This past July my family and I traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas for the ATA World Tournament and Expo. While this is something we thought we’d attend at some point, to see the Expo and associated ceremonies, etc.), if you had asked me a year ago if this was something we’d attend for Paul to compete in after the 2018 season, I would have said no.
With the need to learn the new open hand (Shim Jun) and weapons (Gum Do) forms as 1st Degrees, we assumed any shot at going to Worlds to compete in the Tournament of Champions would have to come in 2019 at the earliest. The time it would take to learn the new forms well enough to perform at a competitive level took us out of play for the first 4-6 months of last season. Even so, we talked about going to “see Worlds” and cheer for our friends if we could afford the time and expense. Last March, however, we realized Paul just might qualify to compete in 2018. Then the surprise of surprises happened when Stephanie told me I was ranked in the World standings and it looked like I’d be eligible to compete. I honestly thought she was pulling my leg. (She wasn’t.) With the potential for both of us being able to compete, we began to plan to go!
For those who aren’t familiar with ATA, the season basically runs all year, with the bulk of the competitive season occurring from August through May. There’s a small pause as all the State and Provincial champions and top 10 are determined, then each District holds their Championship in June. At the same time as the State top ten are determined, the top ten in the world for each division are finalized. That group of top ten in the world are qualified to register and compete for a world title. Added to that list is anyone who wins a gold medal at their District Championship that isn’t already qualified for Worlds.
When the regular tournament season ended, Paul missed being ranked for Worlds by just a few points. We were so proud of him though, for how well he did basically only competing for half the season and still making it so far! I remained qualified to compete in Traditional Weapons, and so off we went.
It was surreal being there to compete, thinking when that day came I would most likely be there cheering on my son, but not competing myself. As it turns out, I was the competitor and Paul was the one cheering for me. Honestly, his ring full of young athletes is incredibly more difficult than mine. It seems the pack thins quite a bit for those of us in the 50s. My ring had 11 men in it. It was an incredibly fun and busy week. Two days before I had to compete in the Tournament of Champions, I had the opportunity and privilege to train under Chief Master Raimondi and certify in the Gum Do (Level 1) form.
Then competition came. I went into the ring ranked 6th in the world in Traditional Weapons. When it ended, I was humbled to stand on the podium with a Bronze Medal around my neck, ranked 3rd in the world in Traditional Weapons for 1st Degree Black Belt men (50-59 years old). It meant so much to me to have Stephanie and Paul there to cheer me on, along with a significant number of friends from our school who were also there to compete.
Then another tournament happens the two days following the Tournament of Champions. This “Worlds Open” tournament kicks off the new season. Two days later as the new season began, I entered the ring again to compete and when the dust settled, I took 1st Place! What a great way to start the new year!
Just as important as the competition itself though, was the time we spent with our martial arts family. So many of our friends were there from our District! We celebrated the end of the tournament having an awesome dinner with our chosen family, we took pictures at the Gate, we strolled the gardens with the kiddos and learned about some of ATA's history, and we spent long evenings together in the hotel enjoying the pool, pizzas and friendship!
We’ve been competing for several years now and this was definitely the pinnacle of our experiences so far. Worlds was huge, well run, and there was a constant and high level of energy. We enjoyed everything about the tournament itsefl, seeing some of ATA’s history (including the beautiful H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden), and even the fellowship at the hotel each night where several of our own school’s families were staying where we sat and told stories late into the evening. We had a wonderful time competing, cheering for friends, and making new friends and when it was over we returned home very content and tired. We knew as we boarded the plane, Paul and I would do what we needed to do this year to return to Worlds in 2019—this time with the intent for both of us to compete for world titles.
It’s great to be a dad!