Reflections on the 2008 World Shoto Cup
Reflections on the 2008 World Shoto Cup
Like all tournaments, the World Shoto Cup had its share of personal highs and lows, triumphs and letdowns. Now that the cheering is over, perhaps it is time to reflect on what it all means. For me, someone who is not big on tournaments, my participation was an act of affirmation, a show of support for my teacher, our master instructors, and our organization at a pivotal moment in its history.
A large organization like the ISKF is made up of many people. There are many of us who labour in obscurity by choice. I have been around for some time, but never done anything exceptional in karate. I have trained with my instructor Master Frank Woon-A-Tai for 20 years, taken all my exams since first kyu under Master Okazaki, taught for 13 years, and volunteered my time and services freely. I am, of course, not an exception. There are many others, unknown to most of us, who have contributed equally, if not more, to make the ISKF what it is.
For all my time doing karate, competing in the Shoto Cup, our world championships, was a new experience. I seriously wondered what an ageing weekend warrior like me could bring to the table, as a competitor. I found that, in our own way, when we come out and support an event such as this, we see the real strength of the ISKF. There is a wealth of talent, depth, and diversity within our ranks. And when we pool our resources and pull in the same direction, we can accomplish amazing things as a group.
Trite as it sounds, the only goal that I set myself for this tournament was to do my best. As a way of showing my appreciation and respect, I wanted to contribute by making a strong showing to uphold the stature of the ISKF. For me, the quality of my performance was more important than where I finished, because no matter where you finish, there is always room for improvement. As I have often said to others, you are not competing with others as much as you are competing with yourself. The big difference this time was that rather than just uttering the sentiment, I was getting the full treatment of living the experience. I think it’s called “putting your money where your mouth is.”
This seemingly inane approach made sense to me. For one thing, it made you immune to “championitis,” the unwholesome preoccupation with winning. When you free yourself from the pressure of winning, you also lose the fear of losing. Only then can you concentrate on the task at hand. When you produce a breakthrough performance, you don’t feel disappointed in coming in second, or third, or even not getting a medal. Rather, there is a deep sense of satisfaction in accomplishing something, a feeling nobody can take away from you.
I learned a whole lot of karate while preparing for the Shoto Cup. My preparation actually began almost three years earlier, when I was getting ready for my fifth dan exam. I trained over a year for the exam. During the dark winter months, I used to trudge through the slush and snow to get to my condo recreation centre. I would turn up the heat, clean the dojo floor, and train alone for nearly two hours. It was a ritual that became a routine, four or five days a week. The routine continued even after I passed my exam.
I honestly cannot say it was fun, at least not in the beginning. Getting into shape was torture. For the first six months, there was practically no improvement. If anything, I got worse. I remember well the first week. It took me over an hour to get through the five Heian kata, the three Tekki kata, and Bassai Dai. My feet were constantly covered with tape. Little cuts appeared from the wear and tear of incessant training. My muscles cramped and ached at night; they were stiff and tired all the time. Instead of getting stronger and faster, I was slower than ever.
It is hard to explain why I persevered, other than to say it’s hard not to be obsessed when karate gets in your blood. It was not the allure of a new rank or a medal that drove me, but the simple pleasure of training, studying, and analyzing what I was doing. It was a delight searching the Net for video clips. I marveled at the way great masters like Kase, Shirai, Kawasoe, Kagawa, Osaka, Yahara, and others performed techniques with such great skill and authority. It pumped me up to work a little harder.
At the end of the day, the personal sacrifices were worth it. The feeling of unity, when mind and body are in sync, is magical. Winning the gold in the seniors’ team kata event was wonderful, but I did not make the finals in individual kata. Still, I took satisfaction in how far I had come in my development. The week before the tournament, I snapped off with ease each of the shitei kata (Heian Nidan to Heian Godan and Tekki Shodan) 10 times each at optimum speed in rapid succession. At the tournament, my form held up; my kata were strong, sharp, and compact. I performed with poise and intensity. Somewhere along the way I came to understand the application of mental preparation and discipline: that in itself was an important lesson learned.
Congratulations to all who competed or had anything to do with the tournament. For the ISKF, it was a more than credible showing. The technical standard displayed was high and will only get better with time. Marcel Lussier, who won the kata and kumite titles in the seniors’ division, put on a stunning demonstration that brought the house down. We, old-timers, may be getting a little long in the tooth, but we are certainly not over the hill!
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