BUCS Karate 2020

Karate Background

Before I got to university, my training had only been once a week in a small traditional Shotokan club. We concentrated on basics and kata, and didn’t often do much sparring. After starting at UWE, I was introduced to the Sports side of karate and started training regularly with Ali Sensei who ran sessions for our club. A quirk of my home club was that we weren’t affiliated with an association, so even after training for three and a bit years, I was still a white belt.

I heard that to participate in BUCS you needed to be at least 8th Kyu (white belt is 10th, and each subsequent belt is 9th, 8th, etc.), and my grading was at the end of last December. I spoke to Michael Sensei who was running the grading and he mentioned the possibility of skipping grades if I did well enough. The day came around, I performed the first three Heian katas and achieved… 6th Mon! I was surprised and excited, as that meant I could apply for the tournament that coming February.

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Day 0

I woke up at 5:30am on the Friday, got my stuff ready, and arrived to wait for the bus at 7am. The coach up to Sheffield took under four hours including a quick stop in the middle, and we were sharing with the Swim and Athletic teams. By “we”… I meant me and the one other Karate member on the coach with me. Our club had a small turnout this year, and the other two were making their own way up separately. Friday was pretty uneventful in the end. I settled in at the hotel, had a look around Meadowhall, met up with some mates to catch up over dinner and then got back to the hotel to sleep early.

Day 1

Today was the kata competition, and I got up at 5:45am so we could make it to the registrations at 8am. The listed order was Senior, Intermediate, Novice (that’s me), and then Team Kata/Kumite in the evening. I was feeling pretty calm. My only other experience with competition Karate was that previous October, where I took part in a regional friendly against Bath and Birmingham. I placed 3rd in both categories then, so my goal for BUCS was more to check it out and get acquainted with the large tournament atmosphere, rather than to go for first.

Midday rolled around and by this point, I’d been waiting around a few hours, but only Senior Kata had wrapped up. I went to get changed into my Gi so I could be ready while I watched the intermediate rounds, and was surprised when I came out to my team in a fluster. For some reason, the organisers had swapped the listed times, and Novice was on straight away, and the competitors had gathered in the holding room.

I rushed to the Bath team to ask to borrow some red and blue belts (unfortunately I didn’t know you had to bring your own until the day of the event) and joined the others down by the arena. Luckily I didn’t miss much from the judge’s talks, and I was trying to get relaxed before my round. An official approached me and said that my Gi wasn’t legal, as it had a logo on. Another misconception of mine, as I’d been told you were allowed logos of unis or styles, just not explicit brand names. Apparently not. The Bath team were incredibly helpful yet again though, and someone not competing that day kindly lent me his gi top.

Just as soon as I made it down to the mats again, I heard my name being called – I was on straight away. I’d done some thinking about what Kata to perform. Back in the Bath tournament, I’d won my first round, and tried to perform Heian Sandan for the second. It was all going well until I moved into the wrong stance after the first Kiai. If one competitor makes a mistake and the other doesn’t, it’s nearly always a loss for them, and I was knocked out just for that one misstep. I absolutely didn’t want to do that in the first round of the nationals, so I decided to start simple with Heian Nidan, and gradually move to Yondan as I went through the rounds.

For some reason, they asked me to take my glasses off for the match. What? I didn’t really understand why as this was a non-contact competition, but I didn’t really complain because I was stressed enough as is. I bowed to my opponent, and we moved to the centre of the mat. We yelled out our Kata names to the judges:

“Heian Nidan!”

“Heian Godan!”

…Ah. The guy I was up against was performing a kata I hadn’t even begun to learn yet. I tried not to let it sway me, and was careful as I went through what was a pretty basic kata. This time I didn’t make any mistakes, my Kiais were strong, and I didn’t rush. I’d love to tell you what my opponent did, but I am functionally blind without glasses and saw absolutely none of it. The flags were raised, and my opponent got the win.

All in all, I was pleased with how it went. This time I didn’t make any mistakes to kick myself over, and I’m not really frustrated by the unlucky round 1 matchup. The guy performed a kata I couldn’t have beaten even with the most advanced one I’ve learned, so there’s no use being angry I lost doing Heian Nidan.  It was good to get the experience of competing with so many people watching, and I was surprisingly calm when I think about how I’ve struggled to do stuff like singing solo in the past.

The rest of the day was just relaxing and watching the other categories. My teammate Jess ended up placing 4th in the Senior women’s, and the Bath team had a good show in the team kata/kumite. We had a small enough group as it is, so it wasn’t the year for UWE to try and break into those categories. Maybe next time. In the evening I went out with my parents who had come down to watch, saw a film, and got in bed by ten. Kumite tomorrow.

