We (the participating taekwondo (TKD) club members) left RIT for about 3 PM on Saturday; Clyde Hull was supposed to pick us up about 2:30 but was late. After about uncomfortable 2 hours (folded up like an accordion), we had made our way to a Holiday Inn in Horsehead, and met up with Robby and Jessie and the others who had gone in Robby’s car. We dropped our gear off; the plan was to drive the half hour into Cornell-the-place and link up with Zac and two friends of Robby’s who go to Cornell-the-university at a sushi restaurant they knew.
Cornell is actually a very nice city in a little valley, but the university is pitched up on high, and the best parts of the downtown are fairly close to it—no surprise for a college town—so we had to part fairly far from the restaurant. At this point, Robby had the brilliant idea of instructing us three (me, Clyde, and Craig, a short greenbelt who started attending this quarter) to find some place to part by the Cornell campus proper, and he would “find us”. So we spent at least half an hour wandering up and down the hill, which is strongly reminiscent of the steeper sections of Pittsburgh or Boston, while Robbie and co. did not find us.
After importuning some young passersby, we checked out the two closest sushi restaurants and eventually settled down at the one lower on the hill and less crowded, and ordered, Miyake. (I had 4 eel nigiri rolls, and a “unagi don” which was ~10 slices of eel1 broiled and with some sort of sweet sauce, on top of a bed of rice; it also came with some miso soup, which was good; the broiled eel was delicious and soft, but unsurprisingly not very filling). Eventually they called us and linked back up with us in the restaurant. We had a good time although I was disappointed at their lack of adventurousness—three people just ordered a bento box with some sushi, rice, and tempura. We had deepfried ice cream for desert, and resolved to head home, although of course we had to make a detour to some sort of tea shop (which didn’t even serve any oolong or white tea but mostly this kind of pearl tea which seems to involve tapioca and which was quite popular among the young Asian students), and which cost us more time. I don’t think we actually made it back to the hotel and to bed until about 11:30.
We got up at 7 on Sunday (Pei was in our room, and somehow woke up at 6:30, which of course woke me up with the lights and everything). Had breakfast, and tried to leave at 8, although Clyde overslept. When we got to Cornell, the tournament turned out to be in the large aircraft hangar construction style antique (1915) gymnasium. Curiously, that gym is apparently the headquarters of Cornell’s campus police, and the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine ROTCs. (It’s a big gym.) There were a lot of people there. I was astonished to see, while we were registering our RIT team, the MIT team registering and weighing in—MIT’s team must have had at least 20 people there, and probably more like 30. (None were physically prepossessing, however.) On a side note, Cornell’s TKD team is really good—the Cornell and MIT teams took most of the 1st and 2nd places in the categories, respectively.
The tournament was divided up in half (apparently no weapons division2):
Sparring is also divided by gender, but is not specifically divided by belt rank. There is the A Division, which is black belts only, teams of three: the lightweight, the medium-weight, and the heavyweight. (>140 lbs; 140 > x > 160 lbs; >160 lbs).
Forms is divided by gender and belt rank: ie, black belt and above is split into male and female, red belts likewise, down to the combined yellow and white belt forms division. Robbie and Zac competed in the male black belt division. They did fairly well—the scoring seems to be 8 and above is excellent, 6-7 is bad to poor to mediocre, and 7-8 is mediocre to good. They wound up with averages of about 7.2 or 7.3 Our white belts didn’t do too badly either, but I don’t remember the specifics very well.
We registered, as mention, and staked out our area on the edge of the gym away from all the sparring and forms area, and I spent the next hour or so stretching. (Flexibility is something I am perpetually short on, and unlike speed & strength, something that can be improved in a short period of time.)
Anyway, our blackbelt sparring match came up in the tournament roster and we began. Unfortunately for me, I was the heavyweight for our team of me, Zac, and Robby as I weighed ~200 lbs. We were first matched up against Rutgers’ team. They were missing their lightweight, so Zac didn’t fight. Robby went up first against their middleweight.
Sparring matches are scored by points, and they were doing it in ‘continuous points sparring’; one point for solid strikes to the chest, two for a solid strike to the head or a back kick to the chest. It’s done continuously using four judges sitting in the corners and punching buttons on joysticks; the fifth judge is the one running around and handling the formalities and separating the guys. Victory comes by either simply having more points when the second of the two minute rounds ends, by injuring the other guy sufficiently that they cannot fight or cannot get off the ground and indicate they are ready to fight within a count of 8, or when there is a gap in scores of 10 points (the idea being that if the fight is that lopsided, the loser would have been knocked out or disabled at some point).
So Robby went up against the other guy, who was more or less Robby’s height and weight as best as I could eyeball him. He was extremely fast and flexible, putting in a fair number of kicks aimed at the head and really moving around the mat, and Robby was not doing well—his kicks were not getting scored, apparently the judges were not impressed by how forcefully his kicks were landing. It was obvious he was doomed when the other fellow hauled off with a jumping back kick that knocked Robby halfway across the mat and down. Shortly after that, the 10 point gap was reached and Robby lost. He didn’t even make it to the second round. (I can remember and describe this in fair detail both because it consoles me that my own performance was reasonable and because I don’t remember what came after so well.)
