“You are weird…”
The words echoed in my head that night, when I was going to bed, as if some subconscious part of me was trying to figure out if there was any tiny fragment of truth in the comment I had gotten earlier that day, after having become the Stockholm District champion in kata (“just another day at the office…”).
It was a kid who had said it.
A kid who overheard a conversation I had with somebody else, where I had remarked that I wasn’t very happy with the gold.
Why? Because I was unsatisfied with my performance, of course. Gold or not. My philosophy was – is – that the rewards (points/flags etc) you get for your performance in a kata tournament varies too much between occasions for me to even care. There’s too many parameters that have to click. All the stars and planets have to be properly aligned – and I don’t even believe in the zodiac to begin with.
That’s not why I compete.
The day I realized this was a big turning point for me.
Knowing whether you will win or lose is beyond you. Above you. You can only do so much, then it is up to the opinion of 3, or 5, neatly dressed judges in chairs to do the rest. And unless they see somebody lying clearly knocked out in front of your feet, you can’t be sure they will deem you the victor. This is an opinion based sport.
So what is there to hold on to?
Opinion fluctuates. There are simply too many variables, unless you already have a name made for you, or other distinct advantages in some end of the competitive kata spectrum.
So my benchmark can only be myself.
Somebody, a boxer I believe, once said that walking into the ring is akin to walking to death. Facing death. Although the actual chance of really dying in a boxing match is pretty small, it is nonetheless one step closer to death than sitting in the sofa with a beer and some potato chips.
There is no lonelier place on earth than in the ring.
Karateka-gone-MMA superstar Lyoto Machida’s father said something similar in an interview I once read. I believe the wording was “The life of a samurai is a lonely one”.
But I don’t do MMA. Neither do I box. I don’t have to worry about being gradually pushed one step closer to hypothetical death as a hail of blows lands on my body. I have no physical enemy in front of me. Which is great. Because not only does that spare me a host of yet unresearched sicknessed later in life, but more importantly it puts the spotlight on an even more sinister enemy, one that is easy to overlook in some of these combat sports that depend on external factors to a great degree.
I’m talking about myself.
Because, even though boxers, MMA fighters, wrestlers, kyokushin-ka and other full contact martial artist may very well feel desperate and lonely in the darkest moments of an all-out battle, there is also a kind of comfort to be felt. An emotional bond, though perhaps solely on a metaphysical plane, shared between oneself and one’s opponent – because no matter how you look at it you are not alone in the fight. You have an opponent.
So, when I walk up to the mat; dressed in one of my numerous prissy, all-white uniforms – ready to do my thing – there is nobody to blame if things don’t go as planned. Nobody… but myself.
I can’t blame my opponent, because there is no one.
And I can’t blame the judges, because I know that for every unfair loss they give me today, I have been handed an unfair win in the past.
And I can’t blame my coach, because she can only take me to the water, not make me drink it.
My only benchmark must be myself.
And that’s why I can not always appreciate a medal, golden or not. Because it doesn’t prove – mirror – the true worth of my actual efforts. It only serves to remind me that just like the cherry blossom, sakura, it can be here today and gone tomorrow. Exist one second, only to be blown away the next.
Unless I keep fighting.
I’m rarely excessively excited after a win. Neither am I overly sad after a loss. I am, for lack of a better term in my largely self-taught-slash-brainswashed-by-gangsta-hip-hop vocabulary; cool.
Cool, as in analytical.
Sometimes I see people who cry, at Karate tournaments. Not from being punched in the mouth, but from winning. Or losing. In a hormone filled moment of ecstasy their emotions overwhelm them, and they burst out in tears, most often in the familiar arms of an understanding coach or compassionate friend.
Those people don’t need Karate.
They need a psychologist.
“What went wrong? What went right? Did I plan it this way? Did I plan it another way?”, that’s what’s supposed to be going through your mind after a performance. Anything else, which disturbs or interrupts this process of evaluation, is a virtual blow in the face of all the preparations you have done.
What I have just divulged to you is the very act of building the base for the next period of training… to be re-evaluated at the next tournament. Which will then build the foundation for the tournament after the next.
Some people stop competing because they respect their limits. I continue competing because I don’t.
I might not always win, but I never lose.
To round it off, I guess what I am saying is that ultimately we must all face ourselves at some point, lest we want to remain nothing more than a product of our environment. Some people chose to postpone this inevitable day as much as possible, hoping it will disappear into thin air, but alas, it doesn’t. We all know it.
So… why do I compete?
Because I have to.
And if that makes me weird, then, well…
…I couldn’t care less.