Island Taekwon-Do Centre 26th Anniversary Championship (10 March 2018)

It was a great honour to be invited to the 2018 Island Taekwon-Do Centre Anniversary Championship again. This time, Mr. Yasuo Tsuda, III Dan, was able to join us from Japan to contribute to the event as an official.

In addition to our ITF Hyogo JAPAN, the invitational tournament attracted participants from Australia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Mr. Ken-ichi Nonaka, VI dan and former World Bronze Medalist at the ITF World Championships, of ITF Matsumoto also flew in from Japan and officiated over matches.

Master Daniel Sng, Chief Instructor of Island Taekwon-Do Centre and President of ITF Singapore, spurred the participants on in his opening speech to say “there is only one true enemy you need to defeat today – and that is your self-doubt.” He urged us to conquer the voice that says “I am too nervous” and defeat the feeling that “I cannot move any more” to become stronger, better versions of ourselves. He reminded us that competing is not just about winning or not losing, but it is about displaying all the attributes of the Tenets of Taekwon-Do in everything we do to prepare for the event as well as at the event.

Japan’s participants began training up for the event as soon as we were given the details. This means adjusting to World Championship rules like allowing high punches for children. In Japan, the local tournament rules is that there are no punches to the head area for competitors under the age of 16. This required a complete new level of awareness and discipline in sparring, and gave the participants a wonderful incentive to enhance their training portfolio. (As Master Spiridon Cariotis says, “If you like your face, protect it!”)

The fact that every single participant and official is presented with a certificate of participation and certificate of appreciation accordingly is the manifestation of Master Sng’s guidance that “it takes two hands clap” – without participants and officials, there is no competition, and without the competition, we would not get the exposure, experience, and recognition.

Chairman Mr. Justin Gan quoted one of Master Sng’s most popular words of wisdom: “the test is not the test, it is preparing for the test that is the test.” And he urged all participants to reflect on their training leading up the event and trust in themselves that the work of preparation is done already. The day is for showing what has come of it!  Any student of Island Taekwon-Do hears this throughout his/her training leading up to a grading or competition. Sometimes, instructors jokingly say, “the Test is not the test. Preparing for the test is not the test. Working with students who are preparing for the test is the test!” I understand this is what makes instructors more patient, resilient, and empathetic as we can only take the horse to water and it is up to the horse to decide to drink or not.

In Japan, we say that a bamboo is strong and resilient because it has many nodes or joints. In our training, we refer to competitions and grading as such joints that make students stronger and support their growth. The fact that this ITC Anniversary Championship attracts so many international competitors and officials – many with World Championship experience – makes it a very high level competition. Adding to that is the fact that the officials for the Black Belt Patterns competitions were all VI dan or higher, including Master Daniel Sng and Master Spiridon Cariotis. I did wonder if the competitors were more nervous about the high caliber judges than their opponent and certainly if I was in the ring, I would probably have had more anxiety over the former.

Being second timers, we saw some new faces and we reconnected with familiar competitors as well. Seeing how much the others have developed from last year is another bonus when one continues to come back to events. It gives us the opportunity to measure our own growth from a different perspective. Especially for Oozora Teodore Takagishi, competing against the same Black Belt, who was a Junior Black Belt the previous year, and losing again was an interesting learning experience. Last year, as a Blue Belt, he was overwhelmed. This year, as a Red Belt, he felt he put up a much better fight and upon reviewing the video of the match, his confidence in himself was further enhanced. “I think I will be closer to defeating him next year, I am sure of it,” Oozora said with a broad smile. “I now have a new goal to work towards!” he says.

Sabum Jong Sa Park, VI Dan, Chief Instructor of ITF Hyogo JAPAN and President, always tells his students that there is no shame in losing the bout if one is able to give it all one has. “It simply means that the other person worked harder, learned more, and thus, was a better competitor. Don’t lose the lesson even if you lose the bout,” he says. “And don’t think that someone who outranks you is going to let you win easy. That extra year or two that he has over you is difficult to overcome, especially in the early years of training. And a Black Belt should wish to die rather than to lose to a Color Belt. That is what it means to be a Black Belt! But don’t use that as an excuse to justify losing. Having the stronger will to win could change things,” he teaches.

And indeed, that became reality with Nanami Angelina Takagishi, Red Belt, who sparred with a Black Belt and managed to win. In Japan, unfortunately, we have a serious lack of female competitors of all ages. It is not unusual for Nanami to be competing with boys both older and bigger than her. Yes, she indeed “punches like a girl” but gives the phrase a different meaning as she combines them with her sharp, high kicks. “I was just so excited to be sparring against a girl who is a Black Belt!” Nanami says. “(unlike when I am sparring with kids who are younger and more junior) I could cut loose and just let go! I wanted the minute to last forever! I wish I could have had more bouts,” she adds.

Thinking back, she won her first gold medal in Patterns at last year’s ITC Anniversary Championship. Until that point, she was more interested in sparring and only half listened to advice that “no one who excels in patterns is bad at sparring.” But her gold medal from 2017 completely changed her own perception of her performance in Patterns. Suddenly, she wanted to practice Patterns more and become better at it. This year, in preparing for the competition, she worked much harder on her Patterns than for any previous competition. I believe that her transformation is proof that one medal can be worth more than a million words of wisdom from instructors, and thus, is another strong argument supporting my decision to take the participants out of school for a few days to learn and grow in ways that a hundred hours in the classroom cannot achieve.

A competition of this calibre is also a wonderful learning experience for the officials. Certainly for Mr. Tsuda and I, umpiring and judging for such an international competition added a new much needed dimension to our training. It also proved to us how fluent we are in this international “language” that is Taekwon-Do. We worked with officials from Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia seamlessly and with harmony. We shared not just a common language, but a sense of duty, commitment, and responsibility that forged a different kind of bond based on mutual respect and courtesy. Integrity was our common currency and it was non-negotiable. This is a lot of fancy words, but the bottom line is: it just felt good working with people who wanted to officiate over a fair competition and without hiccups.

Last but not the least, I would like to congratulate Mr. Justin Gan and his Organizing Committee on the wonderful job they did in running the event smoothly and without any serious injuries or accidents. Mr. Shaun Chua’s leadership among the officials was exemplary and whatever issues we had were resolved quickly and without any major material impact on the competition.

We at ITF Hyogo JAPAN look forward to the next competition and hope to bring more of our members in the future!

Write up by Jules Takagishi, III dan, ITF Hyogo JAPAN