Charles McManus, Sa Bom
Each National Championship is special in its own way. Every year great memories are made, new friends are met and old friendships become stronger. But every once in a while something happens that will stay with you for a long time. This was one of those Nationals.
This year Nationals was held in Orlando, Florida at the B Resort and Spa. Tournament activities began on Thursday with the studio owners meeting and luncheon as well as the traditional clinics taught by Kwan Jhang Nim and the T.A.C.
Bright and early Friday morning was line up for weapons and form competition. The Dan and Gup members parted their lines for the Kodanja to make their usual entrance. Like always, I was feeling nervous and anxious to compete. It's funny, despite all my training and how long I've been doing tournaments, I always feel that nervous energy beforehand. Luckily, Kodanja get to compete first. Mostly so we're free to judge the Dan and Gup competitions but also so everyone is able to watch.
Weapon competition was first. I performed my Chinese Broadsword form. I began learning this form after Las Vegas last year. Overall the form was good enough for first place but I didn't think the form was my best version. Still a lot to work on.
It's funny, I'm always nervous before I compete but once I line up and present myself to the judges, I'm fine. Ready to go!
After weapon competition was the Kodanja Chil Sung Hyung division. I took first place in this division as well. Unlike the weapon division though, I felt I did my best version of Chil Sung Yuk Rho so far. My legs felt good and I had good stamina throughout the form. I was very happy with my performance.
I felt good, that feeling of relief after competing. I was done for the weekend and could focus on judging and giving back to the junior members... or so I thought.
A few hours later, while I was judging Dan competition, Master Kopf came up to me and told me that I had to spar the next day. Now I haven't sparred in a competition since 2002. I asked him why and he told me that if I didn't spar, Master Prokopis would pass me on points and take the lead to win Overall Kodanja Mens Grand Champion. For Master competition, Gold = 6 points, Silver = 4 points and Bronze = 2 points. So, I had 12 points and Master Prokopis had 8. Master Kopf told me that if Master Prokopis takes gold, all I'd need is to get is a bronze to tie on points and we both assumed that the tie breaker would be based on who had more Gold medals. So reluctantly, I agreed to enter into sparring competition. I had to go buy a mouth guard as well as other necessities and then find someone who had sparring gear that fit me.
Saturday morning comes and the nerves are back. I thought I was done for the weekend and now I have to fight. I drilled my forms for Friday but I haven't trained to spar other than working with my students. The good news though, there was only three of us in the division. Guaranteed Bronze medal! My only real goal now was to not make myself look too bad sparring against a 5th and 6th Dan after 14 years out of competition.
I'm up first against 5th Dan Master Batista who is always out there sparring at our tournaments. Once we lined up and touched gloves, me nerves were gone, time to work. I didn't do too bad. Felt like I moved ok, a little slow but I managed to score two points to his two and tie the match but at the last second, Master Batista scored his third point to take the win. I did my best and felt good after. Stamina was not a problem which kind of surprised me and I'm not as fast I would've liked but overall, I did well for not sparring for 14 years.
Again, that feeling of calm hit. I was done! I could just focus on judging the rest of the day. A little later I went up to my room and when I came back down I was told that Grandmaster Ferraro was looking for me and I had to compete again. What?!
This was the situation. Me and Master Prokopis were tied on points 14 to 14 and we couldn't leave it at a tie. This was the first time this happened since the beginning of the points system. Grandmaster AhPo (Grandmaster Ferraro's instructor) said that we needed to have a contest of Moo Do (Martial Spirit). This contest had to have an Um and Yang (yin and yang) element. We had to compete head to head in forms and sparring to determine the Overall Grand Champion. Grandmaster Ferraro said that he would choose the form we'd be performing and that he wouldn't tell us which form it was until we lined up. He said he thought we should perform a form that we haven't been training for competition.
We line up in front of the judges and Grandmaster Ferraro comes over the microphone and says that we are to compete with Red Belt form Bassai. Awesome! I love Bassai and won many gold medals in the past with it. We begin and our forms are good. Everyone is silent in the room as we perform our hyung. Then it happens... I make a mistake. I missed a movement and instantly thought that it was all over. Maybe my technique could overcome but at our level, every little movement matters. We finish our form and the judges take a moment to prepare their scores. When the scores are shown, they are in favor of Master Prokopis.
In my mind, after being edged out in forms, I figured that I had lost our contest. Next was sparring and while I am younger than Master Prokopis, I haven't sparred competitively in 14 years while he regularly competes every year. So in my mind I had already conceded my loss to him.
We line up and now to each other and to head judge Master DeVita and the match begins. The fight starts a little slow while we try to figure each other out. I know that Master Prokopis is quick and he has a strong ridge hand strike he likes to throw. My goal was to not look like I haven't sparred competitively in 14 years. Forty seconds later I am up on points 2-0. What? Ok, not bad but he quickly comes back to bring the match even at 2-2 with one minute to go. We have a few clashing exchanges with yield no points for either of us. On our next exchange I throw a reverse punch and score to the body, scoring what would be the final point of the match. There were a few more clashes but when time ended, I was declared the winner. I was surprised as was the head table where they had figured that I'd win forms and Master Prokopis would win sparring.
With us each winning one event in our shootout to break our tie, we were still tied. So we were back to square one. To decide the overall winner, Grandmaster Ferraro found two knives for us to borrow so we could demonstrate First Dan form Tanto Cho Dan. Another form which I had won with many times.
We were still tired from our sparring match and in the video of the event, you can see we are still breathing pretty heavily as we begin our knife form. As Master Instructors we are expected to perform at the highest level no matter what is thrown at us. This was one of those times. Watching our forms you wouldn't know we were tired. We eventually came together in synchronicity and shared energy towards the end of the form. We finish to an eruption of applause from the spectators. This time, instead of scoring us with points, the senior Masters judging us would just point to who they picked at the winner. With a score of 3-2 Master Prokopis was declared the Overall Kodanja Mens Grand Champion. Again the applause was deafening and the energy of the spectators lit up the room. We were called up to the judges and they explained their decision. Our forms were so close but the winner was decided based on the step back to Choong Bee (Ready Position) at the end of the form. Very, very close.
Overall, I think that this was a great way to end our National Championship. The entire weekend was filled with strong competition and fun times with our Tang Soo Do family. I have memories from Nationals when I was a Red Belt that I thought 'Wow, this was fun to watch!' or even moments that inspired me to train harder. I believe that my duel with Master Prokopis could have been one of those moments for a young Green or Red belt watching. Even though I didn't win the Kodanja Grand Champion I feel that this was a better outcome than if I had just won it outright from the start. I wouldn't have had this wonderful, fun and exciting experience that I was able to share with Master Prokopis and everyone watching. I will never forget this moment. It was the highlight of my weekend alongside talking with Grandmaster AhPo after the banquet.
I'm truly honored to be a part of such an amazing organization and I always look forward to when we can come together to train, compete and share energy.
VIDEO COMING SOON!