Back in February I noticed that the Legend Open had switched its venue and would now be at the Surrey Sports Centre in Guildford. I had first attended the 2nd Legend Open in 2002 and then subsequently competed at it many times as a member of the SEKU team.
Having the competition so close to our clubs felt like the perfect opportunity to take a small dojo team to broaden their experience and appreciate the challenges and differences of competing outside of our association.
Our clubs have changed a lot since the pandemic and many of our ‘new wave’ of students have not experienced a competition outside of the two ‘in-house’ competitions that we (The AKA) facilitated in 2022. So back in February I asked our members who train in the Saturday competition class who would like to be considered for selection.
A healthy show of hands presented a dilemma as essentially everyone training wanted to compete with a couple of exceptions who wanted to spectate first to get a feel for the event.
So I made a decision that I would take a mix of those who had competed at both AKA events last year, some seasoned veterans (apologies Ionut and Mike) who had competed pre-covid, and some willing Dads who at Green belt and above were keen to ‘have-a-go’.
I know this disappointed many of the younger contingent who really wanted to compete. But I have a plan and your time will come. As I have said before we must deploy ’grace over pace’.
Post selection we switched our Saturday work to increased match-ups and sparring experience and I was confident that everyone would be well prepared.
Being a new experience for many I felt the goal of the day for us as a team should be clear. We needed to show up, get a feel for the event and put in our best effort.
Results were secondary.
The Experience and development Primary.
Sadly one week before the event Mike Smallpage came down with an infection and was admitted to hospital. Mike has been helping me prepare our competitors and was looking sharp himself for his return to the mats. I could feel his frustration in his messages when he withdrew his entry and the team were gutted he couldn’t make it.
We met in Petersfield at 7.30am (Even Zack was on time 😊) and set off in three cars on the short thirty-minute drive north up the A3.
I have visited the Surrey Sports centre once before when a colleague was competing in a triathlon and I knew the premises were impressive. The centre makes the perfect venue for the SKDUN tournament and on arrival it was clear to see that all was well laid out and prepared.
Nerves were clear amongst our dojo team and Wayne Lee Sensei was my essential wingman offering support and sarcasm to everyone to take the edge off of the situation. I met Dave Galloway Sensei who was also in attendance supporting and coaching a team of our friends and colleagues from the South Downs Dojo. We then went to the coaches briefing where we quickly hugged and shook hands with many karate friends of old including our AKA refereeing stalwart Chris Carr Sensei who loves nothing more than working the mats.
Post briefing and despite small hold-up things were soon underway.
First up was the Boys 12-15 year old kata featuring Sam, Elliott and Tommy. Sam showed good composure and excellent kime. Elliott was a little nervous but put in a decent performance but Tommy fell foul of the rules when he frustratingly put a foot out of the area. It was a real shame as his kata was otherwise composed and focused.
At the same time Nathan and Jon, two of our ‘Dads with Pads’ were experiencing kata competition for the first time. Nathans kata was slower and safer than normal as he dealt with the pressure but his embusen was good and he clearly enjoyed the experience. Jon opted for a brave performance of Heian Yondan ,the kata he has only just learnt, but he performed well as he dealt with the unique pressure of competition kata.
Despite not progressing to the finals both Nathan and Jon were beaming and clearly relishing the new experience.
Sam continued his stoic and considered approach and placed second in the boy’s category. Sam has a demeanour that matches his physicality and is beyond his young years.
Next up was our favourite resident Romanian Ionut in the Veteran Senior Kata. After progressing through the eliminations Ionut put in a solid performance of his favourite kata ‘Sochin’ and was tied for first place with a score of 21.4. Ionut opted for Tekki Sandan and despite a solid performance was pipped to the top spot by his opponent.
The Junior Brown and Black Belt category was a big one with thirty competitors. Dan M, Eliza and Sam C all put in a good show and maintained composure whilst supporting each other from the side-lines. Team spirit and togetherness is so important and I was proud to see the camaraderie growing throughout the day. Dan M scored highest in this event with 20.1, but alas all missed out on progression to the finals. (Don’t worry I have some kata performance tweaks planned for our future classes).
Zack was our sole entry in the over 16’s and despite a long wait and a quick gi change due to sleeve length infringement (now that’s an interesting rule). He progressed through a couple of rounds and was scoring well. Zack is now a giant who towers over me, which is always funny when you have taught someone since they were six. But his karate is ageing and maturing well and both Wayne and I were pleased with his efforts despite not placing in the final.
First up for kumite was Tommy and Elliott in the 12 – 13y year old category. Tommy’s frustrations continued as he felt the impact of a reverse punch straight to the nose. It’s always a reality check and a shock the first time it happens. As Mike Tyson famously once said.
‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face!’.
Don’t worry Tommy. Your time will come.
Elliot (aka Ice Man) has a cool and calm manner. He is very composed in kumite. He progressed well and kept things simple progressing through the rounds. He then clinched the final with an impressive gyaku mai geri.
