Sunday, April 30, 2006

what a great, fun day it was

Yep, indeed it was. I went to bed on Friday quite nervous, as I'd been the previous two times I'd entered in a competition. I knew my bo kata was ready to be presented, but the Quebec Open was something else, what could go wrong? While the Friday night practice had ended well, it had not gone well for all of it, giving me doubts. Then, there was the nervousness because of the sheer size of the competition. I mean 1500 competitors, that's something. I started thinking, actually overthinking things. Like how early should we show up so I could practice a bit, you know get in the mood, get the feel of my bo. At least, the day had started well, as I weighed myself to a shocking 191.5 lbs right after breakfast. I used to weigh around 206-208 around last September and the lowest I'd seen that scale show me was 193.5 *before* breakfast. I felt as light as a feather. :)

We ended up arriving at the PEPS of Université Laval at around 8:05 or so for a start of competition set to 9am. Started out nice as I kept coming accross people from my school. My main instructor first, on the way to the locker room. He told me how he was going to be judging the 13-14 underbelt ring and such, with his son and daughter scoring with him (his son is a black belt too btw). It was really nice, seeing all these people I knew, some of them black belts from my school, there to either compete or to referee or simply to watch the competition and hear them wish us well, to me and my son.

The setup was huge, seriously, 34 rings set in an indoor kind of tiny stadium with a huge stage in the middle of things. First weird thing. My ring was set behind the temporary bleachers erected on one side of that stage for the Saturday night show, and my son's rign was on the other side. This meant there would be no way for me to sneak a peek at how he was doing. Anyway, my son and I warmed up and I had him do both his forms for me, I did mine too and went my way.

I a weird way, I was kind of sad to see that only three people were entered in my 30-39 advanced underbelt class in weapons forms. I kind of wanted to show the world that I was good with it, hehe. Anyways, one thing kind of bothered me at first, and it was the size of the ring. Dang it was small!!! The head referee of our ring even joked about it and told us somethig along the lines of "don't worry about other people, strike one real good, the other will understand the meaning", it made me chuckle. Anyway, I went first of the three and surprisingly, I didn't feel as nervous as I was in the previous two competition. Then it all went very weird. I fell in a "zone". I actually remembers very little of either one of my katas (the bo one of the traditional one). I remember one moment in fact, simply the moment where I roll it over my right hand and throw it in the air and catch it back with my left hand, it was as if time stood still for a tiny moment and I told myself something like "catch it and nobody can beat you" then it it my hand right on the sweet spot and I kept going. It went really well, so well that I brought back first place!!! Sorry, no videos for you, as our second cameraman (usually my dad) couldn't come to the competition and my wife was with my son.

The womens weapons were second and it's a woman from my school that won it, that was pretty cool. She'd also won it on the day where I'd dropped my bo earlier this season. I had kind of hoped to be competing against her, but men and women were separated. Still, it was pretty cool that two people from LĂ©vis won it in weapons.

Taditional forms were next. If you remember, my bo kata was really the main reason why I even entered the Quebec Open, but I'd decided kind of late to also enter with a traditional form. I was to present a form called Cat Two for the first time, having presented Cat One in my first two competitions. Other than me not being absolutely happy with this form, there was also another reason why I didn't feel like I stood much of a chance. There one other "Cat" form in our style called Cat Three and it is required to test for the black belt. In both of my previous competition, the top two spots had been taken by people presenting Cat Three. It's a longer form, more intricate and with more various strikes. Yet, I felt that Cat Two played within my strengths with a few kicks and many kiais. I tend to have strong, usually impressive kiais. About 5 or 6 had gone before my name was called. I watched kind of peacefully, kind of believeing that I almost had a shot at doing something nice. One or two guys presenting Cat Three were less than impressive in my eyes and one guy from another style was shaky in some stances. I did mine and again, kind of went in a zone. I remember very little of the form per se, other than seeing the scores and thinking "darn, it's not looking so bad". I came in third place out of maybe 9 competitors and this is much better than anything I thought I could do as a fairly low brown belt (still got a full year before thinking about testing for the black). 1st and 2nd place were taken by people from another style and the other 3rd (they give 1st, 2nd, then two 3rd places) was a guy presenting Cat Three. That felt kind of sweet and encouraging.

