I spent the day helping break the hearts of young children and their parents, which isn’t a bad way to spend Father’s Day.
Today was an annual Junior Tournament for my karate style’s young people. It took place in a small octagonal gym in Eastern Tokyo and featured students from my Sensei’s regular dojo and students from around the Tokyo area. Because I wasn’t thinking (a common occurrence, actually) and didn’t realize it was Father’s Day, I agreed to serve as a judge.
Basically my job was to take off my shoes and socks and dress up in my black dogi (which are sometimes called pajamas but actually derive from undergarments) and my black and white belt and sit in a chair whilst a bunch of kids put on their best performances. Then I had to stand up and wave either a red flag or a white flag.
The first round was kata and I was assigned to judge the younger elementary school kids. Basically, they face off in pairs, with one wearing a red belt, and after they finish we three kings, er JUDGES, rise up and raise either a red flag or a white flag. The competitor with most flags moves on whilst the other sits and cries and ponders a bleak future (something like that) as their parents do the same.
For round two I was assigned to judge junior high and high school age boys (older kids are divided by gender; younger kids are not). If the judges are lucky, both competitors are doing the same kata, making it much easier to judge who did the better job. where it gets difficult is when they are doing different katas. You have to focus on poise and how well they perform the basics (as many stances and techniques carry over from kata to kata). The main problem is the katas are longer at that stage and it’s really easy to drift off in to a daydream. If that happens, and I miss part of the performance, I simply vote for the kid who looks less likely to grow up to be a total douchebag.
After that I judged the bo staff katas for the younger kids and then got to watch and enjoy the spectacle of the fighting competition. Boys and girls as young as fourth grade dress up in body armor and helmets and get ready to fight. Once again, in the youngest bracket, boys and girls fight each other. In the older brackets, the genders are segregated. The judges and teachers take care to make sure all equipment is worn properly, to the point that if they don’t like a kid’s gloves–for example they are fingerless MMA gloves–they make them wear someone else’s.
I was standing near the court with the youngest kids and was having a great time watching the parents. They were caught between the sentiments of “Please don’t get hurt” and “kick that little twerp’s ass! You are in the Octagon! There can be only one!” The girls held their own–and at least one delivered an impressive sounding punch–but the last girl standing lost the third place bout, leaving only boys in the top three. After the third place bout, a mother and grandmother were moved to tears because they were happy their young one had placed. (And I was thinking oh big whoop, he beat a girl to get third place but, miracle of miracles, I didn’t say anything because that girl probably could have kicked my ass and the boy’s mom definitely could have).
All in all, it wasn’t the most productive day, but it was a lot of fun.