The Importance of Tournament Competition #SWKKF

James Ryan

“I remember the first time I attended the national tournament… I was a yellow belt, and I will never forget seeing this competition. It was a big part of what hooked me into karate so strongly. I would look forward to seeing it each year, watching Sensei Roger St. Arneault, Sensei Neil Prime, and other high ranks perform their demo and thinking how much I wanted to be able to do that.” – Sensei Kris Reynolds, Kawartha Lakes Karate

My interest in martial arts began all the way back in 1983, when I was a skinny, little 10-year old whipper-snapper who had dreams of one day becoming a full-fledged ninja master, jumping rooftop to rooftop, getting into all sorts of ninja shenanigans. It was also around that time when I had the honour and the privilege of meeting with and training under Sensei Peter Ruch in my hometown of Fort Erie, Ontario.

Fast forward a few years later (1988), and by the age of 15, I was quickly graded to the rank of Shodan. By the age of 18 however, I sustained a serious leg injury (seven breaks, compound fracture) while playing a weekend game of tackle football, which subsequently, and almost permanently, derailed my future involvement in the martial arts. It was a rough go there for a while. From what the doctors told me at the time, I nearly lost my leg.

Twenty years later (2011) and with both legs still intact, I finally made the decision to return back to training (part-time), only this time it was under the guidance and instruction of Sensei Neil Prime from St. Catharines, Ontario. I’d also like to give a quick shout-out to Sensei Don Gemmell, who I worked with at Niagara College at the time, for convincing me to return back to karate after such an extended absence.

Read: Black Belt Time Machine (Harmonizer Volume 16, Issue 5 – June 2011)

Fast forward once again to our present time, and it wasn’t until this past year when I finally decided to start training on a more regular, full-time basis. I changed jobs, volunteered for the SWKKF Archive Committee (along with Senseis Darren Marshall and Mike McDonald) and I also made the decision to start competing in tournaments again after nearly 28 years of absence from any type of fighting competition.

And here’s why…

More than anything, when I was a young karateka, I loved to compete in tournaments. I loved the thrill of competition and the multiple challenges that it presented. I loved testing myself against anyone who I thought I could learn from, thus making me that much better in the process. I also used to love watching the higher ranked black belts compete against each other. It gave me some real insight into the long-term benefits of karate and of what a skilled karateka was truly capable of.

Some of my fondest childhood memories were of watching Sensei Peter Ruch take on the likes of Senseis Denis Labbé, Ron Mattie, Brad Cosby, Bruce Perkins, Jim Atkinson, Brian Chmay, Peter Ciolfi, and of course, so many others. For me, this was an inspiring and thrilling experience that I now look back on with great fondness. These men didn’t know it at the time, but as a young student, they were definitely my role models. Given the time period and geographical location (the Niagara Region), I now know that I was in an amazingly unique position to witness SWKKF history in the making. Not to mention, I even had the honour of meeting Sensei Masaru Shintani on multiple occasions, for which I am incredibly grateful.

As a kyu belt, I was amazed and inspired by the competitor’s examples of spirit and competition. I would always sit at ringside (as close as I could get anyway) and study their calm demeanor as they entered into the ring. I listened attentively, hoping to pick up on any insights that might serve me well against my own competitors. I studied their every move and paid even closer attention to their mannerisms and to how they behaved before, during, and more importantly, after a fight where it was impossible not to take notice of their special bonds and friendships – the respect they had for each other.

Let me be clear; I am not competing at this stage in my life because I am obsessed with winning. I am not out to prove anything to anyone. I do not have a chip on my shoulder. This is not a mid-life crisis. I do not have a deathwish. I am not afraid to lose if it means that I will learn.

The way I look at it, at the age of 44 (I’m a grandfather btw), I owe it to myself to at least try my best. I’m not getting any younger and I’m certainly not getting any faster. After dealing with multiple injuries these past few years, the window of opportunity has never been more wide open.

I also owe it to my Sensei (although he would say differently) who has invested his time, energy and knowledge into making me a better karateka. What better way to thank him and to pay my respects than by demonstrating what I have learned for others to witness. Not necessarily to win, but at the very least, to try my best to demonstrate his teachings – to represent my dojo.

And lastly, I feel like I owe it to our students to always lead by example.

To me, that’s the ultimate goal.

James Ryan
James Ryan


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