So, this one time at a Taekwon-Do competition…

Let me start by saying that I HATE most forms of competition. I know that they’re good for you in many ways, and there are many benefits, and that it can be the only way to test certain skills. Yea gawds, though, they’re unpleasant.

I think it is a personality issue, something to do with being an introvert, or perhaps from being an INFJ – I have trouble moving between being friends before the competition and being ‘enemies’ during it, and going back to being friends.* I spend so much of my life seeking consensus, and trying to help people see things from other perspectives, that I don’t know what to do with creating a situation where I want to be better than them.

It’s silly, of course. I know that. And I would like to win, I just hate to do it at someone else’s expense. Unless they are horrible, of course, then I could get behind them losing – in some sort of karmic event, I guess.

Today, I took part in our Taekwon-Do school’s annual competition and I’ve been dreading it for the better part of a month.

I had signed up to do a pattern (Won Hyo) and I was on the fence about sparring** (I brought my gear in case I opted in) and I was terrified.  I like to look at the big picture, and I like participating in things that look at things that way. In theatre, if you prepare a whole play and miss one line, you can cover it and still tell the story. In TKD patterns, you can do the 25 plus complicated moves perfectly except for one small part, and then lose to your competitor who did them all perfectly.

To make matters worse, in patterns competition, there aren’t points, there is only win or lose. The first two competitors*** step into the ring, and on the signal, execute their pattern to the best of their ability at that time. When the patterns are complete, the judges fold their arms in front at shoulder height and raise one arm to signal which competitor won. Sometimes the vote is split and the majority wins, but often all the judges vote  for one person and the other person has to look at a bank of people who have decided they weren’t up to par. Yes, that’s a grim way to look at it, but that’s what it feels like (especially to The Boy, who hates it more than me).

Sparring is different, they do decide based on points and you have lots of chances to redeem yourself within the 90s round (hell, 90s can be a LOOOOOOONG time), and the judges are on four corners so they see more of what you’re doing. It’s still kind of weird and horrible, but it’s not as ‘judgey’ feeling as the patterns.

Like I said, I’ve been dreading this for a month. But, this morning when I was doing yoga (not mindful yoga, obviously, my thoughts were on the competition) I realized that this was another time to put Victoria’s advice to focus on the process not the results into practice. I decided that I would be mindful at the competition and focus on the process of doing the pattern (and possibly the sparring) instead of worrying about winning or losing or making an ass of myself.

It worked. I was a little apprehensive before I got into the ring, but once I got there, I just focused on moving my body through the pattern and relying on muscle memory. I did the best version of that pattern that I have ever done. The guy I was up against did better (although to my relief I could tell HOW he was better, so the judging wasn’t ambiguous), and I got bronze and he moved on, but it really didn’t matter to me at all. I had brought my A game and I felt good. I sometimes refer to that first bronze medal as the ‘participant ribbon’***** because everyone gets a medal and it feels odd, but today I felt like I had earned a medal, not for just showing up, but for working hard at the best of my ability at that point.

I was so buoyed by the feeling of having put my all into it, that I decided to spar. I had thought I was waiting to see if my nemesis from last year was there, but that wasn’t strictly true. I was waiting to see if I could do it without utter terror, and if she was there, if I could face down my fear, not so much of her, but of the process. You can tell where this is going, right?

I decided again that process was where it was at. I’ve had more practice at defense this year, I move more quickly, and I knew what to expect in the ring. I told my instructor that I was going to go for it.

Then I found out that I would have to move up a belt level in order to compete. So I would be up against a blue belt and a red stripe (I’m a blue stripe, one step below blue belt, two below red stripe). I figured I could handle that.

Then I found out that they wouldn’t let the only woman there with a black stripe spar against the men, so they were moving her down a level to our division. And she was from the other school – they train a lot harder in sparring. As soon as I heard that, I *knew* that I was up first, and that I would be up against her. I had to swallow my fear.

