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Collegiates and Inspiration

Going into last weekend, I felt more than my share of apprehension. One of the kids I’d coached during my tenure with the University of Oregon Wushu Team had essentially called in a favor: UO Wushu was hosting the Collegiate Wushu Tournament, and they needed judges. I always want to support the sport that changed so much of my life, and I’m also terrible at saying No, so I found myself thrust into the position of judging, when I didn’t feel entirely qualified for the job, and had very little concept of how to do it. It was like re-living the apprehension I felt when I was thrust into the Head Coach position at UO Wushu several years ago, also feeling largely unqualified for the job.

That coaching experience, however, became one of the greatest experiences I’ve had, and the experience of judging and observing at Collegiates last weekend turned out similarly. I left Eugene on Sunday morning full of inspiration and energy, and feeling the insatiable urge to train. I haven’t felt that kind of wushu love in at least a year, and I’ve missed it.

This only scratches the surface:

Being Important. It was strange being put into a position of authority, when I’ve always felt mediocre in the world of wushu. I often feel like the living representation of that old saying, “those who can’t do, teach.” I can explain and impart techniques well once I know them, but my body never quite lives up to the skills I imagine having in my head. There were certainly people competing in the Advanced divisions at this tournament who are better athletes than I’ve ever been.

In spite of my reservations, I actually fell into judging pretty instinctually, so my worries weren’t necessary. Once we’d had our early-morning Judges’ meeting, I felt more equipped to handle the task in front of me, and I went in with the goal of being the Asshole Judge: as in, the judge who gives the lowest scores, and I gave the lower scores among the 5 judges fairly often. The idea was to be fair, but not too easy to please, and I think I may have succeeded in that.

A wushu tourney is never without surprises, though, and mine came when I was called in to judge Taiji events. We needed 5 judges, and we had 4 who’d judged Taiji events before. Out of the remaining 7 judges, I was the only one who had even practiced Taiji, let alone judged it, so I found myself judging advanced Taiji competitors with only 6 months of Taiji experience under my own belt. I felt profoundly silly about it, but surprisingly, my instincts were in line with the other judges’, so hey, maybe I have a little more wisdom than I thought. 😉

A Bright Spot. One of the kids I coached, who has since graduated, came up to watch the tournament. I have to admit that I identified with him a lot, when he first joined wushu. We came from similar beginnings: athletic pursuits didn’t come all that naturally to either of us, but we still burned with ambition and enthusiasm. He was full of big dreams about becoming an elite wushu master, but his body fought him every step of the way, just as mine did. He also busted his ass for school and work, survived on little-to-no sleep, and spent a lot of his time running on empty… and for those who know me, that kind of behavior should sound familiar, too.

He did stop training after a couple of years, because it wasn’t making him happy anymore, and that made me really sad. But, for all the problems and frustration I’m sure he felt–I’ve felt a lot of that in my time, too–it’s obvious that he still loves the sport, and he remains a bright spot in the room. He motivates and supports the whole team, he’s full of enthusiasm and laughter, and he’s always there for his friends during the worst of times. Nothing ever seems to get him down for long, and he doesn’t let anything get in the way of being who he is, and doing it to the fullest. In that, he is fearless, and I respect it beyond words.

I drunkenly told him at the afterparty–and announced it loudly to all who were listening–that he was a Good Person, but I don’t know if he understood how much I meant that. I hope he did. And to have him not only thank me, but also say in return, “I really look up to you,” felt completely awesome.

The Student Becomes The Master. Another kid I coached as a freshman is now a senior, and he’s stepped into the coaching role, with a currently-injured advanced student as his co-coach. He was probably the most athletic beginner we had during my coaching year, so big tricks were never a problem for him. The flavor and flow of wushu didn’t come quite as naturally to him as it did to some of the others, though, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect from him, after I left.

After observing him over the weekend, however, I couldn’t be more proud of that kid than I was on Saturday. He’s a beloved leader and guide for the current UO squad, and his wushu has improved by leaps and bounds. I was in the midst of judging beginner events when he did his Changquan form, so I could only catch bits and pieces of the form, but with all the cheering and screaming in the room, I didn’t even need to see it to know that he KILLED it. The video footage also proved that later on.

It was obvious to me that he’s been working his ass off this year, and that effort was rewarded with an 8.91 and a gold medal. To put that into context, earning a 9.0 or above essentially places you among world-class athletes. I’ve never earned such a high score, and he came damned close. He also revealed to me, later that evening, that he wanted to go beyond Advanced division at the upcoming Berkeley tournament and compete in Nandu division, and I was so excited for him I thought my heart might explode. He’d been introducing me to new faces all day as His First Coach, and I’m completely honored to have had anything to do with helping him grow into the athlete and person that he is.

The Flame Is Still Burning. UO Wushu has grown ENORMOUS, in the three years since I left. There are more beginner recruits this year than there were members of the entire club, in my first year, and they already look strong! The beginners performed incredibly well for their first tournament, and they stood out within a field of beginners that was strong in general. It was an intense competition, but they managed to place high and earn medals in a beginner division. (49 people registered! Gah!)

I suppose it’s a sign that the fundamentals passed down to me by my coach, and that I subsequently passed down during my own year of leadership, have survived and thrived. They even have some very fierce girls on the squad, too, which always makes me happy. The entire reason why I was peer-pressured into trying wushu to begin with is because a dear friend of mine was tired of being the only girl to attend practices regularly, so I’m always pulling for girls who show that they have some fire.

So, here I am, feeling empowered and burning to train again. I’ve spent the past 6 months wondering if my wushu life was over, if I would go out with a whimper, but hell, I’m not done yet. Watching these people grow has been such a gift, and I didn’t expect to receive so much inspiration from them in return, but I did, and I’m lucky to have it.

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