The minute it was suggested I write the article I began preparing for the weekend to come. Preparing mentally that is, for you see, the minute I knew I was going to write an article I already began to start the worrying and anticipation that usually comes with a tournament. What good would an article be if it was about someone who stunk all weekend and wrote about it. So, even before I started the weekend I had already made my situation more difficult, by having to accomplish some feat of greatness to write about, so as to make a worthy article.
The car ride home after practice and talk was a long one (actually just about 45 minutes), spent thinking and listing all of the little things that needed to get done to prepare for the weekend. After I had mentally listed all of the items that needed get done, I began to mentally think back on everything I had accomplished (or hadnít) at the last couple of tournaments and how that would affect my performance. As of late I had begun to doubt my abilities (due to my last couple of results) and began to think I didnít want to win. This of course is the worst mistake any swordsman can ever make. To doubt your own abilities and to think that you are psychologically wanting to fail for some unknown reason can be lethal.
The reason I had been thinking that I didnít want to win was easily visible in my results. Since, the start of the year I had been to 7 events and competed in 12 different competitions (some events had multiple weapons). In those 12 different events I had placed 5th in 10 of them (ranking is 1st , 2nd , 3rd,3rd Ė so as long as you make top 4 you receive a medal). Each time having lost the chance to make it in to the top four by usually 1 point (14-15 matches). Losing out 10 times starts making you think that in that last match you just donít want to make it.
Near the end of the car ride I let it go and decided to think about what I needed to get done again. For Saturday, I would need to check all my Fencing Equipment, both Epee and Sabre. For Sunday, I would need to check my Kendo Equipment. By the time I got home it was late and I had to teach the next morning. All I had time to do was put my equipment away and oil my sword, before I headed off and thought more about winning and losing, not just matches, but respect.
Obviously, my sleep for the next few nights would be affected by the events that were going to be taking place. The bottom line was that I didnít sleep well, but I had been well prepared for school, leaving me with no worries. One of my classes, would be a Friday of Math games and the other two periods were going to be quiet and relaxing as the students would be writing tests. I would have time during those periods to make an actual list of checks I needed to make and had with time left over to begin writing down some of the ideas this article should include.
When school finished, I would now have the next week off (march break) to recover from the students as well as the physical injuries and strains. The equipment was checked before I left for the club (set up before the tournament the next morning) and it all worked. The club set up all the pistes that night and with a few extra minutes before we closed the building, I checked my equipment again. The group went out together for a short while before each of us headed home to get some rest (well, I think some of them got some sleep).
The morning comes too quickly and I woke to the most irritating sound in the world. A clock alarm. The morning routine was rushed as I had to arrive early (for some anal reason). When I arrived, no one was there yet and the doors were still locked, but after a few minutes many began showing up. Working the registration can be great sometimes, you know who you're going to have to deal with. The Epee registration went well and all of the major players had showed up, so I was in for a battle. At least one good thing happened, when I had told a few guys about the weekend I was in for, they all decided they would do something similar, like fence all of the events, including the weapons they donít normally fence.
The pool sheets came out and I noticed that the pool I managed to draw was a particularly hard one. That was good, because I like to fence tough opponents, it makes me have to work hard. The problem isnít the pool, itís the one thing I hadnít prepared for, itís what you pray never happens, equipment problems. First, my body cord failed (I had an extra), then one of my weapons failed, then my second weapon failed and I had to use a club weapon. After the club weapons failed, I resorted to my back, back, back up, itís an Epee blade with a tip so hard you really have to force it in and hit with extra power. As weird as it sounds, I did some of my best fencing with the back up, I guess it has never let me down. The pools ended and I finished with a decent record.
When the rankings were finished and the direct elimination sheet set up, I found I had placed fairly well, with one hitch. There were two guys at the tournament that are great friends as well as the two who could possible win the whole thing. Yours truly drew one of them, the one I feel is good buddy of mine. We both fight a very hard battle, and I just barely lost out to my friend, but make no mistake, I didnít give in or even think about not giving it my all. It was just that for today, my friend would win the battle (and eventually the day and medal).
At least the first part of the day was over and I was doing pretty well, beside the minor equipment problems I was feeling very good and ready to go again. Besides, Sabre equipment doesnít have parts that can fail, so I would not have to worry about it. Just before the pool sheets came out, some extra pressure was added, my parents showed up. Who wants to fail in front of his father ? Earlier, I stated that the worst thing a swordsman could do is doubt his own abilities. I was wrong, the absolute worst thing you could ever do is let your father see you blow it. That in fact, is probably my biggest fear in life.
Biggest fear or not, the second half of my day was about to begin and although I didnít want to do poorly, I wasnít going to let it bother me either (the best way to deal with it). With my parents watching, I was absolutely on fire, trying to be polite in beating all of my opponents (save for one 4-5 match) and when the pools were done I was placed third heading into direct elimination. The first rounds of elimination I treated like regular matches and crushed my opponents, but when I hit top eight I began to worry. My opponent was a friend and one of the guys I goaded into fencing Sabre (he is in fact a foilest and a damn good fencer), I had begun to worry again.
The worst part of it is that I had previously discussed my possible psychological worries with him and this match was to see who would make the top four. As the match began, my worries started to increase, with my father standing there watching each point. After, a couple of points I knew I had taken control of the match, but I didnít want to let up, I had been in this predicament way too often. I won, guaranteed a medal, the worst I could do was 3rd (medal system is 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 3rd), but I was still hungry for more.
