Well, hoped to write this last night, but didn’t get through the door till 11, and was so exhausted I decided just to go to sleep and post this tonight instead. Definitely don’t think I chose poorly – anyone who’s ever been to a TKD competition will know how much of an endurance test it can be to live through.
For the uninformed, imagine setting foot in a room crammed with people wearing an outfit that’s not particularly designed to suppress heat. Then stay there for about 6 hours before you’re actually allowed to do anything while the world screams in your ear, temperature gets higher and you watch other people compete. So by the time you actually get to do anything, you feel tired and exhausted and just wanting to get out of there. The annoying thing of course is you have to be there first thing to get weighed in…But kids go first so odds are adults won’t even hit the mats until 3. Last year this specific competition ended at 7 – with people having been there since 8.30 in the morning waiting for their category.
This year though? Not so bad. For some reason (personally blaming the Easter holidays since they’re still active) there weren’t as many competitors this year. The children’s categories were still pretty swollen (though not to usual standards), but the adults were very thin on the ground. The lack of usual numbers meant the children’s categories were through at a record pacing, and the adult categories actually got started around 1. Never been to competition where I got out before 2 before.
While the children’s categories were being done in the morning, the adults were scheduled to do Special Technique and Power Test mostly to get it out of the way (and to justify adults without children having to be there so early). ST is where you do a jumping front Snap Kick in order to hit a board, and PT is where you smash a board first with a hand technique, then a foot technique. I was up for ST but not PT since I still can’t really break boards in class with my leg yet, let alone my hand. ST came first…and clearly set the bar for what the rest of the day was going to be like. These events are basically done by age, not belt, so every female white-to-blue belt between 18-35 was eligible.
There were 3 of us.
Clearly this wasn’t going to be a very competitive day. As it was, I never win at ST as I’m not a high jumper and my kicks are mediocre…and it’s usually the biggest category I compete in. So it was a surreal experience to be in that and know I actually had a chance of winning something. Unfortunately, we got called up so early (first adult category up!) that I hadn’t fully stretched in time – my own fault and something I very much paid for. As such, first time I went up, made the kick and felt my right ankle buckle. It was not happy…and forced me to use my left leg, with its still very sore pulled muscle that hadn’t appreciated the small amount of stretching I’d done before, let alone being forced to jump and kick. That resulted in me all but limping away, and not hitting the board. The red tag in the division did make the board, so it became a race between me and the white belt taking part. Unfortunately, because both my legs had decided to break down, I couldn’t make the jump – and pretty sure if I’d actually had my legs in better preparation, I could have hit the board – I missed it by less than a centimetre! Lesson learned I guess.
But yeah, first medal of the day – a bronze…for coming in last, as per usual.
Then PT was up…and discovered that the white belt wasn’t competing, and there was only the red-tag. At the encouragement/intimidation of my classmates, I decided to enter last minute (which when a category is small, you can do relatively easily). Another blue tag appeared as well, and it was again a 3 girl race. I knew going in I wasn’t going to win as I’d never even done a hand technique to a board before, but figure I could at least give it a shot.
Think you can guess what happened. And I’ve got a nasty bruise on my hand along with the second bronze medal.
After that, it was mostly encouraging the others in their own ST and PT events – and my school made out very well. Think everyone placed in their categories (and the males had enough in their sections that you did actually have to win at least once) so when Patterns finally got called up, everyone was in high spirits.
Ah Patterns…not entirely sure what happened here. With patterns, you are called up to compete against another student, and 3-5 judges will watch, and choose the most flawless pattern. I was actually getting pretty confident with Yul-Gok, I’d run through it a dozen times during the morning, and I wasn’t making any obvious mistakes. The biggest issue would be the kicks, since I’d been practising on a hard floor, and not the stupidly-slippy mats. The mats of TKD have ruined many a pattern due to the lack of traction. Still, I went up, did my pattern, and though my kicks weren’t spectacular, thought I did a pretty good rendition. My opponent however, had done Do-San, which I thought wasn’t allowed since he was a green belt…and got all 5 votes.
(Most competitions insist upon doing your belt-pattern. If you have tags you can do the belt below if you so choose, though will not get as much leeway with mistakes if your opponent is doing their highest pattern. Didn’t discover until after the category was over and done with that you could generally do any pattern you want, and I could have done one that didn’t involve kicks).