Meanwhile, my wife came to see me between my two forms, telling me that Andrew had done his bo kata and while he did it as well as he could, the other kids in the 8-9 intermediate underbelt class were simply machines next to him (in a nice way). That was kind of expected. I mean, he just turned nine and has been working the bo only since last fall. Some of them have probably started as early as when they were 6 and they've been working on some intricate forms all the while. Anyway, he still managed to finish 5th with his bo form. He then finished 3rd with his traditional form and that was really nice. It used to be a rough one for him but he's really nailing it now. Finally, he lost his first fight in kumite but they gave complimentary 5th place to all first round losers, giving him a total of two medals and one plaque.

While I have no videos for you, I do have a picture, there you go (click it to see a bigger one)...

The day was not even over after Andrew's lost fight. We were coming back for the big Saturday night show and oh boy what a show! Seriously, it was quite a show that started a 7pm and ended past 11pm and that included finals of forms, with and without weapons, for the grand champions black belt categories and many good fights. Was pretty impressive seeing some of them kick during fights, wow. Some of the forms were a bit too much like glorified gymastics tricks, but I guess it'S part of the game. We left at 11, Andrew completely exhausted, sleeping in the car on the way home.

Before I finish, I would like to congratulate Clint Leung of Martial Arts Bulletin on winning his forms and coming in second for his weapons in the 40-49 black belt class. I invite you all to go read his blog where he's got a nice entry about the Open and how well it ran. I agree with him, it was impressively ran...

All in all, we had a great day. A day in which my son and I both grew and that is making us want to work harder to be back next year.


Friday, April 28, 2006

the wonder that is my son

Let me formally introduce you to Andrew, the kid I've been calling "my son" since I started posting here. As I said yesterday, Andrew started practicing kenpo when he was about 2 months shy of 5 years of age. He just turned 9, making it a full 4 years that he's been going at it. Slowly but surely, he's learned stuff, until he sort of hit a wall about a year ago. He was able to get over that wall this past spring, as we started competing together and he started practicing more and more.

Tonight, we had our last practice session before our biggest competition ever, the Quebec Open. He took a one hour class first, one hour during which I practiced both my bo and my traditional katas, and then he joined me for another 45 minutes in which he practiced both his traditional and his bo katas under my supervision.

I told you we both started learning the bo in the Fall and both competed for the first time in February, well, here's a video of him in that first competition:

It was far from perfect, but I was proud of him for having learned that kata, and having the guts to present it.

Following that first competition, he was addicted to the bo, seriously. I asked him if he wanted private lessons and he said "oh yeah". He later told me he would like to be able to practice with me half an hour before his Wednesday night class. That was arranged with his instructor so we could "borrow" a corner of their room in the first of the two hours in the evening. I kept seeing him improve bit by bit, a little every week but my wife was absolutely shocked when she saw him at the latest competition, about three weeks ago. As I said yesterday, at that competition, he had cranked up his level of karate a few notches.

This is his bo kata on that competition. See how much he improved...

I have all 9 competitors on video from that competition and the notes they received. Andrew came in about 4th or 5th. I don't know really since it was a small competition and they only gave out medals to the first three. Anyway, the finishing position wasn't a big deal. To see him do his kata that way, in a much more convincing way that he'd ever done it, well it made my day, my week, my year. :)

On that competition, he brought back a first place in the age 9-10, intermediate underbelt category, despite having just turned 9 a couple weeks before that and competing against many 10 year olds. Here's the kata he presented, it's called Circle of the Tiger. Is it perfect? Nope, but it was the best I'd seen him do it so far.

We had a good talk with his instructor last Wednesday, not his bo instructor but his regular kenpo instructor, regarding his bo kata and he told us this: Andrew knows the kata, it's a nice kata with good strikes and such, but Andrew is not delivering it as a kata but a bit too much like simply a combination of moves that he learned. That's the one last touch that we worked on tonight, having Andrew deliver his kata as if he really had multiple opponents against him and wow. He struggled at first but the very last time he did it, he really nailed it. He looked aggressive and intent, a very solid performance. If he does it that way tomorrow, he should do very well. If he does it that way, no matter the result though, I'll be proud of him because it will be the best he's ever done it and that's all I'm asking of him. Give it all you got no matter what...

