So, you’ve decided to start competing. Congratulations! It’s actually a huge step, and one that speaks volumes about your confidence, and in your willingness to go out and try something completely new, and a little odd. I have been competing since I was 9 years old. And a solid 95% of that competition had been purely in forms and kata. Not to say I’m an expert yet. Far from it, in fact. But, I have found a couple themes throughout the years in regards to preparing and getting ready for a tournament.
So, here they are. In 7,582 easy steps.
Step 1: Find a form you like.
Make sure you really like it because it will be your driving force and sole obsession for the next undetermined period of time. For example, until a few months ago I had been competing with a form called Gae Bek. I started working it when I was 18. I’m currently 28…
Step 2: Train it.
A lot. Ideally, you will have a time and space set aside for you to do this in. I have found that the best way to set a habit is to make sure you try to get something in several times a week in a certain place. What will actually happen is you’ll scramble at the end of the day, because you have a life and things that needed to get done (other than karate, like that’s even a thing.) and train in whatever space presents itself. After a few months of this, your standards will drop alarmingly low as to what counts as a “dojo” Most of my college career was spent training in parking lots around 11:30pm. The cops only dropped by twice in 5 years!
Step 3: Compete.
This will go one of two ways. You’ll step onto the floor, forget that you know anything vaguely resembling martial arts (or so it will feel) and do some hot mess of techniques that, if you got pretty drunk and squinted at, could indeed be suggested to resemble your form.
You’ll step out and it will go wonderfully. It will feel like someone else did it for you and when you finish, you’ll have all sorts of new ideas on what to do better, and what to change. Whichever version happens (And there are a few thousand “in-betweens”), the next step is crucial.
Step 4: Talk to EVERYONE
For me, the moment I step out of the ring, my mind is going 100 miles per hour on what happened, what I did, what I didn’t do, where I slipped, where I fumbled, and where I can do better. I’m always striving to find the next step, or next rung on the ladder of progress, and to that end, I talk to absolutely everyone. I’m usually catching my breath and talking with Sensei Weinberg or Sensei Sharkey, depending on where I am. I’m checking the video that I hopefully remembered to ask someone to take. I’m talking to my parents and wife, if they’re there, and I’m talking to every single one of my fellow competitors and teammates. I’m asking about my bobble on the turn and if they saw the slip on the switch before the kick. I’m asking about all these (hopefully) tiny technical issues and if they were noticeable. Because believe me, they’re watching. The community in the martial arts world is a beautiful thing. The very people you push so hard against, will be some of the first to come up and offer advice and ideas. By the time I leave any event, I’m flooded with information, awash in new ideas on how to progress, and totally pumped to get back to the dojo. Also, I’m incredibly hungry.
Step 5: Back to the Training
The best piece of advice I can give is that there is no endpoint. At no point will there be the realization that you have “arrived.” You will be aware of progress, you will be told things are looking better. You will even, occasionally, feel like you actually know something. But it will always be a haze of mistakes, modifications, twists, changes, and new ideas. There will always be something to work on. Something that gets into your head and makes you stay the extra time in the dojo after everyone has left, or drive to that parking lot at 11:30. The training never ends.
Rinse and repeat steps 3, 4, and 5. Over and over. When the tournaments you go to start getting too easy, time for a new circuit. Being the biggest fish in the pond kills talent. It makes people lazy and self-important. Always push for the next challenge, always go after the bigger fish. If it doesn’t scare you, that what on earth is the point? There will be a glowing moment where you will find your best, and it will feel absolutely incredible. For just a second you will think you found perfection. But, that initial high will fade, and then you’ll find yourself critiquing your “perfection.” It never stops. There is always a new perfect. Maybe tomorrow it’ll be yours.
Better start training.