Last weekend was a busy one for me. Kung fu all the way, we had our interclub competition on Saturday, and on Sunday (first time I remember it not being also a Saturday) was the Chinese New Year dinner at Joy King Lau.
I had entered competitions before, but only in the suang yang and hard style patterns categories. I had never sparred outside of class. But throughout February, my wonderful (and very patient) significant other helped me prepare for it and I was able to stay later than usual for sparring practice, and also switched days so every time I went training, I sparred. I hadn’t sparred for some while, and in the meantime I needed to get all the gear that would allow me to spar in competition. I had a mouth guard, and gloves (of a sort), and a pair of shin guards I couldn’t find. I also had two chest guards, neither of which I knew where they were and which I didn’t like anyway. Playwell and SportsDirect did well out of me last month, as I needed to get a decent chest guard, a groin guard, a heard guard, gloves (proper boxing-style ones – though these would be provided on the day, I needed to practise what it felt like to wear them while sparring) and shin / instep guards. All of these things are fairly inexpensive, and so worth getting if you spar and you don’t want to get the crap beaten out of you.
So I’d been training for a month, eating like a pig (lots of meat for protein) and then the day was upon us. We got up mega early (ugh), though I couldn’t sleep very well anyway. That always happens when I have to get up early, as I’m paranoid I’ll sleep through my alarm. So I was up by 05:45, significant other was up shortly afterwards (I suspect the smell of fresh coffee under his nose helped) and we were out before 07:00 to catch a bus to the station.
(This post is gonna be a long one: brace yourselves. Go and get a coffee or something and settle down.)
We caught the 07:19 and then got a bus from Clapham Junction to the venue (not very far). At the bus stop (once we’d eventually located it), we bumped into another FWC student. I’d never met her before, but that uniform is unmistakable. So we caught the bus together.
When we arrived (via Costa for much-needed coffee), everything was already set up: mats on the floor, names starting to be posted up on the wall, etc. I got changed and then all I needed to do was prepare. I warmed up, stretched a bit, went through my hard style pattern (SO had never seen me do all of it before), got weighed so I could be put in the right category for sparring (I had also, to my surprise, been entered for the open category), and tried not to think too much.
I was almost last on both lists – hard style and soft style – so the dilemma was choosing which sash to wear. I settled for yellow (suang yang), then changed my mind and put my red one on. (You need to understand that suang yang and kung fu are in fact two separate martial arts, which is why we have two different sashes, and it’s very important to wear the right one.) As it turned out, soft style was first for me, and I blatantly forgot Daniel was on before me, so a swift change was needed when my name was called. Tim (judging soft style) told me not to rush and someone else went on before me. No panicking allowed. A short while earlier, my parents had arrived, and I was glad they had made it before I went on. Somehow, having them and SO there made me bolder than I usually am at these things, and I went through the first 11 suang yang moves (not many of us know all 66, and 11 is enough to judge) without too much shaking, which is always a plus.
For hard style patterns, my own instructor, Dave, was judging. I was undecided about whether to shout (”Hai!”) from the gut on particular strikes, and in the end, I settled for breathing into the moves, a process which, if done right, makes its own kind of noise. I did fifth pattern, known in Chinese as Si Men Dou Di. Again, no shakes. In fact, and this is something I put down to having my own personal audience, I was actually showing off. I think it was because kung fu is my thing, it’s what I do, and is an alternative world to what people usually see. I’m very proud of our club and, subconsciously, perhaps, I wanted to demonstrate why.
Once that was over, we watched the others on the mat and waited for the announcement that lunch was ready. Dennis announced parents and children were to go first, and mine hesitated, so he came over to them and bustled them out the door, where a pig was being roasted on a spit (an actual whole pig, mark you). As a student, I had to wait – there’s a hierarchy to these things, as with everything else in kung fu – and although SO could also have gone to get food, I asked him (*ahem* insisted…. ) to wait for me, as he was my corner for sparring and I didn’t know when I’d be on. I was first up in the open category and I didn’t want to be somewhere else when my name was called. As it was, we were able to go and get food in plenty of time (better than sparring on an empty stomach) – and the hog roast was amazing. A sauce of some kind poured over the top every so often while cooking, the crackling really crackled and there was plenty of food, so there was no fear of stepping onto the mat hungry.
