As I write this, I'm glancing at an old metal baseball trophy my dad won when he was in high school. The man-at-bat is true old-school metal and the base is molded of something before it was even called "plastic".
It was usually out of reach when I was growing up, but when I got taller or big enough to climb into the attic, I'd stare at it every chance I got. Long before Pop passed away, I asked if I could have it and he assuringly said "Take it. It's yours." It's now placed among my most prized possessions, consisting mostly of family pictures and heirlooms.
I never earned, won, or had a trophy when I was a kid. No athletic event, perfect attendance, spelling bee, science fair- nothing. It was not until I was in my mid-thirties that I actually began bringing home the plastic, and once I did it was a common occurrence for several years. It was a few trophies displayed in my study that prompted a couple of neighbor kids to keep bugging me to teach them karate. After several attempts with "PLEEEAASE", I conceded, and the rest is history.
No doubt, winning a trophy is awesome. I know one kid who won so many over the years that his folks literally built a storage shed for the express purpose of storing his trophies. After many years of competition, he burned out as a teenager as hasn't donned a gi for many years. I wonder what significance those metallic dust- collectors have merited for all those who gave up the arts for a multitude of reasons.
Over the years, the best in-house tournaments I hosted were the ones where I'd dust off some of the trophies I won and include them in special divisions or grand champion. Once kids knew the history of the award they just received they wouldn't have traded it for anything, especially the same old generic sterile ones that are doled out at seemingly every other competition.
I miss those days. I honestly miss the days of blood-spattered gis, smashed noses, and swollen eye-sockets. If I wasn't on the receiving end of the bruising I was doing my best to inflict it on the other guy- and that was just during class! When tournaments were over, without fail the two guys who just did their best at out- matching each other were shaking hands, pounding each other on the back, or meeting at the local watering hole swapping war stories of glory days, never realizing their glory days would be over sooner than later. In those days when I competed solo, I'd place that trophy purposely in the middle of the back seat so I could catch glimpses of it in the rear-view mirror on the drive home.
Introspectively, I know my days of bringing home trophies are long over. After a dozen or so surgeries and chronic health issues, you'd think that would be enough anyway. So in light of the fact that many of us are no longer capable of banging with the best of them, not only in class but to say the best in competition, where does our gratification come from? And for the many more who tirelessly train and compete and seemingly never seem to bring home any tangible proof of their endeavor-where's the honor in that? I think you know the answer to that. We'll dig deeper next time. In the mean time, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Sensei Ellis Weber
Founder and Senior instructor
Eaglewings Kyokushin karate