Daisy has been taking Taekwondo for about 4 years now. She steadily advanced through the ranks and now sports a 2nd degree blackbelt.
When most people hear the term "blackbelt", they picture a butt-kicking bad-ass, administering furious chest-caving punches and launching hyper deadly skull-crushing kicks. That's not exactly the kind of blackbelt that Daisy is. Although she has learned a ton of cool moves, with her small frame and general aversion to physical confrontation she won't be crushing any skulls any time soon. So, unless her opponent is equally undersized and conflict averse, Daisy won't be kicking many butts.
Taekwondo tournaments occur in neighboring communities once or twice a year, and although Daisy's instructor encourages all of his students to attend, they're optional and Daisy has never been interested. For some reason, however, she finally agreed to attend one scheduled for this weekend.
So, her Taekwondo classes this week were focused on tournament preparation. She practiced the two skills that she'd be exhibiting at the event: her 1st degree blackbelt form (a choreographed series of 81 martial arts kicks/punches/movements), and sparring. Daisy knew her form pretty well, but tournament sparring is different than the sparring she had been doing in class for the last four years. In class, despite the fact that the kids are wrapped in padding like the Michelin man, only very light contact is allowed. In a tournament, somebody might kick you in the head pretty hard, and that's within the rules.
During Thursday's class, they were practicing sparring (tournament style) and her opponent landed a solid kick to Daisy's head. Daisy fell over and promptly began bawling. Her instructor, who is a tough love proponent, capable of yelling at a student one moment and then warmly praising them minutes later, got on Daisy's case. He yelled that they'd eat her alive in a tournament if she started crying and that she needed to toughen up and fight back.
I was pretty sure that this was the end of her desire to attend a tournament. I was incorrect. Her desire to please her instructor trumped her fear of getting kicked in the head.
Daisy stuck with it and by 10:00am on Saturday morning, we arrived at a Taekwondo tournament in Stockton. It was packed with hundreds of kids and even more parents. It was also astonishingly poorly organized. Three hours after we arrived, the "opening ceremonies" kicked off, of which the highlight seemed to be a prayer to Jesus from the local minister.
Ugh. I realize that I live in my little San Francisco bubble, where atheists and hippies live together in government-supported harmony, but I was kind of surprised to see a Taekwondo tournament kick off with a shoutout to Jesus. Apparently, although Taekwondo is from Korea where Christians are in the minority, we were in Stockton where Jesus is Lord. Agnostic ex-Jews? Please keep your grousing to your low-readership blogs.
Anyway, Jesus aside (as if), although some tournaments are the kind where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up, this event actually required you to finish in the top 3 in your division. Daisy confided in me that she hoped to come home with at least one trophy. I assured her that I was already super proud of her and just wanted to see her do her best. Amidst the hundreds of competitors I saw around us in the gym, many going through drills with their parents as we spoke, I wanted to keep her expectations grounded.
Turned out, however, when Daisy's events finally started (more than 4 hours after we arrived), there were only 2 other kids in her division, one of whom was her equally pacifist best-friend. The other kid wasn't even going to spar, so Daisy was guaranteed a trophy for both her events.
Sure enough, Daisy sparred her best-friend, lost, and got awarded a 2nd Place sparring trophy. Then, in the form competition, Daisy beat her best friend (but not the one other kid) and got another 2nd Place trophy. Two events and two generously awarded trophies! Sold!
I sat Daisy down afterwards and told her that the trophies were cool, but what REALLY impressed me was that she got her knocked on her butt earlier in the week and was still willing to go to the tournament. I explained that that was pretty damn brave and that I was very proud of her.
What I left unsaid was that I hope she rests on her laurels and retires from the tournament circuit. Let the other kids get kicked in the head.