Once everything had been prepared, it was time. In the open category, I was up against a guy called Tony. I’d never met him before, but he didn’t look too scary. He was, however, much taller than me (not hard), and in the first round, I just wasn’t getting the punches in, though I did make him back off a few times. SO and my classmates suggested I kick instead, and for the second round, I did get a few in, but he still won. I really wasn’t bothered by this. SO wasn’t expecting me to behave the way I did, but after the first round, he said later, he could see my blood was up and it was like I was a different person, just waiting to go back for more. So we watched some of the others and cheered our guys until it was time for me to go on for the weight category.
For this one, the women’s lightweight, there were only three of us: my classmate Sayeh, Seti and me. All of us are roughly the same size and weight, and because there were three of us, there was a round robin. First up, Sayeh and me. She beat me. Then, Sayeh and Seti. Seti won. There was another round with none of us three (don’t quite know how that worked, but I think it was part of another round robin in a different weight), and then I was up against Seti, who also beat me. In case you’re wondering why I’m so cool about being beaten, remember this: there’s no shame in losing to someone who’s better than you, especially when you’ve only been training specifically for the competition for a month. And the fact is, I did it. All nerves disappeared as soon as SO and I entered the hall, which was a bit weird, as I’d been bricking it for days. The compliment I got from Dave, a very rare thing (instructors don’t generally give compliments), gave me a warm glow that I’m still basking in. Those few words, the confidence he showed in me, the fact I’d surprised him with my performance in the hard style pattern, and the knowledge that he even thought I had a chance of winning a round, meant more to me than anything, and made me determined to up my game even further.
After all of this, I could relax and just watch the last few rounds. Daniel was knackered, as he kept winning and having to go up again, more this time than ever before. Chris’s head guard kept slipping off. Ela had (wisely) replaced her “fish bowl” head guard with one that she could properly see and breathe in. We did good, my classmates and I. We’re not called kung fu brothers and sisters for nothing. It’s a real family. Of a sort.
Also, my dad finally stopped panicking that he was going to see me get hurt and actively encouraged me to carry on sparring in class and get ready to do it again. My parents were proud of me. Significant other was proud of me. My instructor was proud of me. All of that gave me a feeling I couldn’t possibly describe, and it means absolutely everything to me.
Once the winners had been announced (Dennis judged the patterns shortlisters and made the final judgements) – and even I had to stand and bow, as I’d come third in my weight category (third of three! But still third!) – we cleared up (teamwork making it swift), and then we said our goodbyes. I was still on a massive high as we left, and as it had cost my parents a small fortune to come to Clapham on the Tube, they came with us to Clapham Junction on the bus, as it was free (they have bus passes and SO and I had travelcards on our train tickets).
And that was the end of that day. Back at SO’s place, I found I was hungry again, so we ate. And ate. And ate. And then, at last, I wasn’t hungry any more.
The following day, I went to London again for the New Year dinner, though this was a much later start. This time, I went alone, and although I arrived a little late, it was fine. A few people turned up after me, including Dave and his family. The food, as usual at Joy King Lau, was spectacular. The only dish I didn’t touch was the one that had Chinese oysters on it, as I remembered trying them last time and not liking them. A shame, but still, I didn’t exactly starve…
The instructors stood on chairs to make their speeches, and Kerry also made a speech this time, no longer able to use small children as an excuse not to do it (they’re growing up), and then it was time for Tim’s famous poetry corner. All the instructors have long since refused to stand up after him, knowing that none of them could possibly follow his… let’s say “unique” performance. This one featured a Tim-made wooden sheep with green wool (don’t ask).
So, welcome, Year of the Ram. Let’s make it a good one.