Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mercer County Nationals: Two Thumbs Up

Here's a well-deserved tip of the hat to Sensei Ivan Mendez for the outstanding job he did with this year's Mercer County Nationals martial-arts tournament.  The event was held on March 16th at Rider University, and this year Sensei Mendez had arranged for the use of two gyms instead of the usual one.  The second gym really helped, because once again the tournament attracted hundreds of competitors as well as serious crowds in the stands.
   I had the pleasurable task of spending the entire morning as a judge for one of the kids' rings -- intermediate girls ranging in age from 10-12 -- and I was extremely impressed with the level of skill they exhibited in both forms and point sparring.  In addition to a high level of competitiveness, the girls showed a strong sense of camaraderie, and that's an essential ingredient of life in the martial arts.  In every tournament a few people go home with medals or trophies while most don't.  But everyone wins by trying his or her best, by learning new skills, by meeting new friends, and by showing respect for the discipline that lies at the heart of all martial arts.
   When not judging, I had time to catch some action in the other rings -- from kids 6 and under to folks over 60 -- and found the level of competition to be exceptionally high.  My only disappointment was in not seeing more seniors in the tournament.  I had alerted this blog's readers to the fact that Sensei Mendez had created a senior-friendly tournament by offering both 50+ and 60+ divisions -- something you don't often find in large tournaments -- but too few seniors donned their uniforms this year.  If you weren't there, you missed a golden opportunity to participate in friendly as well as spirited competition. 
   So now you have to wait until next year.  But that gives you plenty of time to get active in the martial arts or perhaps to dust off the uniform you haven't worn in a few years.  If you're 50+ and reading this blog, I hope to see you at the Mercer County Nationals in 2014.  If you join me for this major event, you'll look forward to it each year.
   Congratulations to Sensei Ivan Mendez on the highly successful 18th Annual Mercer County Nationals.  Let's all be on hand for the 19th Annual version next March.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thoughts on tournament preparation

As I've mentioned in this blog twice before, the Mercer County Nationals will be held at Rider University on Saturday, March 16th.  You can check back to previous posts for all the details.
   Today's topic is related but different: how do you prepare for a martial-arts tournament when you're 55, 65, 75, or older?  The answer is different for every senior, of course, depending upon your exact age, level of fitness, and martial-arts experience.  Oh, and yes, the answer will vary according to what your physician says.  You should not undertake any serious athletic venture until you've been checked out by the doc.
   But here are some general tips that may help you, especially if you've been off the tournament circuit for some time.
   1.  Understand why you're competing.  Tournaments are merely an extension of your formal martial-arts training, so think of them as steps toward your long-term goal of mastering your particular style.  Don't think about the color of a medal or trophy.  Simply do your best.  If you compete, you win.  This is not about capturing awards.
   2.  Know what you're doing.  If you're competing, let's say, in forms, you really do need to know the form.  This sounds awfully obvious, I realize, but you'd be surprised how many competitors simply don't know the form they're supposed to be demonstrating.  Okay, a few people forget under pressure.  But most of those who fail to finish just didn't practice enough.  How much is enough?  In order for a form to become second nature, you will have to perform it hundreds of times.  If you haven't invested that sort of time, save your entry fee for the next tournament.
   3.  Cardio training is essential.  Whether you compete in sparring, forms, or weapons, you need to have the stamina to get through an entire day.  Even though your event may last only a minute or two, you'll feel the adrenaline pumping all day long as you watch other competitors in action.  By the time your event gets called, you'll need all the reserve energy you can muster, because even a one-minute form will drain you if you do it seriously.
   4.  Taper your training.  As you approach the tournament date, you need to begin resting any overworked body parts.  How far in advance you shift into "maintenance mode" is up to your body, but generally you should figure on taking things a bit easier for one or two weeks prior to the tournament.  The goal is to avoid over-use injuries, and you can do that by not going all-out during your practice sessions.  It's important to stretch every day and continue moderate cardio training, but don't train every day at "competition level."  Save that top level for the actual tournament.
   5.  Warm up, warm up, warm up.  Don't plan on getting to the tournament and walking right into your event.  Instead, get there a couple of hours early so that you get a feel for the facility, the crowd, the other competitors, and your emotions.  Once you've settled in, begin a gentle workout: dynamic stretching, static stretching, light kicking, and so forth.  Get your body warm, and keep it warm and loose right up until your event is called.  Maybe some 20-year-olds can just jump onto the floor and fly through their routines without warming up, but you're not 20, and neither am I.
   6.  Cool down properly.  The proper way to cool down after a workout or a tournament event is to stretch.  Remember, a tournament is really just another training session, and you should end every training session with stretching.  The best time to stretch is ALWAYS after your body is well warmed up.
   7.  Search for the next tournament.  If you approach your first tournament as an enjoyable learning experience, you'll find that you'll want to compete again.  Try to get in at least three or four tournaments each year so that you always have an intermediate training goal.  If you approach each tournament as part of your long-term goal of mastering a martial art, you'll add immeasurably to your level of knowledge and self-confidence.
   Hope to see you at the Mercer County Nationals on March 16th.