Now, about me tonight... I did half an hour with my bo kata and was frustrated by it at times, like I was havig a hard time with it. Got back in the groove until a class needed the room and went to the side to work on my traditional kata. That went well, I'm getting there but I feel like I'd need another 6 months to really feel comfortable with that kata. Not that it's overly difficult, but a kata takes time to master. Still, it's going way better than it was just a couple of weeks ago so we'll see...

I probably won't post anything tomorrow as the day of competing will be followed by a big night show that we will attend, my son and I with my wife (who will also double as official camerawoman of our karate team during the day ;) )...

Anyways, wish us luck!


Thursday, April 27, 2006

With the Quebec Open coming up...

Some say you learn from competition and I agree with that. You learn about your style, about how to deliver a kata, it subtleties. If only the sheer pressure of not looking like a fool in front of fellow martial artists, you apply yourself and practice twice as hard.

I'd been practicing kenpo for almost three years when the idea of competing for the first time was seeded into my mind. We'd just picked a bo class starting in September, me and my son, and we were coming to the end of the 12 weeks session, so around mid-December. All along those twelve weeks, we'd learned a kata, open style, "built" by our instructor for the whole class. Important to note that I was only one of two adults in that class. By the second to last hour of class, our instructor was kind of seeing that I'd made big progress with the kata. Thing was, I liked it so much, I was going to the basement of our house with a smallish broomstick and I practiced the kata. At the time, I didn't think about competing, I just wanted to learn the kata and get better with it. I couldn't spin the bo in the basement, but I could memorize the strikes and the flow of the kata, that was good enough for me.

In the last hour before the Christmas break is when our instructor asked me the question: "Why don't you enter the local competition in February?" I went "hrm, maybe, maybe I could", thinking about my son too. See, I do about everything in karate for and with my son. He's been competing since 2004, usually once a year, at that same local competition. Never had he competed with a weapon. Over the Christmas break, I made a deal with him: if I entered the competition, it was to present my (our) bo kata, but he had to enter it too, with the bo kata. I knew he wanted to have me compete, even though he'd probably have no shot at seeing me since he'd be competing too, butI knew he wanted daddy to compete. We talked about it a bit. He understood that it meant he would have to practice to be ready to present the kata and he agreed to the deal. :)

In the last hour before the Christmas break is when our instructor asked me the question: "Why don't you enter the local competition in February?" I went "hrm, maybe, maybe I could", thinking about my son too. See, I do about everything in karate for and with my son. He's been competing since 2004, usually once a year, at that same local competition. Never had he competed with a weapon. Over the Christmas break, I made a deal with him: if I entered the competition, it was to present my (our) bo kata, but he had to enter it too, with the bo kata. I knew he wanted to have me compete, even though he'd probably have no shot at seeing me since he'd be competing too, butI knew he wanted daddy to compete. We talked about it a bit. He understood that it meant he would have to practice to be ready to present the kata and he agreed to the deal. :)

I was a nervous wreck that day, much more so than my son, the competition veteran. I was to present a weapon kata with my bo, and a traditional kata called Cat One. My son was entering in weapon and traditional katas as well as fighting.

It started out well for me until, oh well, let's go to the video...

Keep in mind that at that time, I'd been practicing with the bo for maybe 14 hours of class and maybe a couple hours outside of class, on my own. That drop devastated me but that footage helped me understand some things I did wrong, like why I dropped it (I wasn't even facing the right way, hehe). My son's bo kata was very tentative. I can say that today, but at the time, I was simply proud of him for simply presenting it. While I got disqualified for the drop, he brought back a medal for thrid place (out of three but who cares, I was proud of him).

Then came my traditional kata. That went better, but still, I could feel myself shake, and well, let's go to the video again...

As you can see, on a couple occasions, I'm shaking, my footing isn't sure, well let's call it a growing experience. Still, that performance was good enough for third place out of five, also giving me a medal. We both brough back medals and we both grew on the day.

Even better, I wanted more. I knew another competition was coming up a month later and I wanted in. My son wasn't too sure, but got convinced as he saw me practice more and more. I offered him to take some private bo class and he reacted very enthusiastically. The best was when he was taking his private classes, I was allowed to practice kinda close by in the dojo and was allowed to listen in on the instructor's comments. They helped me great deal.