Then I got to go up, against Rutger’s heavyweight—he was a hulking guy at least 6 inches taller than me and with a lot solider build. My guess is that he was >240 lbs, and fairly solid muscle. Next to him, I felt like a fake ‘heavyweight’. I don’t remember our match very clearly, but I’m told that for the first quarter of the match I was ahead on points, but then it looked like I got tired3 and he started pounding me with really strong roundhouse kicks to the chest and especially to the head. He was tall and flexible enough that it was relatively easy for him to kick my head, and they were strong kicks. By the break between the two rounds, I was quite dazed and my arms were hurting from blocking his kicks4. Not long after that, the ten point gap was reached.
The tournament was single-elimination and we had lost, so that meant Zac would not be officially sparring at all! Poor Zac. Zac later did a for-fun ‘exhibition’ match with another black belt (from MIT, I think) in the same weight class. The first round did not go well. He was behind 9-3. Amusingly, I was coaching Zac during his match, and while I was haranguing him on the need for a better guard, for intimidating head kicks and for an aggressive offense, he handed me a big unopened Gatorade from out of nowhere. I of course ripped it open and began tilting it into his mouth while I continues my oratory. Later I asked him where he had gotten it, since he hadn’t brought it with him (having helped him carry his sparring gear to the ring). He said he had thrust out his arm and some lady had just given it to him.
In the second round, Zac made an incredible recovery, catching up in points to the other guy, 11-12, only one point behind. With about 30 seconds left on the clock, he unleashed this impressive roundhouse to the other guy’s head, catching him right below the ear and in the legal head target zone, knocking him flat down. As an indisputable blow to the head, this gave him 2 points. Furthermore, the other guy just gave up at that point. (He may’ve felt like me at that point, too groggy to actually fight.) The center referee talked to us after the match; he was very impressed at Zac’s comeback in the second round.
So Zac was the only one of us three who actually won his match!
The other divisions (after the A division for blackbelts) are B,C,D:
B is basically A division for color non-black belts
C is for white and yellow belts, and is basically again A
D is odd:
It is for non-black belts, but the way it works is that in the first round, you are forbidden to use your left leg to kick, but in the second round, you are allowed to use your left leg, and forbidden to use your right leg. Odd matches.
We fielded a white belt team with Lauren and Pei; they both did well in terms of experience and what they were matched against, but they didn’t actually win. Some of our guys (I think it was Craig and Pei) did get fair enough in the B division to win medals of some sort. They were the only of our guys to win anything. Jess didn’t do well in sparring, losing, I believe, her first match, but doing better in solo forms. Thinking back, Scott White should have done well in sparring, but I can’t seem to remember him being around that weekend—he must not have come.
After my loss, I didn’t particularly feel like sparring in any exhibition matches5, so I spent the next 6 hours coaching our guys, watching sparring matches, and serving as a corner judge in B-D division sparring matches (they were sort on judges).
After that, we went back into Cornell and stopped at the “Lost Dog Cafe”, formerly of NYC, which was rather dubious looking, but nevertheless turned out to be quite good and cheap for a dinner. (I remember the service as slow.)
Then we drove back to RIT. I again came back with Clyde since Robbie was hanging around with his Cornell friends for a few more hours.
And that was my weekend.
Eel is my favorite sushi meat because its delicate sweet flavor goes very well with the rice and toppings, but usually I simply have unagi rolls, not the ‘don’ set.↩︎
Why I am unsure. I suspect that it is due to it being a college TKD competition, and colleges in general casting a very jaundiced eye on anything involving weapons.
For example, at RIT, there was an odd incident my freshman year that almost caused the dissolution of the TKD club. I didn’t understand the specifics very well as much of it was kept quiet, but according to rumor, some students unrelated to TKD club were discovered to have been running a fight club on campus, and the administration chose to crack down on all martial arts clubs & intramurals. Part of this crackdown was the imposition of draconian restrictions—like the instructor being of sufficient rank to officially teach. This was draconian because for the kendo club, an instructor licensed to teach kendo is apparently required to be their equivalent of a 6th or 7th-dan black belt, and there are apparently few to no such kendo instructors in the United States, much less Rochester. This forced kendo club to close for a long time. (Although they may simply have continued to meet off-campus; I never asked them.) TKD club survived because of some sort of backroom negotiation by Clyde and because Clyde had a high rank as the only instructor of Chun Tong Moo Do TKD in New York.
(The kendo guys were interesting. The club seemed to be entirely Asian, very devoted to kendo, and difficult to join: I once inquired how much the gear was (a set of TKD sparring gear and a uniform was around $120), and was told a basic beginner’s kit would be $3-400!)↩︎
Probably true. Aerobic fitness has always been a weakness in my sparring—I have no endurance.↩︎
The bruises would not go away completely for weeks.↩︎
Looking back, I strongly suspect I had a concussion of some degree. I’m pretty good at sparring so it’s rare for me to be kicked in the head more than once or twice—I would not be used to any degree of concussion.↩︎