Yesterday, I posted this old animated gif on my Facebook Page. Here’s some background and rambling:
Back in 2000, when this clip was taken, I had stopped my competitive career a while ago because:
- There was no money in it.
- I got married, bought a house and planned on having kids. Expensive things to do…
- There wasn’t much in the way of official support because Belgium is a small country and martial arts are not big-name sports here. They were even less so back then.
So it was either be flat broke and try to get help from the almost non-existent sponsors or quit fighting and work. I chose to work and move on with my life. Still, I made the decision reluctantly because I enjoyed the training and testing myself against other athletes. But it wasn’t to be, so I made my peace with it.
Then one of my students wanted to compete and for shits and giggles, I trained along with him. We entered the nationals and both won gold in our category. Which was rewarding, but I had decided up front this was to be my last fight. My first kid was on the way so pretty soon, I wouldn’t have much extra training time anyway. I figured I give it one more try and then go after different challenges.
Due to luck of the draw and circumstances, I only had to fight once, in the finals. My opponent was a fighter I had TKO-ed before in a previous tournament. He seemed to remember that experience because he refused to stand still in front of me when the first round started. I tried to cut corners and pin him but he rabbited all over the place, which annoyed the hell out of me.
So I stopped in the middle of the fight arena and looked at him with “Are you gonna do track and field or did you come here to fight?” plastered all over my face. He decided to try and fight.
I closed in and left him no other choice but to move sideways, faking to one side to make him move to the other. He did just that and ran into my high kick.
The kick wasn’t all that powerful, but it had decent speed and smacked him right in the face. The fact that he did a straight arm double block at the wrong level, leaving his face wide open, also helped… Anyway, he went down and was counted out. Not because he couldn’t continue but because he didn’t want to anymore. He had nothing left.
And it turned out that was the last kick I ever threw in a competition.
Loads of people came up to me, congratulating me with an “Amazing KO!” It became kind of embarrassing but they seemed to mean it so I guess the compliments are nice. I received my gold medal and went back home, thinking about how one part of my life was now over. It was weird.
I may have kept the medal in view for a few days but soon after, it ended up at the bottom of my trophies box in the attic. It only came out a few years ago when my kids asked if I had any medals. I showed them the box and gave them a couple to play with.
It never really made any sense to me to put medals out on display, like you sometimes see at people’s houses. It’s OK to be proud of your accomplishments and even mention it to others. But to put it in plain view so nobody can miss it? Why on earth would you do that? I mean, the people who’s opinion I care about already know about the competitions I won. So why remind them? If somebody comes to my house and he doesn’t know about the competitions I did, why should I throw it in his face in such a blatant fashion? Does it make him feel more welcome? I don’t think so…
This isn’t false humility, I know where I stood in the fighter hierarchy: I wasn’t the best Sanshou fighter out there, even in my prime. Loads of fighters were better than me. A bunch were not as good and I beat them but I lost from those first ones. They probably have more gold medals than me. So would theirs then have more value than mine? I don’t think that’s true. Competitions are just a snapshot of a moment in time. At that precise moment, you’re either better, worse or luckier than the other guy. A day earlier, things might have been reversed so you never know how it goes. Which is the whole draw of competitions in the first place.
All that medal proves is that you beat somebody on a given day. Things might have been different in different circumstances and if you stop training, they certainly will be next time you fight the same guy. The medal doesn’t have any intrinsic value, it’s just a reminder of that moment and what happened then.
When I look at that kick now, I’m horrified by how my rear arm is totally out of place and how my hip isn’t in it enough. Nor is the angle as good as it should be. Sure, it did the job but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. On the contrary.
So when I stumble on reminders of my fighting career, I tend to look away rather quickly. Not in shame or melancholy, but more with a sense of “You better train a bit harder so your technique isn’t as sloppy, you damn JCVD wannabe!”