Something I do not talk about very often is my long history of competition fighting. I thought I would do a write up about my own experience as a way of explaining why we teach things the way we do at our school.
I have talked previously about starting my martial arts journey with Judo at the age of 7, so I will try to keep this bit brief. I still love Judo and have gone back to it 3 times on my journey. I still think it is a great martial art for kids and also a great art to enhance your self defence. As much as I teach stand up arts and say that the last place you want to be is fighting on the floor, Sxxt happens and a lot of fights will end up in a grappling position, or worse, on the floor. A good knowledge of being comfortable in grappling range is vital for the martial artist.
I am already digressing from the point of this blog – so let’s get back to competitions. I entered a lot of Judo competitions at a young age because Judo is more of a sport nowadays than a martial art. As such, there are a lot of opportunities to take part. At that age, I think I entered every competition that became available, and guess what, I lost them all. I did get a silver medal once, however there were only 2 of us in the category so I still didn’t win.
For some reason, in all my early martial art adventures, the only thing that kept me going and went in my favour was my desire to get better, most people would have given up and thought they were not cut out for this marlaky. It wasn’t until I was being graded that I had an epiphany that I could get good at this. In Judo you had to fight for each grading and I had 8 fights and won 7 and drew 1. I believe my extra umph came from having my dad watching, he had also brought a friend we knew as he was interested in taking it up too. That is one thing I have noticed, I really push myself if I have to have something to prove. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all because I have used it to my advantage. Over the years of working on myself I have learnt to create the drive for myself as well.
After that I think I left Judo and started in the sport Karate. Again there were a few competitions as it concentrated on the sport more than anything else. I entered a few, and again I didn’t win a thing. As I’ve mentioned in a lot of other blogs and write ups, I didn’t have much confidence in myself in my school years and just thought I was useless. However, and very importantly, I still had something in me that wanted to get good at competing in something. Due to having low self esteem I desperately wanted some silverware to take home with me. The funny thing was, I used to play a lot of snooker and pool when I wasn’t kicking my legs around, and it was at this time when I was about 14-16 years of age, that I started winning a lot of competitions in this instead. I even played for the County in pool, but for some reason it was martial arts I wanted to get good at.
When I turned 18 I started Tae Kwon Do. Again I competed in every competition available, going up and down the country as I could drive by then. One loss after another. Even writing this, I’m starting to think I was stupid. Why didn’t I just think to give it up and try something else. I had a bit of a breakthrough when I entered in the teams category and we all came away winning silver medals. I actually lost my fight but it was very close and one of the best fights I can recall having. I didn’t feel bad for losing then either as I did my best. Again though, I had my teammates to think about and I didn’t want to let them down. It was obvious that I needed some other simulation to find my warrior within, if it was just me out there on my own, I would not perform as well as I should have done.
When I eventually took my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I actually floored one opponent with a spinning heel kick which helped improve my confidence in my abili Maybe it was the pressure of competitions that I found hard. This was in 2000, when I was 29, 23 years after starting martial arts, and I was just starting to enjoy sparring and getting more confident. I have always said I am a slow learner!
Around this time I took up Judo again with a mate. It was only for about a year, but I entered 3 competitions and won a gold, silver and a bronze in that time. The relief of actually winning was a great stress relief, except most of my wins were due to myself not enjoying being chucked so I got really good at countering my opponent. My mate who joined me was a bodybuilder and very muscular. Again, it could have been him being there with me that got me winning as I had someone that looked up to me as he knew I was a black belt already and my ego wanted to make sure that I didn’t look crap. The best bit was that I beat him in one of the bouts to get to the final.
Just after this I started training in Kickboxing and Kung Fu. Again I entered quite a few comps and lost a lot – you would have thought that I would be good by now. However I was one of the better fighters in the club by now, and even in competitions I was winning the odd few, but still not enough to bring a medal or trophy home with me.
I was now in my mid 30’s and was into a lot of the realistic self defence side of martial arts. I was still training in any club that I could and sparring a lot. In the club I was one of the better sparrers by now, always the one that people didn’t want to spar with. I remember training at one Karate club a few times which was run by a very big door man with a lot of testosterone and it was pretty hard core. I came back bleeding, battered and bruised but I could hold my own, just about. I was getting more and more confident and it was then that I started to give up on the competition side of things. I don’t think it was because I kept losing, but more that I was gaining enough confidence to know I was actually good. Also I was not really enjoying the atmosphere of tournaments, especially with all the waiting around for hours, and then losing a fight and going home. I was taking a different path.
At this time, I had started teaching my own clubs, and was fast approaching 40 years of age. I had also started taking students to competitions instead so I sort of hung my gloves up.
Roll on, 45 years of age. I had 3 black belt students that were entering a few competitions and enjoying testing themselves. I got into a conversation with one of my brown belts that had just started to compete. To cut a long story short, he persuaded me to enter the next competition coming up. I’m not sure if it was my ego, but I wanted to prove to him that I still had something in the tank.
So we entered the British Championships. I took up 2 of my Black belts and Jack, the brown belt at this time. I still wasn’t 100 % sure if I was entering or not. The one thing that helped me hang up my gloves when I started taking students up was coaching them to compete. That’s stressful enough without you entering yourself. I ended up putting myself forward in my weight category in the points diversion and also in the masters open weight, which was for the over 35’s only – which my 2 black belts put in for too. No pressure there then, none of my students had seen me compete, and now I had 2 competing against me!
Saying that, it probably helped me but I was still as nervous as ever. Since I last competed I had been getting into and studying a lot of NLP techniques and visualisation strategies, and I think that helped me a lot. Saying that it didn’t start off well as I lost my first fight by a point. Fortunately the way this competition was, you got a second chance at competing if you lost straight away. After that, it was one of those times when everything came together, and I came away with a silver medal. I fought brilliantly and even impressed myself, especially as my flexibility was on its way out by then, but I still managed a few kicks to the head to win.
Then came the masters, where my 2 black belt students were also competing. One was a heavyweight and the other was a lightweight, and I was in the middle. I didn’t have to fight my students as they went before me and both lost, so now it was my turn. I thought “nothing to lose then”. Again I fought probably the best I had for years and had quite a few points from sweeping my opponents, and some more kicks to the head, and eventually came away with the gold trophy which automatically made me eligible to compete in the world championships, which was to be held in Switzerland. I didn’t go by the way, but I didn’t feel the need to, I was happy with that and I was putting most of my time into my club and the coaching.
So there you have it, it took me nearly 40 years to win a gold trophy in stand up martial arts. Now was that because I was really bad! No I don’t think so. I believe it was my own mindset and my own belief in myself. If I had the belief that I could win and I deserved to win, I would have had a much more successful career. However, saying that, would I be the teacher that I am today if it wasn’t for my struggles. I do find it ironic that during my active tournament days, I could actually kick really well. I trained like mad to get good, and then by the time I got to my 40’s and my hips had started to give me trouble, I found that inner warrior that I had been searching for. As the saying goes, better late than never.
Since then, I have entered one more competition, in the Chinese Forms division, the one and only time, and came away with the Gold trophy too. As a lot of well known sports men have done, I thought I’d quit now while I was at the top of my game.