The Fat Karate-ka and Hugging

I’m not a physically affectionate person. Hugging causes me a level of discomfort that is almost like physical pain. BFF Teri and I knew each other for months before I would tolerate a hug from her and, even then, it took another year or two before I got over the urge to try to escape my own skin during the hug.

I’ve noticed, as I moved higher in rank, a trend in tournaments to hug after a sparring match. It seems to be exclusive to the adult divisions and the upper ranks. You don’t see a bunch of 10-year-old yellow belts hugging after a good match. And, the fiercer the match, the tighter the hug once the match is over. This extends across both genders.

Also, probably because of the whole skin-crawling reaction I have to physical contact, I’ve noticed there are some unspoken rules of etiquette to the post-sparring hug. I’ll list my observations here and see if anyone disagrees or has something to add.

  1. If you’re from the same dojo or are friends, either person can initiate the hug.
  2. If you’re from different dojo, the winner of the match initiates the hug. This is usually done when the other person automatically sticks out their hand for a handshake. The hug says, “It was a good fight. Thank you for pushing me. Thank you for making me work so hard. Thank you for teaching me something.”
  3. If the other person is unresponsive or doesn’t notice the incoming hug, the initiator can say something like, “come here,” “don’t go” or “give me love.” (OK, I  may be the only one who’s actually used that last one. It was a match against my daughter and I thought it was funny.)
  4. The winner of the match will usually say something nice in the ear of their opponent during the hug. “Good fight,” “great match” or “thank you” are all acceptable.
  5. Snubbing the post-match hug is a huge insult to the other person. Once the hug is initiated, you have to go in and consummate the hug or you’re saying to the other person, “you may think it was a good match, but I don’t.”

What do you think about hugging after a sparring match? Enter your comments below and you could get a Fat Karate-ka T-shirt. We’ll give two commenters (chosen randomly) a free T-Shirt. Drawing will be held 11/1/2010.


I realize that I will make no fans by writing this. But, in my pursuit to be a better karate-ka, I must tackle all three of the arrows –the physical, mental and spiritual aspects Isshinryu. That, unfortunately, includes taking a painful look at where I am now in my personal development. [Note: the portions in italics are my internal dialog -- the thoughts and feelings of the moment that I tried, unsuccessfully, to keep under control.]

Tina Palos, of Texas Isshinryu Karate Kai, once told us once that there was a push and pull effect within a dojo. The upper belts pull while the lower belts push, which should make everyone get better. BFF Teri and I push and pull each other more than anyone else I know.
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Honorifics in Japan and the US

The other day, BFF Teri asked me about my use of honorifics…namely, she wanted to know why I say “Sensei Smith” at one time but say “Tokumura Sensei” other times. To be honest, it wasn’t something I thought a lot about but I do have some general rules I go by.

First of all, in Japan, names are presented differently. They say the family name first and the given name (or some call it Christian name) last. So, in Japan, I would be Strunk Stacy. If referring to someone by only their last name, the last name comes first and the honorific goes last, e.g. Strunk San (which can mean either Ms. Strunk or Mr. Strunk) or Tokumura Sensei.
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Meeting Tokumura Kensho

Teri and I were at the IHOF after party, scoping out people to interview for the blog, handing out T-shirts, talking trash with the sensei — just being ourselves. In the lobby, we spotted an Asian gentleman.

“Is that Tokumura Kensho?” Teri asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said squinting at the man in question. “I think so.”

Teri grabbed a passer-by, got a positive ID and we rushed forward hoping to snag an interview. Before we could introduce ourselves, however, Tokumura Sensei recognized Teri from the tournament and engaged her in conversation about sparring.
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More Trophies and Small Tournaments

Rocky’s Tournament on Sunday was a small affair. I’m thinking 50 competitors showed up, but I’m not very good at estimating the size of crowds. The thing about local tournaments is that they can vary greatly in size from tournament to tournament. Rocky’s Tournaments are held four times a year and the turn out completely depends on what time of year it is and how nice the weather is.

