Friday, November 16, 2018

ATA Worlds!

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!

Monday, May 14, 2018

His First Big Trip

Just a few weeks ago Paul went on his first big trip without mom and dad.  His class from school made a multi-day trip to the Pali Institute, in California.  As other parents before me have no-doubt experienced, this involved a wide variety of feelings for me. The excitement of seeing him go somewhere for two nights without us.  And the nervousness of seeing him go somewhere for two nights without us.

I was in 4th grade when I made my first big trip like this, and still remember it vividly as our class got onto a bus and drove for about seven hours from Colorado Springs down to Mesa Verde National Park.  We spent two nights away from home, and learned about the people who lived there and built the amazing cliff dwellings.  I remember feeling grown up on that trip, and didn’t feel any uncertainly or worry that mom and dad weren’t right with me.  Talking to my son after his trip, it seemed he was the same, with his entire focus on the adventure and not being away from home.  I’d like to think that reflects on having done a sufficient job preparing him for being away from us at that point, but there was still all the nervousness in me as a parent, having him that far away.  Here’s how it all played out in my simple, fatherly mind.


As mentioned, the trip to Mesa Verde was exciting for me, and based on Paul’s stories when he came home, Pali was just the same for him.  It seems everything about the trip was fun:  the adventure of the bus ride, being with his classmates outside of school, everything he learned about and did, etc.  He even raved about the food and ate things there that we normally have to push him to eat at home.  We were excited as parents because he never showed any fear or reservation about being that far away for several nights.  I have to believe that a big part of what prepped him for this was that he’s spend more than that many nights away from home.  They just weren’t out of town.  If anything ever went wrong or he decided he wanted to come home in the middle of the night, we could have just gone and picked him up—no problem.  Whether Paul has stayed at a friend’s house, or with his grandparents, he’s never asked to come home early for any reason. 

And nerves!

But this trip took Paul away from the local area without us.  If he got sick, had a horrible time, or anything else went wrong, it would have been a drive to another state to get him.  Not a crisis of course, but this was the farthest away from us he’d been.  Steph and I had been away from him longer than two nights before, but when that happened he was always with his grandparents.  This time he had no family nearby and it honestly made me nervous.  I know that doesn’t make me special or unique, but I had finally hit that point in the parenting timeline when those nerves came into play.  I managed this by focusing on the excitement and adventure he was experiencing, and by openly admitting to my wife (probably too many times), that I missed him and was nervous.  I also knew he was with two teachers—both of whom we obviously trust a great deal.

In the end, dad and lad both came through just fine.  I was reassured by all the stories he had ready for us when he returned home, and by the fact that nothing went wrong.  To add to easing my mind, his teacher periodically texted all the parents photos of what the kids were doing—something that my parents never could have benefitted from when I was in elementary school.  Frankly, short of a phone call, there was no word about the progress of my young trip to Mesa Verde.  But thanks to today’s technology, we could get amazing updates for Paul and his classmates as the trip unfolded.

So with that hurdle cleared, I know the next one will be easier.  Right?  Riiiiiight?  (Okay, I’m a big enough man to admit in advance, I’ll probably still be a little bit of a wreck…)

It’s great to be a dad!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Family Achievement

You’ve seen the earlier posts:  just about four years ago Paul began his journey to earn a Black Belt.  Within a month, I joined him on the mat and a month or so later, Stephanie joined us both.  Paul’s journey became a family journey.  

Here’s what’s happened since my last post (over two years ago, please forgive me!) when we passed our Blue Belt tests.  This past June we all passed our tests for our First Degree Black Belts!  Like all of life, the challenge of testing didn’t come without a few hiccups, but in the end we celebrated as a family.

Right on track with his goals, last year Paul competed for a full year to include at the ATA Spring Nationals 2017, became the 2017 Nevada State Champion (Color Belt, 9-10 year old boys), and was the Silver Medalist at the ATA 2017 Districts Tournament (Nevada, Arizona and California).  

