It was Sunday morning and Ava was all ready to participate in her first karate tournament. She’s been taking karate for about six months now and has earned her yellow belt.
She’s most keen on working towards the purple belt, not for the significance or accomplishment, but simply because she likes the color. It’s still two belts away, so she’s happy to work towards her orange belt in the meantime. She’s five, so of course she wants the purple one. Who wouldn’t? It’s a lovely color.
The dojo worked with the kids every weekend preparing them for their matches. Ava learned to present herself to the judges, execute her forms, and spar. She practiced again and again, “I’m Ava from the Foster City Dojo. My instructor is Ms. Pinpin. I will be doing eight point blocks with C-steps and hammer strikes.” She was excited and ready.
The tournament was held at a local hotel. Little kids with varying degrees of belts spilled out of the room and down the halls. A long line of shiny trophies were stacked by the front door. Ava was enthralled by the glimmering green columns with the tiny gold karate man kicking high on the top. She wanted a trophy, so very,very much.
But this isn’t a story about winning, it’s about the challenge of doing your best. It was about Ava learning that her trophy was not made of plastic and metal, but of stronger stuff. The building blocks of good character. Her trophy was built from her bravery, confidence, commitment, and sportsmanship.
Big lessons for a five-year old to learn in one morning.
The tournament was located in a large ballroom with sixteen rings spread out around the room. We were in ring #14. The judges called the yellow belts forward and one by one they sat down as their name was called.
As each child was selected, he or she would say an introduction and then perform his or her chosen Kata.
Finally, it was Ava’s turn. She walked up and presented herself quickly and quietly; I couldn’t hear her because of the abundance of ambient noise. She the jumped right into her eight point blocks. She completed them correctly, but I could tell she was nervous and a little scared. She was happy when she finished and ran back to her seat on the floor. We cheered loudly.
One of the most touching moments of the day was when a little girl in the group was simply too scared to do her forms. She cried in her grandfather’s arms and would not go into the ring. But then the judge did something unexpected. He asked if there were any other kids from her dojo and three little boys raised their hands. He requested them to come forward and help her perform her Kata. With her classmates by her side, they performed the eight point blocks together. Everyone cheered and clapped wildly when she finished.
Character building and teamwork at its’ best.
Once everyone was done, it time to present the trophies. Just four of them in all, and they went to well deserving kids with great skills.
Ava was crestfallen. She really wanted a trophy.
For those kids who didn’t win a trophy, they received a gold medal for participation. Recognition that it took guts to perform on his or her own not only front of judges, but a also a large crowd of parents and peers. I wasn’t a big believer in participatory medals before this day, but understanding the significance of why they do it made me a fan.
Inscribed on each medal were the words “Fighting Spirit.”
Ava stood at the back of the crowd waiting for her medal. When it was her turn, he placed it over her neck and she ran into my arms. She was sad and felt defeated. She was really hard on herself.
We talked to her for awhile, letting her know that it was okay she didn’t win. She had done her best. We were proud and thought her medal was pretty amazing.
Soon enough, she felt better and was smiling. Wearing her medal proudly. I spoke to her about sportsmanship and what it meant. I wanted her to be gracious in accepting her medal and happy for those who had won a trophy.
Ava still had one more event to participate in, sparring. She went up against an older girl with an orange belt and lost. However, she did win a point during the match and the judge coached her well (they spar to three points). The judge has them bow to each other at the end of the match, a sign of mutual respect.
Another medal, but no trophy. This loss brought on tears and lots of them. More hugs. More conversations about how well she had done and sportsmanship. Soon enough, she calmed down and was happy with her second medal.
When I started the day, I didn’t realize the depth of the lesson my daughter would learn from participating in a karate tournament.
You won’t always win, but you must always do your best. Be fearless. Learn from others. Be gracious. Possess a “fighting spirit.”
As we left the tournament and walked out into the autumn sunshine, Ava handed me one of her medals to put around my neck.
She was listening. She did learn. She was proud of her accomplishments.
And so was I.
Here she was during the tournament. There was only one song I wanted to put as the soundtrack to this video, it’s currently her favorite song and very fitting.