Navigation Menu+

Mental Game, At Last

While driving home from Berkeley on Sunday, the following lyric popped up, on one of the new albums I’d acquired for this round of Road Trip Listening:

Did you ever lose, but feel like a winner
Nothing could fuck with your pride

And it was PERFECT. That, dear friends, was my weekend in a nutshell.

I arrived in Berkeley on Friday night, feeling tired and apprehensive, and wanting nothing more than for the weekend to be over, so I could go home and recover from the past two months of overcommitment.

I came away from Collegiates in March feeling inspired beyond belief, but with all the traveling that happened between that and CMAT (Vegas, Imnaha, L.A… ooooof.), I wasn’t exactly able to maximize my training time. Missed practices, bad sleep, stress and exhaustion, and a last-minute band-aid on my southern broadsword form to get it up past the minimum 1:20 requirement was not exactly a recipe for wushu victory.

And beyond that, I’d had a pretty rough year, emotionally-speaking. And, after a month of aches and three months of physical therapy last fall/winter, my knee is still not behaving perfectly. I wasn’t able to train as hard as I wanted while in therapy, and the knee started complaining again, a couple days before the tournament. I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be. I knew I’d be asking more of my body than it would likely want to give me.

Late Friday night, as I was falling asleep, I had an odd thought: I’d done some work on a jumping outside kick with a single-leg crane stance landing, while I was in physical therapy. Landing that way actually meant fewer painful impacts on my bad knee, so it at least gave me something more advanced to work on. I’d stuck the landing maybe a few times, but it was still pretty sketchy. And yet, I found myself thinking: why not throw it into my form? After sleeping on this notion, I realized that I really had nothing to lose by attempting it, and, as a friend of mine wisely observed, “if it goes awry, you’ll have a good story later. If it goes well, you’ll have a good story later!”

When the time came to suit up, I was feeling the nerves like I always do. I walked through various bits of my forms to grind them further into my memory, while Franz Ferdinand and Queen blasted through my earbuds as a strangely calming anthem. The Hurry-Up-and-Wait game is par for the course at CMAT, and that only serves to build up the tension even more.

Finally, they called us up for nanquan. I popped out my earbuds and learned I was going first. Greeeeat.

I threw in the single-leg landing early and didn’t stick it, but I also didn’t fall on my ass, so it was about what I expected. Coming out of my kick-up, however, I stumbled a bit, and that was… not-so-expected. Normally, this would be the point where fear takes over and my brain checks out, leaving my body in a hazy auto-pilot mode, rushing woodenly through each movement until I check back in during the final salute, wondering what the hell just happened.

This time, however, it didn’t. I felt my gaze harden and my breathing deepen as I kept going. I was present and cool-headed in a way I’d never been before. By the end, I was completely exhausted, my knee was aching, my throat was raw, and my quads were burning, but I didn’t care. I’d been placed in a situation where I’d lost my head a dozen or more times before, and somehow found my way to clarity. Other people with more practice and preparation beat me squarely, so I didn’t make top 3, but I was still smiling when it was over.

I felt strangely okay after my first event, but Nandao proved to be a terror of a different sort: only one other person had registered, and she’d decided to drop out. Because my event was so small, I was saluted in with several nandu-level spear athletes, and slated to go before their event. Usually, when I perform, some world-class nandu competitor is lighting up center stage in another ring, so nobody’s paying much attention to what I’m doing. This time, however, I was in the same ring with the Nandu kids, and that meant everyone was watching me.

I’m certainly not going to glorify my skills: my performance was far from perfect, and I can easily pick out things that I know I’ve done better in the past, and things I can definitely do better in the future. Still, even as I pondered on those things, I couldn’t feel bad about them. I should have panicked, and in any other year, I would have panicked, but I didn’t. The section of the form that we’d added last-minute was pretty clunky due to lack of practice, but it didn’t sway me. I finished strong and I didn’t even flinch. My head was in the game from start to finish, my mind was actually with my body as I went through each movement. And it felt amazing.

When I received my gold medal for nandao, I couldn’t help but smile, even though I didn’t really have to beat anyone else to get it. It’s never been about that, really. The battle I’d won was a battle I’d fought with myself for over 6 years. After psyching myself out with anxiety time and time again, I beat down that anxiety and emerged feeling nothing but satisfaction. I’m optimistic about the months ahead. I’m even considering Nationals in July, for shits and giggles.

So, yes. Of all the medals I’ve earned in the sport of wushu, this one is by far my favorite.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.