When the second competition came, well, I blinded them with a much improved bo kata, although that drop haunted me and made me nervous. Again, why not go to the video...

No drops meant first place for daddy and a nice little trophy :)

My son presented his bo kata and from the video, we saw improvements. He brought back a medal in fighting that day, after losing in the semi finals.

There was a third competition to be had, but that one only for the 17 and under. When that one was announced, my son came to me and for the first time in three years, kinda forcefully told me: "I *WANT* to enter that one!" :)

Not only that, but by then, our bo instructor had added new combinations of strikes to my kata. Well my son asked him to show them to him and he asked me to help him practice them. How neat was that!!!

He kept practicing and when the day of that third competition came, he came in maybe 5th place out of 9 with his bo kata but won his class with his traditional kata, a feat he'd never done before. His traditional katas had never really been his forte, but he'd practiced so much in the weeks coming up to the competition, mostly with his bo, but also in traditional, that he'd improve his karate overall. He lost in final in fighting too, bringing home second place.

The following day, when I brought up the possibility of us both entering the Quebec Open, the big NASKA sanctioned competition in Quebec City, he was all ear. He'd never entered it but now I felt he was ready to try it and even better, he seemed to fell like he was ready too, like he'd built enough confidence in him that he was ready for it. That big competition is this coming Saturday, April 28th.
Again, he will be entering it in all three categories while I'll concentrate on weapon and traditional kata.

When I said that you learn from competing, I also meant that competing forces you to learn. Up until a couple weeks ago, I knew my latest kata, called Cat Two, kinda well but didn't feel too good about it. I made the conscious decision to learn it, practice it, concentrate on it, since I wanted to present a strong kata at the competition. The result? I feel much better with the kata today. I've learned subtleties about it that I didn't feel only a couple weeks ago. Will I win? who knows, but I'll give it everything I have...

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nick Cerio and his kenpo

As I said in a previous post, I didn't really pick the style of martial art that I would come to practice, my son picked it for me. Okay, okay, we picked it for our son, thus picking it for me. You got me. What I meant is that I didn't really do any research into what style would suit me and then picked one. We wanted some activity for our then 4 year old son (was two months shy of 5 when he started) and he'd brushed away hockey earlier. We thought about karate, even though I'd never practiced any martial art in my youth. We picked the school we picked because it was one of the fairly bigh one in our vicinity and they offered a free tryout class. After that class, he told us he'd had fun, which we could see by watching him anyway, and off he was to become a kenpo student.

I might not have picked the style for me per se, but I'm really happy we picked it for our son, and even more about my decision to take the plunge in April 2003 to start practicing it myself. The style is called Nick Cerio's Kenpo and is based on the work of Professor Nick Cerio. A good description of the style is given on our school's website:
The Nick Cerio's Kenpo is a style which mixes striking speed and explosive power. This Art puts the emphasis as much on the aspects of spiritual and personal development, as on the techniques of street self defence.

The part about street self defense is what keeps it real for me. Most of the techniques could be easily used in a bar brawl, or in a back alley. Don't take me wrong, I'm not saying other styles are not like that. That's not me. As you'll read me, if you come back to read me more than once, you'll see that I don't really like knocking other styles, there's no need to do that. To each his own is my motto, and for now, I'm enjoying making the Nick Cerio's Kenpo my own.

Professor Cerio passed away in 1998, many years before I even contemplated practicing his style, but I keep hearing from black belts at my dojo who met him. You can read more about him on this page
and on this page or by clicking on the thumbnails below. They represent a two page article about Professor Cerio.

I've been practicing for 3 years now and I'm still learning and probably always will be, but I'm havign fun doing it. Not only that, but I'm sharing it with my son, and that's probably the greatest thing in all this. We have a second son who just turned two. I can't wait to see if he will have any interest in practicing it too. I'm thinking that probably he will, as he tries to do a lot of what his big bro does. If so, I can't wait to practice it with my two sons...


