I emailed a friend Saturday night/early Sunday morning upon my return from a taekwondo tournament. My friend, a former instructor and fourth degree black belt, had agreed to care for Thomas, my cat, while I was away. I wrote about the people at the tournament and how many of them asked about her, how many familiar faces were in attendance, and the general air of the tournament.
I also explained to her that part of me didn't want to attend the tournament in the first place. Lately, I've been tired. Not actually burnt out, just tired. Tired of creating class planners, tired of the various students' attitudes during and about class. I hadn't stop loving them or enjoying helping them progress through the ranks...just tired. And this tournament seemed so far away and part of me, just a small part, wondered if it was worth the effort. That question was answered.
At the tournament, I was lucky enough to have some one on one time with a high rank, one of two eighth degree black belts in our region. I've known him for almost twenty years and have learned so much from him, from his instructor and the others under him. We were discussing some of the injuries I noticed many of the black belts were recovering from. He talked about how the younger colored belts and black belts were moving up; they were taking the spots we once held. How with our age and experience, injuries were a factor to consider. Sure many of us were going to be kicking again in the future, but...
Basically, we discussed the people. For many years I've attended tournaments not because I want to win a trophy or a medallion for one of three places in the competition. Sure it's nice to bring home some hardware, but that's not the main reason I drive five hours or more, risking weather problems, motel problems, restaurant problems, car problems. I go to have fun and to help others' have fun. I love to be a tournament judge. I always have. After many tournaments I've come home tired and sore and with barely a voice left from all the yelling and enthusiasm. But if I can help one student smile and enjoy the experience, even if that person doesn't win, then I've accomplished my purpose and there was a reason for going. I remember one tournament one of the hosts mentioned if we weren't there, there wouldn't be a tournament. How true. If I didn't go, the quality of the tournament wouldn't have been as good. I'm not blowing my own trumpet or on an ego trip. The statement is true for every black belt, tournament judge, high rank and competitor who packs up their overnight bags and makes the trip. Why else would I go up to northwest Iowa in the middle of January, maybe snow, maybe white out conditions, maybe freezing temps? (Sheesh, those are almost a given.)
The people. I love seeing these people. I wouldn't have continued advancing and being a part of the American Taekwondo Association if it weren't for the people. Sure, ATA is a business and you're going to find good and not so good schools/instructors, but for the most part, if you find a fellow ATA student, you've got an instant smile and instant familiarity and an almost instant friend. I honor these people and am honored to be associated with them.
The people. Laughing and joking with the people, the black belts, the high ranks. To watch the kids practicing forms and weapons. To cheer for them during sparring matches. To see the respect and the camaraderie. To see the enjoyment and the pride of individual personal victory. There's nothing quite like it I any other sport.
Mallory Petersen, private detective/Fourth Degree black belt and star of Beta, knows this also. She feels the closeness to her students, to her instructor, to her juniors and seniors. She exemplifies the leadership I see in so many black belts at these tournaments. She has within her all of the desire and the enthusiasm and ability and talent and involvement I see exuded in all my ATA friends. I made her a fourth degree because at the time I was writing the majority of the book, I was also a fourth degree. One day, she'll be a fifth degree and she'll get to stand up in front of the collection of colored and black belts along with her peers at tournaments. And like I was this last Saturday, she'll be as proud of and as in awe of those who are standing in line with her and of the group standing at attention in front of her.
I have been tired in the last few months. Mallory Petersen gets tired of the goofy clients; she gets tired trying to balance her time between the detective job and her duty and responsibilities to the instructors under her and her students. In Beta, she has just returned from a Chicago tournament where was proud of her accomplishments and of gathering with friends and comrades and even after long drive, feeling sore, stiff, and facing Monday morning business, felt refreshed.
So, too, I after Sheldon.
Thank you, ATA.