My next match was against someone I had never met before and who wasnít in my pool so I hadnít even watched him fence. The battle was very long and was pretty much point for point and each time I thought I had an advantage, he evened it up and low and behold, we had reached 14-14. The winner fences for Gold, and unfortunately it would not be me, but the match was great and some believed the point wasnít exactly clean (both lights went off, but the judge didnít call it in my favor).
Bronze, itís a medal and I fenced very well, despite my early mishaps with equipment. As far as I was concerned, I had already had a successful weekend, I had brought home a medal and my father was there to witness it. The drive back was quick because I was hoping to make it to church. When I got home from church, there was a small celebration waiting.
Now, the first part of the weekend was over and it was time to start worrying about the next part. Checking my kendo equipment to see if it was in good shape, sanding my shinaiís so there wouldnít be any splinters and reading the rule book on Tournament rules. Yes, I was very worried, my first kendo tournament, I had engaged in keiko with many people from many other clubs, but I had not participated in a large tournament where members of the club would be there.
Do my best and make them proud, thatís all I wanted to do. Show them that the time they had spent helping me on my journey towards good kendo had not been wasted, just get one point. After everything was checked I had to pop in a movie to relax, before the fencing tournament I had watched ďThe Mask of ZorroĒ and before the Kendo tournament ďThe Hunted.Ē
Then, the annoying sound returned, the alarm clock. And I thought I had moved quick Saturday. Wide awake so early and beginning to get impatient and nervous, but Iím usually like this on a tournament day. My ride was a little late, but I didnít mind, I mean, of course I was getting a little antsy, but that had nothing to do with him and the minute he arrived I started to relax. The car ride was spent listening to advice, for which I was extremely grateful and listening to some of the stories of great battles.
When we got there, we realized just how early we were and I started to relax again. The registration was smooth as I had taken care of that for the club members long in advance. Now all that was left to do was find out where I would be fighting and when. The court right in front of the stands and the very first match. Talk about nervousness returning, I was totally scared and just wanting to get that one point with everyone from the club watching.
The opponent was about a foot taller than me and he looked seasoned and angry inside that men/mask of his. Just do what you gotta do, that was what I was thinking. Go out and show everyone some good kendo and no matter what I will have won the battle (within, that is). The scream of ďMenĒ is very loud and itís coming from me as I see some flags go up. The judges are holding up the red flag and thatís when it hits me, Iím the red kendoka. We return to starting position and the judge starts the match again. All I heard next was ďDoĒ and I had landed a really nice Do strike seeing flags go up again. Once again they are mine and I managed to win my first match and accomplished all I had really wanted this weekend.
There was some sort of mix up, because the sheets seemed to have an error and as they corrected the mistake they pointed back to me again. It seemed highly unusual, but I actually had to fight again. Two matches in a row and still somewhat scared (Iím not sure if thatís the word) and drained from the first match, I headed back out onto the floor. It was the longest 3 minutes I have ever had, it seemed as though it was not going to end. Flags go up and are waved off, I notice my opponent is against the back line so I give him room, before I make an attack. Again flags go up and are waived off, until we both go at each other, I see one of each flag go up, one color gets waived off and the other seems to be standing.
The flag standing is not mine. We begin again and just as I strike my opponent I hear the judge call for us to stop. At first I thought I might have scored, but the judge was actually calling time. I had lost 0-1, but I had put up a good battle and learned something extremely important moments after from my teammates. When an opponent is near the back line, attack. For if he goes out he gets a warning and you could possibly score a point. A lesson I will not soon forget.
The next part of the day involved cheering on both my teammates from the Burlington Club as well as other people whom I consider good friends. Having access to a camera and having seen such great kendo, I couldnít refrain from taking lots of pictures and from trying to study the techniques of many others. Then something great happened. One of the judge/senseiís complemented me on my kendo.
Soon the individual aspect of the tournament had come to a close and the team aspect was about to begin. Now, the pressure had decided to return. I would have to go out there again, but now, losing affects my team. The head game is different this time, itís more like, ďIím the weak link on the team, but boy is it great to have such a tremendous team to cover for me.Ē What is important is that in each match I engaged in, I went out and gave it my best kendo.
The team ended up placing in the top eight and, had we won our last match, it would have been two medals for the weekend. I will have to settle for some newly gained knowledge and understanding of how to play kendo at a tournament as well as some tips given to me on aspects of my kendo that I need to spend more time on in order to improve.
The best part of the weekend was still to come, that was the celebration and friendships that developed. The team went out together to get something to eat and to discuss the events of the day. It felt great just relaxing and hearing stories of what I might soon expect. Additionally, a badge of honour, so to speak was bestowed upon me. Thatís right I received my nickname, a great tradition that shows a certain acceptance into a group.
The ride ended and I was home, tired, not all that bruised up and pretty excited (still) from all the information/knowledge I had taken in at the tournament. Also, I was feeling a little exhausted and I had in fact lost my voice. Theoretically, the weekend was over except that I went to Monday night practice, rather then relax and recoup and gave it my all (except for the kiai).
The weekend ended, successfully in my opinion, because I learned a great deal, I restored my own confidence in my abilities and I had a lot of fun with some great people.
I donít know about you, but I think Iíve written enough and tried to give you some insight and understanding of the mindset of a someone that tries to understand swordsmanship.
Michael ďThe KidĒ Castellani