Next up was Big Sam in the 14 to 15 year old category. Given a chance Sam would fight all day long. He simply relishes the pair ups and challenge. His first fight was over quickly with some well times punches and the second round was no different.
Sam started expressing himself in the final and throwing some big legs eventually winning and joining Elliott in the winners enclosure 😊.
In the Boys Brown & Black Belt kumite both Sam C and Dan M had frustration. Dan lost to the eventual winner of the event by two wazari to one. This was a shame as he used some lovely footwork to score with a double jodan gizami from range. He was clearly frustrated but his time to shine would come later.
Sam C had some byes due to circumstance and injury. It seemed a life-time before he took his place on the line for Hajime.
Sam has been through his ups and downs with training but I have been thrilled with his commitment over the last year. He is growing into a fine young man and I will always be jealous of his epic Roger Daltrey curly hair. (Sam, you must grow it!)
Sam was composed and moving in a relaxed way demonstrating solid and considered timing and strategy. To his frustration he eventually lost in the third-place play-off.
Next up was our sole female on the day who was cheered on my Anna and her Dad Kevin who specifically wanted to watch Eliza compete.
Eliza used to watch through the dojo doors as a toddler and is a fantastic member of our dojo. Despite some frustrating calls by the referees Eliza kept her cool and did not compromise composure or control. She was classy!
In-fact Eliza best demonstrated my principle of breaking line, set up and attack. I was proud of her work. Like Tommy I have no doubt her time will come.
In the Cadet Kumite Zack progressed smoothly through round one thanks to his sharp hands but his multiple head shots went unscored in round two and sadly his individual progression stopped there.
As events were delayed and timings adjusted, we suddenly spotted that the veterans kumite was happening and yet Nathan and Jon were not on the area. We quickly found Jon and rushed him to the mat just in time and he went straight into a match with a senior black belt and impressively held his own.
Sadly, Nathan missed his fight, but he earnt an amazing nickname as a consolation. From now on Nathan will always be ‘AWOL’. 😊 lesson learnt …… always know your event number, name, and tatami.
With Mike out due to illness Zack was promoted to captain of the Male three-man team. A role not small in significance for a young man of sixteen years. But I trusted him to lead the pack and the goal of our entry was to ‘step up’.
Our male team put in a solid performance but lost to a more experienced team. That said Jon and AWOL were particularly happy to get some extra experience. Zack did a good job of leading them through.
The highlight of the day was then to come in the Junior Boys team kumite. Big Sam lead the way as fighter one, with Sam C up second and Dan M as the backstop and responsible for the final fights. This was our young men’s first experience of team kumite and I was excited to see how the coped with pressure of fighting for ‘each-other’.
As expected Big Sam was composed and despite facing more experienced competition prevailed in the first fight. Both Sam and then Dan drew their rounds to progress our team to the next round.
Due to injury our next team had withdrawn from the event so we knew that we were in the final. However, we had an issue. Dan M had taken a heavy shot to the mouth and had a thick swollen lip that he was treating with ice, simply to reduce swelling and enable his gum shield to fit! We were unsure whether he would be able to continue.
The final was to be a tough one against a team of three black belts from SKC in London.
Big Sam was up first and had a very physical confrontation with his opponent. Despite a takedown and some heavy intent Sam took control of the match and won by two wazari to one. Sam C then lost to an extremely well executed jodan mawashi, so whilst we were tied at one match all the opponents had the advantage of an ippon!
Suddenly the pressure and focus switched to the whip with the lip! 😊
I call Dan M Coil as he is so fast and relaxed his techniques fly out like springs releasing their energy. But I knew he had been rocked in the first round, he was injured and needed to dig deep.
Dan moved well and kept the pressure on his opponent forcing some Jogi (Area infringements) but the score remained tied until the clock read 5 seconds remaining. Suddenly Dan flew forward forcing his opponent out of bounds and landing a head-shot. We went up one wazari to nothing. Myself and Dans teammates went wild and so did our remaining supporters in the audience.
As the referee restarted the match with two seconds remaining Dan broke line and remained at range. The match was over ….. Our team had won!
I was so proud I could have burst. What a great performance. The team needed Dan to step up and he didn’t let anyone down. In two minutes, he learned more about himself than he ever has before. Well done Dan.
As the referee’s dismissed the teams I stood back and enjoyed the interaction of all on our team. They were so pleased for each other and even those who had frustrating days personally were buzzing and smiling broadly.
Many of my fondest karate memories and friendships were forged in team kumite. It was great to see the next generation sample similar experiences.
What a great day!
We departed the event and drove south down the A3 back to Petersfield where Ionut, Wayne and myself debriefed over an excellent curry.
Thanks to all our competitors and their families for their effort and support. Our dojo team mates who came to watch and cheer from the sidelines and Senseis Jon, Harry, Dan C and Jen who looked after the dojo.
Happy Days. Thanks for Stepping up!