Wise words from Chief Instructor, Dennis Ngo, on being ready for competition. Challenges come in all forms – standing up first in class after 100 sit-ups, making it to class at all on especially tough days, saying the name of your pattern during a grading (in Mandarin), folding your trousers properly, the list goes on and on. But, as Dennis says, “competitions are where the pressure is really on – a chance to find out what you are made of as you stand up alone in front of everyone to give it your best and submit to being judged. The preparation is most important. First you take yourself apart – then you train and train and train. Then you go out and show what you are made of. Winning, not winning, that is merely a by-product of stepping on the mat.” So he didn’t mean taking your opponent apart then? “Competitions are not an arena for breakdown techniques.”
Dennis speaks from experience having taken teams to competitions in China several times in the last few years.
Competing in China is all very exciting, as we well know (and as you can see from past posts), but you can find out what you are made of right here in England. So a couple of weeks ago we held a competition – in the Far South, in deepest darkest Dulwich. And for your delight here are the stories of two of the participants. Thanks to Ben Hallifax for the photos of the day.
University Professor Carmine Pariante has been training with our Club for several years – will his competitive spirit see him through?
“Winning – what does it mean?
I am 49-years-and-11-months-old and this was my first competition. Although a long-standing student of FWC London South, I have only really started training properly (or, as my Instructor Richard would say, almost sufficiently…) for the last 18 months. All of my coetaneous friends at work and in my social network can barely do Pilates and think I am crazy for doing Kung Fu, let alone for fighting in a competition. So, just being there, at the competition, was a success for me. Walking in the room and being there – it was already winning. Or wasn’t it?
I am a competitive guy. My professional life has been regularly characterised by “competitions”: the best oral presentation at a conference, the best paper in a journal, the best ideas for a project. So, how did the Kung Fu competition differ from these more “intellectual” competitions? I now know: It was much worse.
It was nerve-racking. I walked onto the mat for my first task, the Ba Gua, with my my legs trembling, shaking and unstable. I tried to calm myself down while continuing the movements (“this is not a job interview”, I kept repeating in my head), but unsuccessfully. I stepped out from the mat and I was still shaking. The junior pattern competition went better – perhaps my adrenaline had settled by then – although I felt like I was made of lead: I was trying to get lower but my joints would not bend, and my heels would not stay on the mat. At some point my mind went blank and for an interminable couple of seconds I did not know what to do – I then tried and hoped that my last few movements were correct.
And then the first fight match came up – for my weight category – and I went into a zone. I never felt so tired, the minutes dilated into an infinity, my heart pounding in my chest as if it wanted to explode. I wanted to win but I also wanted it just to finish. At the end I had the joy of victory – a truly exhilarating feeling. But the exhilaration did not last long.
I was exhausted, sitting on the floor, with my heart that would just not slow down. I was scared of the next fight – for the open category – as I felt so tired I could not imagine fighting ever again, let alone in another 15-20 minutes time. I was scared that I would get sick. I was scared that I would get hurt. And I knew I had at least a third fight coming up – the final for my weight category. While exhausted and tachycardic I was thinking: What if I skipped the open fight and save the energy for the weight final? What if I just stop now, apologise to everybody and say that I am not feeling well? What if I just go home now?
And then I understood why this competition was different from all my previous “intellectual competitions”. Because it pushes you to touch your true physical limits, and to decide whether you are prepared to keep fighting anyway. Yes, just being at the competition was a personal success, and demonstrated physical stamina and personal commitment, but just getting there had not pushed me to my limits. Now, after my first fight, I felt I had reached those limits, and that I had a choice. I could walk home, embrace safety, decide I was too exhausted to go on, invent an excuse, blame my muscles or my heart or my age, and stop fighting. Or I could go on, accepting what felt an insurmountable effort and try to do my best.