Then I heard her husband (the owner/instructor at the other school) warn her not to hit too hard. I swallowed my fear again and did some warm ups to put me in my body instead of inside my head. I did all three versions of warrior pose to remind myself that I have power and then I put it out of my head and chatted with the other competitors and my friends from class.

When our division was called, I was called into the ring with the black stripe, just as I figured I would be. I reminded myself of two things: 1) I am very good at avoiding blows 2) I needed focus on the process of sparring. And I did.  I fought well. I missed lots of opportunities to kick, but I blocked lots of kicks and punches.

This is me, focusing on the process instead of the results in my sparring match. I'm in the white helmet. Thanks to Anne for taking this photo!

The round ended quickly, and I waited to be told that she had won. But, instead of lifting just my opponent’s hand, the ref lifted both of our arms into the air. I had tied a match with a black stripe! That was like a medal in itself. The next step was ‘sudden death’ over time, and while I think I got in a kick first, the judges didn’t see it (and it only counts if they see it) and she got in a tap on my helmet, she won and I got another bronze.

I didn’t even care. I had so many personal victories in that ring it wasn’t even funny. I stepped in the ring after my horrible experience last year, I fought a black stripe, I tied a black stripe, and, most importantly, I kept my focus on the process of fighting, not on what might come of the fight.

I feel terrific.

So, this one time at a Taekwon-Do competition…I brought my A game, I rocked my pattern, and I tied in a fight against a black stripe highly trained in sparring. Kiiiiiiiii-Ya!


*Don’t even get me started on trash-talking! I have no idea how to handle that. How can you say such mean things to your friends and then be okay with each other afterwards? I can’t deal.

**Last year, sparring went horribly wrong and I ended up in the ring with this girl who was well trained to spar, but not so much to control her blows. I got beaten up – not like ‘call the police’ beaten up, like ‘I have never been in a fight, holy shit’ beaten up. It was overwhelming and upsetting. Before today, I didn’t realize the issue was her control, I thought that her technique was typical competition sparring.

***Each division has four competitors. The first two compete, the winner goes on to the gold medal round. The second two compete, and the winner goes on to the gold medal round. The two ‘losers’ get bronze medals, the other two get gold or silver. It’s kind of an odd system since that first ‘loser’ doesn’t get to compete for silver at all – if you know what I mean. The second ‘loser’ at least had a shot at silver before they started. It’s all the luck of the draw as to which round you compete in (that’s what makes it fair) but it is frustrating because the ‘loser’ of the first round might have been able to beat the ‘loser’ of the second round, if they had faced off, and hence had a shot at silver or even gold, depending on their competion. I imagine the organization of these things makes perfect sense to people who participate in sports all the time, but to me it seems odd that each person doesn’t face off against each other person and then get awarded medals based on points or something.

****After more reflection today, I realized that the bronze medals are actually equal, which is why there are two. Both bronze medal recipients competed once and lost, but they didn’t compete against each other so they can’t be ranked.

2 thoughts on “So, this one time at a Taekwon-Do competition…

  1. Kevin James says:

    I always find that you feel better when your sparring or pattern competition is over. Not because you have just won but because you swallowed your fear and continued on. I am always shaking before any compitition.

    A tae kwon do compitition is more about your battle with your fear and nervousness than the battle with your opponent.

    You did great today. Keep it up.

    Loved the article.

  2. mombie says:

    Hey Kevin! Thanks for the comment.

    You’re right, of course, it does immediately feel better once it is over but this time I had also made a conscious decision to change my focus and it reduced the fear. When we were talking about it beforehand, I was apprehensive but not gut-wrenchingly terrified like I had been.

    And you are also right about the real battle, alas, you are being judged on how you battle your opponent not on conquering fear – otherwise I’d have about 15 gold medals for sparring on Saturday.

    I’m glad you feel I did well, thanks! And I’m glad you liked my post.

    PS – for anyone else reading this conversation, my good friend Kevin is in TKD with me (he’s a red belt) and he invests a lot of time in helping me figure out my patterns.

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