Hanging at AKA Grand Nationals

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I have no idea why it looks like he’s “flipping off” the judges’ table at the Grand Nationals. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but  this photo cracked me up and I’m using it.

This past weekend was the 47th Annual AKA Grand Nationals. BFF Teri is getting over  bronchitis. So, the I went solo to hang out with and photograph some awesome martial artists.

I was planning on doing some “real” event coverage, since I wasn’t competing. You know, write about the actual AKA Grand National results. I was going to put my background in journalism to some practical use, but no responded to my request for press passes.  So, it’s back to Circuit Gossip and blatant name dropping. (And I’m really, really bad at names. So, there probably won’t be a lot of that either.)

If you were looking for pictures from the tournament, you can head straight over to the AKA Grand Nationals album on our Facebook page. Don’t forget to tag people you know.

I knew for sure that Brett Thomason and Terry Creamer from All Star Karate Academy near St. Louis, were going to be there. So, I immediately started looking for them. With my long list of phobias and anxiety, it’s always a big deal when I go off by myself somewhere. It’s turned out OK the past few times I’ve tried it, but there’s a huge potential for it to turn into a complete cluster fuck. So, it’s important to have a “safe zone” you can come back to when things get to be a little overwhelming. They didn’t know it, but the All Star group, was my safe zone.

I found Brett near the center ring, which at this tournament was a stage. I’ve seen this before on YouTube and photos, but this was the first time I’ve actually been to a tournament that had a stage.

“Hey, you,” I greeted him. “Where’s your ring? 11? 13?”

There was a sign outside that had several rings labeled as adult black belt rings. But, sometimes things change on the actual day of tournament.

“Oh, I’m on the stage.”

“Shut up!”

“Yah.” He squinted at me out of the corner of his eyes. “You want to go up there?”

“Kinda,” I admitted, wondering how long it would take me to pull off my boots and scramble up. “But, I’m going to wait until I earn it.”

“Nah, just go up there and pretend you have a question: ‘Excuse me…uh…is that a sword?’”

* * *

I found a good seat for photo taking and began watching the tournament. Call me naive, but I sat at the center ring for a good 40 minutes wondering when the black belt women were going to have a turn. Then, slowly, I came to understand they weren’t. The center ring was reserved for 18-29 year old men for most of the day.

At the AKA tournaments I’ve been to, you get your ring assignment and then, you’re there for the entire tournament. So, I probably should have realized that sooner.

So, I watched Brett secure third place in weapons and then wandered the tournament, looking for older competitors and women. Of course, I made sure to make it back to watch Brett in empty hand kata, too. (Hey, what else do you expect of a stalker-fan-girl?)

* * *
Speaking of creepy, stalker girls, this is funny. I had finished watching the women’s 40+ sparring competition and the men’s tournaments were getting ready to start. I decided to stay at the same ring, which would hold men’s light weight and middle weight divisions. And one of these, I’m guessing middle weight, was Brett’s division.

Anyway, it was his turn to spar and I cheered for him. Loudly.

Here’s the thing, when I spar, I love people cheering for me. I live for it and will give anything for more of it. I’ll even put up with people shouting out half-ass advice at me, because I know it’s coming from a good place. So, if I know the person sparring, I’ll show them some love. Hell, I’ll show love to someone I don’t know if I like how they spar. (Which probably explains the strange looks I was getting at the women’s 40 and over match.)

Anyway, after Brett’s second match, the center judge said to him, “Hey, looks like you got yourself a fan.”
Brett gestured vaguely towards his own head and leaned his ear closer to the judge. He couldn’t hear what he said.

“I said you got yourself a real fan over there,” the judge bellowed, pointing directly at me. “She’s been screaming her head off for you every time you got a point.”

Everyone around the ring looked at me and started giggling. (OK, probably not everyone…but a significant number.) Horrified, I dodged behind some other spectators. When he was up to spar again, I tried to cheer, but I couldn’t do it. I was painfully aware of…well, me.

Brett finished second in sparring. He was pretty tired by his last match. (You could tell.) And he basically had his rear end handed to him. And, I’m not being mean by stating that. He pretty much said the same thing to me after the match.

“Hey,” I said. “Did I embarrass you when you were sparring?”

He looked surprised. “No.”

“Cool,” looks like I was the only one embarrassed.

* * *

I found Sensei Creamer later, while everyone was finishing up to take a dinner break. Most of the divisions were winding down around 4:30 or 5 and the Grands weren’t supposed to start until 7.

We watched some of the remaining competitors in the extreme weapons division, talking about them and the tournament.

“So, when you coming down to see us?” he asked.

“I really want to,” I told him. To be honest, I’m afraid he’ll stop asking Teri and I to come down to his dojo, because it’s something I want to do. But can’t, yet. “It’s just…there’s this really big bridge between us.”

“Oh,” he said thoughtfully, “you mean the distance.”

I looked at him for a moment before I realized he thought I was talking metaphorically. “No,” I said giggling. “I mean the Mississippi river and the big-ass bridge that goes across it.”

“Oh! You’re scare of bridges!”

“Terrified.”

* * *

All in all, no major melt downs. No huge embarrassments. And, best of all, no new phobias to report.

Don’t forget to check out the photos from the tournament! I only posted my favorites, having taken more than 600 before my camera died. (About 100 of them were blurry and had to be deleted. I don’t have Teri’s skill with a camera.) And I didn’t post any in which the competitor was making a weird face. AKA Grand Nationals album is on the Fat Karate-ka’s Facebook page.