Two weeks ago I was up in Brattleboro, VT competing in the 2nd Traditional Chinese Sword League tournament. Before I continue, I have to thank our hosts and all the people that help make the tournament work. Sensei Donahue and his school, the Brattleboro School of Budo, were wonderful hosts. The traditional nature of the school along with the diligence of their practice makes the school a special place.
This year, I prepared in a fairly different manner from last year. I believe the training paid off. As with last year, there was a round of pool matches to determine the seeding for the final tournament. As with last year, I won the pool matches, earning me a bye in the first round. Unlike last year, I did not get knocked on it in the semis. I faced a tough opponent who beat me in the pool round. Beating him, I faced my classmate Greg in the finals.
I truly enjoy my matches with Greg, or as he is known around the school, Mugen. For our pool match, I fought him left-handed with the thought that as we face each other so often, I’d come out and show him something different. That worked and work well. Our match was fairly short. For the finals, I got greedy and fought him using my left hand. I went to the well too many times, trying the same attack that works so well in the pool matches. He clocked right across the eyes after a few exchanges; he won outright.
Compared to last year, I am far happier with my performance. My focus in my matches was much tighter. As my teacher commented, he would ask my opponent if they were ready and they would respond. One glance at me and he knew I was ready to go – no need to ask. Overall my stepping and waist movement was better than last year. More importantly I know what I have to work on this year and I have much better sense of how to do it.
It has been a year since William Nicholson has passed away. The head judge of the first tournament, pillar of the Great River Taoist Center, and most importantly loving family, we all miss William “The Black Death” Nicholson. I have a feeling he would have really enjoyed the matches this year and I know he’d be there to help me train to take on Mugen next year.
Do I wish that my foot and shoulder weren’t tweaked? Yes.
Could I practice more? Yes… but I fear with diminishing returns.
Muscle memory accounts for a lot. You’ve got to train the basics into the bones, by passing the brain. Deflections, counter-cuts, basic cuts, stepping – all of it has to be trained into the bones so that you can execute anything and any time.
Until this sort of training isn’t done unquestioningly then you can fight practice match after practice match and not get a bit better. You’ll be stuck thinking about what to do as supposed to doing it.
But, at a certain point, that training ceases to return the same kind of gains as it once did.
And that’s when the training gets much much harder. It becomes all mental.
I’ve been playing my opponents in my head now for a few days. Thinking about what they like to do and considering what my response will be. Thinking about what people who I’ve never faced will likely do and what my responses would be.
This may seems easy, but it is exhausting. Exhausting and crucial. For me, now, this is the most important part of my training. And I’m not sure if I am training well. Guess I’ll have to wait until Saturday to see how things go.
Last week a friend of mine from the tai chi school, William Nicholson, dropped dead. He was at the school joking with other students when he turned his head and fell to the floor. He died leaving his wife and two daughters.
I don’t think that you ever fully appreciate the people around you until they are no longer there. William had an amazing positive spirit and great sense of humor. Work was secondary to him. Although he was a successful lawyer, work was merely a means to an end and not an end in and of itself. He was very active in the community. He took an active role with his eldest daughter’s field hockey team. He made sure if someone around him needed help that he found a way to help.
In short, he was a man I could have learned a lot more from.Big Willy, as he was known at Great River, was an active martial artist. He had been studying taijiquan for nearly fifteen years. He was at the school usually twice a week. He and I roomed together in Estonia during one of our festivals there. Most recently, he was the head judge at the Traditional Chinese Sword League’s First Tournament. He also helped manage the school’s finances. He will be sorely missed.
I’ve taken some time off. Ever since my grandfather’s death I have been working like a fiend. William’s death piled upon that. I really needed this time to clear my head. Though it may not be the most sensible thing to do, I headed out on a little road trip which has given me some time to process those things I should have processed sooner.
I keep coming back to this lesson: do not wait. If there is something you want to do, do it as soon as possible. Do not wait. William was a fit 48 year old; you never know when your time is up. Do not wait. It doesn’t matter what those things are that you want to do, be they personal or professional, do them now.
I didn’t learn as much as I could from William. What I did learn, I will incorporate into my life. I will not dwell on what I could have learned but did not. I will not wait.
Just wanted to post a quick follow-up on the Chinese Traditional Sword League tournament. As an event, it went really well. We have over a hundred and fifty people in the audience which was great. The organizers were awesome; in fact, everyone I met in Bozeman just exuded warmth and generosity. Great people all around.
So how did I fair? I won the pool bouts, which were used to determine the seeding. I won out with a 4 and 2 record. I got a bye into the semi-finals. I lost in the semis to the guy who placed second. All in all, a decent showing all things considered.
Can’t wait until the next one.
Until the videos and professional pictures are out – you can see my shots here.