They ran two rings and, even then, the events still moved swiftly. Most of the time, there were just two or three people in our (BFF Teri’s and my) division. So, I could have literally fallen on my face and still left with a trophy. I’m not complaining, just re-stating the simple fact that getting second place out of two people (trophy or not) is still losing.

Sensei doesn’t like it when I say this. “You showed up…that’s more than most people.” Whoopee, I tell him. “You have to go by how you feel about your performance, not what trophy you bring home.” Really, I say, because I FEEL like I just lost.

The simple truth is I’m really OK with losing a match or a tournament. I mean it’s not something I try to do. I don’t travel to St. Louis or Knoxville and say to myself, “You know what? I think it’s someone else’s turn to shine today.”

And, to some extent, I’m starting to come around to Sensei’s way of thinking. For a long time competition, to me, meant competing against other people. I’m starting to come to terms with the concept of competing against myself. Right now, I depend very strongly on scores.

When I finish a kata, I quickly forget my performance. I can’t remember most of the routine I just performed and any mistake I noticed during my performance becomes amplified in my self-critical mind. A slight pause I took to maintain my balance, when remembering it later, lasted for eons…my arms flailing wildly. If we were lucky enough to catch some video of the event, I can see the pause was barely noticeable and that the flailing was completely fabricated by Critical Me.

But, when each judge shows his score, I repeat the number in my head. I continue repeating the numbers mentally. I watch the other competitors receive their scores and just do a quick mental calculation whether most of the scores were higher, lower or about the same. I don’t waste time trying to remember everyone’ score, the numbers would push my score out of my head.

I’ve also developed a “feel” for what scores are good and how I normally perform and this helps me when there’s only Teri or I competing. For example, at IHOF last year, most of my bo scores were around 7.5 and 7.6. (I think, it’s been almost a year.) Teri won the competition, but this was a higher score than I had been receiving locally. So, when I received my second place trophy, I thought to myself…”This is a legitimate second. My scores were pretty good.”

Now, here’s how this ties into smaller, local tournaments. Sunday, when there were two people performing the kata, after the second person performed, the head judge yelled “call” and, in unison, the judges would point to the person they thought performed the better kata.

The judges initially tried to put Teri and I in different divisions. She being a brown belt and I being a purple belt, the head judge said she was advanced kyu and I was novice kyu and we should perform separately. I stood my ground, however. I insisted I was also an advanced kyu (which I am) and that Teri is only one rank above me (which she is). Plus, seriously, I didn’t want a first place trophy because I showed up. I haven’t come THAT far over to Sensei’s way of thinking.

So, after I performed my kata, we stood in opposite corners of the ring. “Call.” There I stood, having already completely forgotten my performance, looking at all three judges pointed in Teri’s direction.

“You know,” I muttered to Sensei later, “I’m starting to thing I should save everyone some time and just ask the judges for my second place trophy before I perform.”

“Hey, now,” he said, “Don’t do that. You’re competing against yourself.”

I made a whoopee sign with my hand and slumped down in my seat. A second later, I perked up. “Hey, there’s going to be THREE of us sparring: a yellow belt, Teri and me. Do you think they’re going to divide us up?”

Here’s how FKK’s editorial staff performed:

Synchronized kata:
Jessica and Scott, first place
Teri and Me, second place
Sara and Grace (friends of FKK), third. (Three of us in this division, but their scores were nothing to sneeze at. I’d call it a legitimate 3rd.)

Teri, first place
Me, second (I got the “buy.”)

Jessica got first in her division, 14 & 15 year olds

Weapons forms:
Teri, second
I didn’t place, but I liked my scores. (If they went to fourth place, I’m pretty sure that’s what I would have received…out of 6 of us.)

Empty Handed Kata:
Teri, first
Me, second (out of two)

Jessica got second in her division (also out of two)


The Fat Karate-ka is a series of karate-related thoughts from a plus-size karate-ka and her best friend. We travel around going to tournaments and seminars, meeting some very cool people along the way.

If we say something you think is funny or thought provoking or put up a picture you love, tell other people about it!