That was pretty depressing. I genuinely thought my pattern had been good – I can normally at least get ONE vote in my favour these days, it’s rare for a unanimous vote. Made worse by the fact that there were 5 of us in the category (guys and gals together), and four awards (the way the matches work mean there’s 2 bronzes in every category available), and I was the one competitor that didn’t place. Normally? Wouldn’t mind – I actually prefer not getting anything over getting medals for coming in last – if not for the fact that I know I wasn’t the worst in the group.
I know I’m going to sound like a whiny brat for saying this – but there was one competitor whose pattern was terrible, also Yul-Gok, and went up against the student who went on to win gold. Because of this, they got a bronze – the annoying thing about patterns in competitions is it really is luck of the draw as to who you go up against. Had I competed against her, it’s entirely possible I could have come out with silver in patterns because I would have won the first round. But in order for that to happen, everyone in the division would have to fight everyone…and in the larger categories that’s just not feasible.
To be fair though, I’m well aware of this. Many a friend has come out of this category annoyed because their pattern genuinely is better than someone who placed, but went up against equally good opponents to begin with. I myself have more than one bronze medal I didn’t deserve for patterns just because I competed against the student who went on to win gold, so should just appreciate that what goes around comes around again.
By this time everyone was actually pretty excited. We’d gotten through divisions faster than any tournament before now – it was actually possible we’d get out of here for 3pm…
…Then the competition decided to shake things up. Since they were running ahead so much, they’d bring forward the black belt patterns too before getting started on the children’s sparring. Meaning we suddenly had half a dozen extra categories to sit through, and bringing expected time of sparring back to its usual 3-4pm slot.
Female sparring was one of the last categories before the black belt sparring, so it was about 4.15 before I was up. Normally, sparring is divided by weight, but I was the only heavyweight female, and there were 2 middleweights, so they fused us together and decided to do a round robin. Here I very much lucked out on the grounds that I wasn’t in the first match so got to see the other 2 girls fight, while one of the younger red belts from my Academy decided to be my ‘coach’ and help me out. She could see exactly where the other two’s tactics were, and gave me some hints on how to take them on.
When I did get on the mats, it was first up against the red-tag who had won her fight. She always advanced at the start of the fight so the best way to get her back was to make a side kick – she’d basically walk right on it. This little piece of advice probably saved me from a slaughtering, because the girl was really good, and that meant I could keep some distance to start with.
What followed was one of the most fun spars I’ve had in a very long time. It’s been so long since I’ve fought someone my age, height, gender and (close enough) weight that I’d forgotten why I used to enjoy sparring. I’d also invested in some shin guards after too many incidents of me limping home – think they probably helped A LOT more than I expected.
She was tired since she had fought before which also helped, and meant the two of us weren’t too unequally matched. The match did go to her in the end (and definitely don’t argue that!) but it was a very close call.
Second match was against the green belt who’d been in PT and Patterns, and I was pretty confident I could beat her. I’d been talking to her beforehand, and this was her first competition – and it was pretty obvious in some ways. She made a lot of the mistakes I made, but also had a pretty big weakness – she never guarded her head. Sparring six foot behemoths in class and getting kicks to the head from other females in competition has pretty much engraved this one rule on my skull – and it meant her head was a target I could reach with little effort.
Unfortunately, though I was pretty much in control of the fight, both of us were exhausted and hurt, so the last minute of the fight seemed to turn into more of a scrabbling than a fight – noted by the referee who continually warned us to keep it clean. To be fair she was desperately trying to score points she knew she didn’t have – and I was so exhausted the idea of just backing off and not trying to score more points never even occurred to me – never been in a situation where I had enough to win without continually charging. BUT, for the first time in a spar since I was a yellow belt, I actually won. Knew I had, but still nearly collapsed in delight when the referee held up my hand.
So for the first time in a very long time, I came home with a medal I had to earn, instead of bronzes I obtained just by showing up. Which has done more for my confidence than I thought it would. The last time I won a silver or bronze because I’d beaten someone was nearly 2 years ago. Certain things didn’t go as well as I thought they would, but I’m very happy to have that silver on my shelf.
Despite this victory, still definitely considering throwing in the towel competitively. Although I had a lot of fun this time, it was a lot of effort and enduring to actually get to the competition and stick the day through. And this was a very quiet competition – unlike any I’ve ever been to, so need to make an unbiased decision before I second guess that decision.