Champion among all black belts. It was a great day, and I shocked everyone by doing so well at age 51.
This past Sunday, three of my students arrived at the tournament after we left. Kim Miller won 1st place in women's brown belt forms with the Chen 38. Kim Schaber won 1st place in lower belt weapons. Each of them, and Chris Miller, also won 2nd and 3rd place trophies. They were in the hunt against karate competitors and that's cool. They need to do this to build experience and a winning track record, especially if their intention is to teach in the future.
As for me, I've been there, done that. Time to turn the page and move to the next chapter.