And suddenly it was time for Black Belt testing!  We all tested on the same day.  Paul went first and we cheered for him, then Steph and I tested together with the adults and Paul cheered for us.  We felt it was the perfect culmination of a three year journey.  After working so hard to test for each belt, we faced the toughest test yet.  All the work that led to that point was to allow us to take the toughest test so far rather than to just be awarded the belt.  In spite of all the prep, a 10 session set of dedicated classes for the folks testing for their decided rank, when the day came, we were all confident but nervous, and the test seemed harder than it probably was.  It was also definitely more exciting as the head of Victory Martial Arts nation-wide sat in front of us and judged our performance as it related to the standards.  When it was all over, we had passed.  

We celebrated the end of the beginning that evening in a candlelight ceremony where we we shared in the significance of the Black Belt, and entered into the small community of those who’ve earned the privilege of wearing one.  And we celebrated the opportunity to look forward to the beginning of a new journey.  As I’ve been told and read in the context of the Black Belt across several martial arts styles, the Black Belt represents the mastery…of the basics.  I think it’s true.  After all the work, memorization, struggles, nerves, failures, injuries, and incredible successes, it’s at that time you realize just how little you really know or are truly proficient at.  And so we found ourselves at the beginning of a journey once again—now to begin to hone the body as a weapon, to move beyond the basics.  Learning the basics was difficult.  Building on that foundation is more difficult, but we’re on to learning the 1st Degree Black Belt form called Shim Jun.  With 81 moves and more difficult techniques, it’s the longest, most complex and challenging form we’ve had to learn so far.  Make no mistake though:  it’s fun!

Paul and I have also learned the traditional Black Belt sword form called Gumdo, associated with the Korean equivalent of the well-recognized Japanese katana.  With the sword as his weapon, now he has to perform this traditional form each time he competes in order for his XMA sword form to count for points.  While Gumdo is relatively short, it’s a highly technical form.  It’s performed very deliberately and slowly compared to most other weapons forms, making even the smallest mistakes very apparent.  The precision and accuracy required to do the form well is a very real challenge.

For Paul, we couldn’t be prouder:  the competition in his ring as a new Black Belt this year has been amazing.  These kids are all incredible martial artists who bring their A-Game every single tournament.  Each one of these young athletes has my respect for being a part of the circle of friends that continue to motivate my son to always do his best.  Because of the time it took to learn these new forms, he didn’t have a shot at making State Champion this year, but he’ll finish in the top 10 and qualify to compete at the District Championships!

There are many people that deserve significant thanks, but I have to recognize two people in particular at this point in our family adventure:  

First, Mr. Guerrero, our Chief Instructor.  He has been Paul’s instructor from his first day Paul started as a White Belt.  He’s also the gentleman responsible for challenging Paul to start competing several years ago during a slump in his journey to Black Belt.  Mr. Guerrero has continued to instruct, mentor, correct, encourage and champion Paul’s efforts.  Without you, sir, I don’t know how this journey would have happened.  We’re a part of your Victory Summerlin family, but you’re definitely a part of our family too.  I can’t imagine our experience, and especially Paul’s, could have been any better without you.  

Second, Miss Noonen, who came alongside us this past year and has changed the way Paul approaches how he performs XMA.  She’s been a picture of honesty and grace, and taken time out of her schedule to teach and coach Paul specifically in the context of competition with a sword.  Ma’am, your timing was perfect as Paul moved into the significant challenge of competition as a Black Belt.  I can’t imagine anyone else who could come alongside our regular instructor and form such a perfect team to move Paul forward in his journey.

You both encourage, inspire and compel our son to exceed his own expectations, to set new and high goals, and then to realize they’re achievable.  And both of you have warmed his heart with a phone call, a hug, or a hero shot during those times when the goal isn’t met.  We can’t thank you both enough.

One final thought:  How many parents get to legitimately tell their kids to go play with a sword?  We are those lucky parents!

It’s great to be a dad!