My first time sparring in a karate tournament was very nearly my last.
I went into that tournament feeling pumped and ready to go.
I was only a yellow belt, but I was used to sparring in class with black belts, many of them barely half my age.
I was a beginner, but I LOVED sparring—it was my favourite freaking thing—and I felt totally confident going into my first beginner’s sparring division.
And my Sensei had total confidence in me. “Sabrina,” he said, “you’ll go against white and yellow belts. Even if orange belts, you’ll be totally fine. You’ve got this.”
So there I was, 41, about to turn 42, totally expecting to compete against women of similar age and rank. But when I showed up at that tournament? “Oh, Sabrina. Guess what? You’re the ONLY person in your sparring division. We’ve gotta put you somewhere else.”
And guess where they put me? 18+ with blue and brown belts.
And then I saw these women. They were easily 1.5 times my size. I’m 5’2, 110 lbs. I don’t have the nickname “Shrimp” for nothing.
So here I was, outranked. Out-youthed. Out-sized. And very much out-experienced.
I was in completely over my head.
But I was determined. I LOVED sparring. I was ready to fight. So I swallowed my fear. Reminded myself that I’d been doing really well in class, and could often hold my own against black belts.
So I took a deep, calming breath, and went in there determined to put in my best effort.
And lo and behold… I got absolutely destroyed.
That day, I had my ass handed to me on a plate with generous helpings of shame and self-loathing.
By the end of my second match, I was barely moving out of the way. Just covering up my face and chest as best I could, taking hit after hit after hit.
It was a sad, sad day.
In my head, I was lying on the mat, curled up in the fetal position, weeping and just waiting for it to be over.
And after, I was shaking, and bruised, and limping, and totally emotionally shattered.
And I still had to compete in kata! I have no idea how I did it without crying. Barely, I think. And I didn’t perform at all well.
And after that, I wanted to quit sparring.
And considering how much I loved sparring, this was significant. But I was done. I wanted out. No more sparring at the dojo. No more sparring in competitions. No more sparring, period.
But I was on my club’s tournament team, obligated to compete in every possible division at every tournament I attended, and I had no idea what I was going to do.
So I wallowed for a good month.
Anytime I thought of that day, I’d tear up. Every single time my Sensei told us to “gear up” at the dojo, I’d tense right up. I didn’t want to do it anymore.
I was f*cking done.
Well into my second month of emotional paralysis, I realized I needed to make a choice.
As I saw it, I had two:
- Continue as I had been, sitting on the fence, feeling inadequate and mediocre, but not really ready to do anything about it.
- Quit sparring completely. Quick the tournament team if I had no choice. Just walk the frick away.
I almost chose #2. I was that scared of sparring.
But then I realized I had a 3rd option:
- I could commit to getting a hell of a lot better.
This was going to happen again, I realized. There are not a lot of women my age who compete at all, let alone compete in sparring, at least at the tournaments I’ve attended.
This was going to happen over and over. I was going to be put in divisions with women who were younger, who were probably larger, who were of higher rank, who had more experience both training as well as competing. I was going to be operating well outside my comfort zone again and again and again.
So I had to get better. I had to train harder. Had to bust my ass, and get as fit and capable and tough as possible, so that what happened at that tournament would never happen again.
So that I would never get so completely caught off guard like that again.
So that’s what I did. And I got better.
And I was right: I’ve been put in all sorts of divisions. I’ve been pushed waaaay out of my comfort zone again and again and again. But I made that decision to grow, and I committed fully to it. And I have dedicated myself to continuous improvement ever since.
So back to you: have you ever had your butt kicked so badly that you felt demoralized and wanted to quit? Maybe this happened recently.
Well, now you have a choice:
- Keep things as they are, sitting with those feelings of mediocrity and inadequacy;
- Walk away, and never look back, avoiding fear, but never knowing what you’re truly capable of; or
- Choose the path of the warrior. Train your resilience, work your butt off at the dojo, and get out there and punch fear in its stupid fricking face. Be the martial artist that you were meant to be.