Monday, November 12, 2012

What you can learn at tournaments

On Nov. 10th I had the privilege of competing in the 38th Annual U.S. Open Championships, sponsored by Grandmaster YB Choi and held at Rutgers University.  Although I was fortunate enough to be named grand champion in the men's senior forms division, this was hardly the highlight of the event for me.  If that seems odd, read on.
   Every tournament I have attended this year begins with the message -- and the message was delivered especially clearly by Grandmaster Choi -- that everyone who competes is a winner.  For every child or adult who steps into the ring at a tournament, there are thousands who could but don't.  And that's understandable, especially for the youngest competitors, who may be 5 or 6 years old.  It's not easy to stand in front of hundreds of people and be judged on your abilities.  So when you take that deep breath and step before the judges, you've already won.  Carrying home a medal or trophy is not the measure of your worth.  Having the courage simply to try your best is all that matters.
   I was extremely pleased to find that almost without exception, the competitors who didn't capture a trophy were respectful of the judges' decisions, were pleased to have competed, and applauded the children or adults who took first, second, or third place.
   I was also delighted to see so many youngsters exhibiting respect for those who held higher-ranking belts as well as for their elders.  The martial-arts world is one in which humility and respect are paramount, and it heartens me to know that each year America's training halls are turning out students who will be better citizens and neighbors for having trained in Taekwondo, karate, and other disciplines.
   Once again I was overjoyed to find a level of camaraderie that I have never found among competitors in other sports.  Two of the competitors in Grandmaster Choi's tournament -- one 14, the other 18 -- had flown in with their coach from Colombia, South America.  Nationality simply didn't matter.  They performed beautifully and were cheered on by all those who knew outstanding technique when they saw it.  These two young Taekwondo students each left with trophies for every event in which they participated, and they made friends among those who will compete with them for years to come.
   I was knocked out -- not literally, I'm pleased to report -- by a 49-year-old guy who had recently earned his 1st-degree black belt.  In addition to  having become a formidable competitor, he told me that his Taekwondo training had helped him lose 50 pounds.  That's five-zero.  So if you're 40-something and thinking you need to get off the couch and get in shape, think about Taekwondo.
   These are just a few of the things that struck me about the tournament, and I mention them because they may help you either begin training or come out of "retirement."  Whether you're 50, 60, or older, you have a future in the martial arts.  Find a senior-friendly school near you, and become part of the growing and extremely supportive family that is the martial arts.