Day 2

My morning was very similar to the day before. This time I didn’t have to make it there for registration but instead weigh-ins. I was in Novice Kumite and had put myself down for -70kg class (lightweight). I’d stayed at 67kg for the last few months, so I wasn’t too surprised to find out I made it. Callum, a black belt from UWE, had come up today as well and was competing in the Seniors in the evening.

This time there was no confusion with the schedule and Novices were set to be up first. The Bath team again were a huge help, lending me the Gi and belts again. Karate competitors are either red or blue, so you’re meant to bring your own belts to swap into accordingly before the match. I’d thought they were provided, but I was wrong. Lightweights were up pretty soon, so I got changed, warmed up with some guys from Ali’s club, and made my way to the holding room.

I was up against a guy from Nottingham Trent. I’d only really started to engage in Kumite properly last term, so even though I’ve done Karate for a while it was a whole new aspect of the sport to me. Our team also didn’t have a coach with us, as our only Sensei right now isn’t part of the WKF and didn’t come up to the event. During Kumite rounds, both competitors usually have someone at the side of the mat yelling advice, but I didn’t have that benefit.

I was up. I bowed to my opponent, moved to the centre of the mat, bowed again and to the judges and got into Yoi waiting for the starting signal.

“Hajime!”

The fight began. My opponent was around the same height as me, and from what I’ve heard had been training sparring for about just as long, so it was pretty even. We both got a warning for scrappy fighting (not uncommon) and were both pretty quick to throw out techniques and test each other’s guard. I was getting confused why my front kicks weren’t scoring points but carried on trying to get one in. I really felt like I hit some clean shots, but the judges weren’t agreeing. I’d find out why later.

About half the match had elapsed, and then I got punched in the face hard. Honestly, training had not prepared me for that. It rocked me, my whole left side of my face felt fuzzy and numb, and the judge paused the match to check if I was going to pass out from it (looking at the video, I stumble on the way back to my spot which didn’t help my case).

“What’s your name?”

“Uh, Coen.”

He stares me out a while longer, and when he’s satisfied, awards the point to my opponent. 1-0. The match resumes and I try to not let it get to me. My opponent now has a lead and Senshu, so effectively I need to get at least 2 points to win, be that with a kick or a couple of good hits. Nearly as soon as we start moving again the guy catches me in the side of the head, which I really didn’t appreciate after the first one. No point though, so I try not to worry about it.

He’s circling around me, and I step in, knock his fist away, and hit a clean Gyakuzuki to his side. The judges flag it, I’m awarded the point, and now we’re 1-1. We’re both on the offensive, but his coach is yelling out his strategies before he does them. When I registered that I could just listen to him to see what my opponent was going to do, it did actually help improve my defence. “Over the top” was an indication he was about to rush me, so I kept my guard up in response. Maybe there was an advantage to not having a coach.

The timer rang out, and the match was over. You can watch the fight here. Alicia from the club kindly recorded me. What would have been a draw was my opponent’s victory, as he scored the first point, so the Senshu gave him the win. I bowed and shook hands with him, and thanked him for the match. I really enjoyed the fight, even if my face didn’t, and was genuinely pleased with the 1-1. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t the first to score, but I was still happy with it as my first showing. At least it wasn’t a 0-8 stomp.

I spoke to a Bath black belt who was watching my match, who gave me some pointers on the fight. Apparently, my kicks weren’t registering for a few reasons. First of all, my aim was off. I had previously thought chest height kicks were also a Wazari, but they’re only awarded to kicks at stomach height. What kicks I had thrown at stomach height (Chudan) had unfortunately brushed the guy’s guard, so even if they connected afterwards they weren’t counted as clean enough for the points to be awarded. This is really what I want to improve for the next time I compete.

The rest of the day was watching the other matches. There was a bit of a controversy over the results of the Novices, as some competitors had entered even though they were as skilled as black belt fighters, but had only graded to their first/second belts. I suppose it was a blessing that I didn’t get further than the first round, or I’d have had those guys kicking me in the head.

The coach arrived a lot earlier than we expected it to (swim and athletics team are larger, so they got priority), so unfortunately, we couldn’t stay around to watch Callum’s match and the medal ceremony. He won bronze though, making him UWE’s only medal winner! Next year I’m hoping we can get a larger party going down so that we have a better chance at winning some stuff.

Conclusion

My goal this year was to check out the competition, get used to the whole process of registering and waiting for my round, and to get experience in having to do Karate in front of such a large crowd. With so many universities there to compete, there was easily over 500 people in the audience. Granted, they weren’t all watching the same match, but it was daunting nonetheless. I didn’t win kata or kumite, but I feel pretty proud of how I performed anyway. I didn’t make any regrettable mistakes, and my major takeaway is that I need to train more often so I can be better for next year. On the whole, it was a great experience for my first major Karate event.

– Coen

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