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

feeling good

well, I didn't fear my horse stance session today (see dynasty post of yesterday for explanation about fearing the horse stance), not gonna say I was looking forward to actually doing the stance so much as I was looking forward to challenging myself with it. And to challenge myself, I set the timer at 3:15, with the full intention of doing the last 30 seconds in a perfect 90 degree stance. Well, not only did I do, not falthering once, ending with a perfect 90 degree stance for the last 30 seconds, but I felt all right, kind of at peace while doing it. I felt like I could have gone another 15, maybe 30 seconds. The time "record" isn't so important, it's really how I felt while in the stance.

Went to get coffee and set the timer for a session of only perfect 90 degree stance. Again, I decided to challenge myself and I put 75 seconds on the timer. I usually watch the time tick by, as it sort of takes my mind off the hurting in my legs, but this time, I decided to do the last 30 seconds with my eyes closed while counting down the time. I got to 28 in my head when the little bell went off, and again, felt pretty good about myself. I usually sort of panicked when doing the closed eye thing, kind of worrying for nothing about when the damn bell would go off. If I can control that, I'm sure I'll be able to improve my time dramatically...

If you're wondering about the sound of the bell, personally the most beautiful sound I can hear on my lunch break , you can hear it by visiting this page and setting a time like 5 seconds then clicking on "start". I love that little bell.


Why this? Why this name?

I started practicing kenpo karate in April of 2003, after my son had been practicing it for a full year. At the time, it was mostly to learn if my then 5 year old son was doing it right, because I was kind of intrigued by it and because, coming back from a knee injury while playing football, I needed an activity in which I could pace myself while gradually putting more and more heart into it if I wanted to.

Fast forward some 2 3/4 years later, with breaks in the middle (for me, not my son), the birth of a second son, and finally so much learning, I found myself testing for my brown belt (3rd kyu) on December 22, 2005. On that Thursday night, we were told that with hard work, we were maybe a year and a half from a possible test for our black belt. I've never done any martial arts when I was young, and since I didn't start practicing as an adult with the immediate goal of getting a black belt, this kind of took me by surprise.

Add to the whole experience me and my son picking up a bo class in the Fall of 2005 and enjoying it so much that we both decided to start competing, me for the first time ever, him for the first time with any kind of weapon. Picking up that weapon as secondary training was the best pick me up me and my son could have ever found. We're now both really motivated to keep on going, me to get that black belt, and him to try and get one too. He just tested for his green belt (5th kyu) at the age of 9.

This answers the "why this?" part. I will try to write down my thoughts, my experiences in training and in competition as they happen. Not only them, but those of my son, as we go along together.

The "Why this name?" part is pretty straight forward. I know that I will eventually know all the techniques I need to know to test for the black belt, it's only a matter of time and perserverance. Yeah, there are subtleties in every katas, self-defense technique, kicks, punches, but with time, I'm confident that I will get to master them. It could take the proverbial year and a half, but if not, I'd keep going two, two and a half, three years if need be for a chance to test for that black belt. Even the physical fitness needed to go through the test, I know I'll have it. One thing that has always "scared" me is the horse stance.

From the first test I've done, it's always been clear that some horse stance session would be at the menu, then if it is when you pass a lower belt, you can bet it will be when I'll go test for my black belt. Being able to hold the horse stance for some good period of time is not something that will come without practicing. I'm not saying I won't practice my techniques and katas and such, but we will at least always brush with them as I go to class twice a week, but we don't always have sessions of horse stance. And then what good would a horse stance session do to me if I only do it twice a week? Because of that, I decided to start working on my horse stance during my lunch hour at work. I started with a fairly low stance but couldn't do more than 90 seconds at first. That was maybe three weeks ago and I'm now up to one session of 3 minutes and 15 seconds (with the last 30 seconds with the knees in a perfect 90 degree stance) followed by another of 75 seconds in a perfect 90 degree stance. This is where the "Taming the horse stance" part comes from...

Just a week ago, this darn horse stance prompted me to post a rant thread on Front Office Football Central called "I hate the horse stance!!!". The discussion that ensued then prompted me to revive what we call a Dynasty Report over there, report that I had started when I tested for my brown belt. You can find it in this thread called "Real life Kenpo: FrogMan's quest for the Black Belt". Any first-time visitor here is invited to at least read some tidbits of that thread as there are some more information about the school, when I started and such.

From now on, I'll use both place to describe my karate experiences, most of the time simply crossposting from one place to the other.

I like reading comments, and more often than not, replying to them too, so feel free to leave one.