And so I did. And I walked to my next fight. And then my next one. I lost both, but it felt right. I was happy and I was grateful. Not only to my Instructor and my Chief Instructor, for having trained me and motivated me, but also to the friends in my club, who had supported me in the training and during the fights. And to my opponents, all of them, for having given me the opportunity to fight with them.
It was a wonderful journey, and I knew I had won.”
– Carmine Pariante – FWC London South
Do you remember Femi, the novice cyclist who did the London-Paris cycle ride learning how to use the gears on the way?
Will his true grit last the first round?
“It’s Saturday the 13th of January. I roll out of bed and take a deep breath. Today is not just any Saturday, but the day of the FWC Club Kung Fu competition. Did I mention I was competing?
Fast forward an hour and I’m standing inside the venue, attempting to (casually) check the match ups. Students and onlookers alike bustle around the hall as the Kung Fu pattern displays finish and the mats are cleared for the first sparring matches to begin. After a brief run through of the rules by Adam Prout, one of the instructors officiating the matches, I watch the first matches take place. My heart rate, which has been steadily increasing since the patterns displays finished now starts to peak as I’m informed by Caroline, one of my fellow students from FWC London South club, that I’m next up. I’m sure she can sense my nervousness and is trying to reassure me. I mean, why else would she smile while delivering that sort of news?
“Thanks Caroline”, I mumble.
I’m suddenly stood in front of the mat, with my second (another fellow student from London South, helping out in the intervals between their own matches) strapping my gloves on, and making sure that my shin guards, and most importantly of all, groin guard (cup) are on. It is only at this point, when my hands have now been transformed into bludgeons that I realise that I still need a helmet! Cue a frantic search for some headgear, which ends successfully with myself and my opponent standing in front of referee Adam Prout. He would have the ‘pleasure’ of ensuring that our Kung Fu training did not vanish in that amnesia inducing cocktail of adrenaline, exhaustion and sweat. We both bow to him, we both bow to each other and then…
(Don’t block with your face, Femi.)
I’d be convinced that I was having a Luke Skywalker “Hail Mary at the Death Star” moment, with my Instructor’s voice taking the place of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s if it wasn’t for the fact that I was confident Richard was very much alive and would never let me live it down if I tried to use a Star Wars reference as an excuse for not blocking during a sparring match.
So began the longest minute of my life, as I roundhouse kicked, jabbed, punched and dodged my way around the mat before –
was shouted out by the time keeper, signalling both my opponent and myself to head back to our respective sides of the mat, for half a minute’s respite. Somehow, miraculously, it seemed that the 4 scorers at each corner of the mat collectively felt that I had done enough against my opponent and I had won that round.
In no time whatsoever, I was back in the middle of the mat facing my opponent for Round 2. My nerves were still apparent and after I was pulled aside by the referee and told to not hit so hard (we are all part of FWC, after all) on two separate occasions, he awarded 3 points to my opponent for my repeat offending. Suitably chastened, I proceeded with greater caution and the second round was ruled as an even contest by the scorers. Having won the first round, this meant that I was progressing further in the competition!
After what felt like many, many rounds, I somehow managed to win Gold in my weight category and Bronze in the Open, losing twice in the Open (mixed weight category). This is something I am truly proud of given the fact that it was my first time ever competing in the competition and is another demonstration to me that my training is truly rewarding.
The most challenging aspect for me, in hindsight was the mental gearing up that was required before every match. As the matches were spread out over the afternoon, there were long periods of inactivity as you waited to fight and it was important to control the initial adrenaline that came from fighting in my first ever competition match or it would be followed by an energy-sapping dip.
It was a fantastic experience, and one which I would absolutely recommend that all FWC students, whether experienced or new, ensure they take part in by competing in the next competition. It’s an aspect of our style that we cannot afford to neglect and the physical application of all we learn in class. As for me, I plan to compete in the next competition and hopefully build on my 2016 performance.
I’ll see you on the mat!”
– Femi Adeoye – FWC London South