On the 10 March, 13 competitors along with an eager (not so thrilled about the 6am start) group of parents and supporters, traveled to Solihull near Birmingham to take part in the GP Open League Karate competition.
Three months, and three competitions under our belts as a squad for 2019 is pretty good going! The hard work and experience gained from these competitions is starting to show, with each and every student making progress and improvements in varying areas. With 13 competitors this was our biggest squad yet at a competition, with only one ‘first timer’ Gabriel joining for his first taste of bigger competitions. The competition was run under WUKF rules, so things worked slightly differently to what everyone was used to, the most notable change being that kata was points kata rather than flags. Everyone did a kata once and was awarded points with the top 6 scoring contestants then going through to the final.
It seemed by and large that the referees favoured more Wado / Goju ryu style (Heavier, stronger) katas, which is different to what has been favoured at the competitions we have been attending more recently. Everyone did some very strong katas. The 8-9 and 10-12 year old categories were the biggest of the day with 20-30 in each division making it very tough to get through to the top 6. Unfortunately, none of our competitors made it through to the final round.
We entered a number of pairs kata categories with 4 pairs in the u14 years pairs categories, 2 pairs in the mixed adults and children category, one adults pair and a team in the u13yrs team category.
In the mixed adults and children category, Sensei Kylie and Emily managed to make it through to the top six, but were then beaten by three teams that where each person making up the pair was a brown or black belt. In the u13 Pairs, Emily and Alex finished 5th and again lost out to higher grade competitors. Narjis, Salma and Ahmed did a very strong team kata and finished 3rd in their team kata division, this is the first time they have competed as a team and performed very well.
Team and pairs categories are always fun to train towards and also fun on the day. All of the pairs and teams entered have very little experience competing in individual categories let alone pairs or team. We view these categories as a great opportunity to get more mat time under pressure. The importance of getting up and doing a kata under pressure as often as possible should not be taken lightly, it is in my view one of the quickest ways in which to improve one’s performance. With the katas out of the way we moved on to kumite. This was our favourite part of the day, it provided equal amounts of excitement, frustration and pride. All kumite categories were open grade categories, so with most of our students below green belt, this means that they were up against arguably more experienced karateka, and as it would turn out, much larger karateka. Height difference seemed to be a theme in the kumite rounds, with our karateka usually being the much small of the fighters. I’m not sure if it’s a difference in the water in Leeds, but we seem to have smaller kids here.
Despite the uneven match ups, our fighters showed great tenacity and also much improvement in their kumite skills. One of the highlight and disappointments of my day was watching Emily (who is small for 10 and is only just 10) in the 10-12 girls division fight a girl that must have been 12 going on 13 and a very tall 13 at that. She was at least, if not taller than me. Emily showed little fear facing up to her much taller competitor and managed to come back from behind to draw the fight 3-3 at full time. This meant that the fight went to a hantei decision, and Emily loosing 2-1 on the decision. I honestly cannot believe that the referees went the other way given the size difference and the come back! Unfortunately, however that’s how it goes. Emily’s competitor went on to take bronze in the division, facing far less competition than delivered by Emily in her 1st round. In the same division Narjis and Salma also competed very well, showing great improvement in their aggression and movement. Unfortunately, both narrowly lost their 1st bouts, preventing them from progressing.
We had 4 boys in the 8-9yrs kumite, Alex and Daniel both won their 1st rounds, progressing easily into the 2nd rounds. It was great to see their movement and aggression and commitment to scoring improving since their last competition at the Yorkshire Open. In round 2 Daniel took a strong kick to the face and bravely managed to keep his composure, the fight ended 2-2 and Daniel was unlucky on the Hantei decision. Alex who had a bye the first round narrowly lost his second round but with the buy this finished him in 3rd place. Not bad for someone who only walked into the dojo about 9 months again and said that they didn’t want to hit people and didn’t like fighting!
The highlight of the day must have been the 10-12 team kumite. Teams had to be made up of 1girl and a boy, which allowed us to field two team in this age category but for lack of girls in the 8-9 age group we couldn’t compete there. Team Ali (Narjis, Daniel and Gabriel) and Team Njie (O’Neill, Salma and Ahmed) took to the mat again against much taller opponents. Team Njie, although fighting well, unfortunately lost the semi final and missed out on meeting team Ali the final. Fighting first for team Ali, Daniel fought very well but lost the fight 4-3. Next up Narjis fought very strongly, showing plenty of grit and determination to come back form behind to win her fight, leaving it down to Gabriel to take victory for the team. Whilst it was Gabriel’s first competition he fought excellently showing excellent movement, looking far more experienced than a 1st time competitor. Straight off the mark Gabriel scored a lovely controlled jodan zuki (head punch) on his much taller opponent. The fight was very close, and there was a great atmosphere with the whole squad around the mat and the parents cheering loudly from the stands. Unfortunately the fight ended (technically) 3-3 (although there was a dispute that had to be escalated to the head referee), as the team bout ended 1-1 with both teams having won one, it went down to which team scored the most points, and as it would have it the other team had across the 3 fights scored one extra point, giving our team silver instead of gold. But a great and very exciting silver at that. We managed to be all wrapped up and on the bus home by 17:30, stopping off for our traditional treat of McDonalds on the way back up to Leeds.
Overall it was a great day, and the progress of each and every squad member was clear to see, particularly in kumite at this competition. The team support and camaraderie growing within this group of young karateka was also lovely to see. With still 2 more competitions in March we’re looking forward to seeing even more progress and excitement before the month is out!