“Go in,” Chuanchao said “Get good seats!”
"Good luck!" Simon and I chorused. He gave a grin and a thumbs up.
The gymnasium was obviously new. The windows were shiny, the floors unscuffed, and it still had the peculiar smell which accompanies all construction sites. I wondered vaguely if this competition was the main reason for the creation of this gym.
We still had time, and there were plenty of seats still open, so Simon and I wandered through the different halls. For the students of this school, life was going on routinely.
|Badminton is one of the more popular sports in China|
We even got a peek at the warm ups of the competitors.
|This young woman was part of Chuanchao's team. She would be competing in Chinese fencing.|
|For me, their uniforms were as fun to admire as their skills.|
Simon checked the thick watch on his wrist. "We should go get seats. The kungfu competition will start soon."
I nodded and followed him to the main hall. As we ascended the stairs, I examined the arena. This competition was set up differently than the Taekwondo tournaments I had attended, which, in hindsight, made sense. The judging and performances were different. In the Taekwondo tournaments, we set up multiple smaller mats--we had more competitors and we usually had sparring matches. From what I could gather, this competition was a culmination of a series and therefore had less competitors, who would be performing their routines, but not sparring.
|It was nice to see that the athletes were polite to each other and allowed enough room for everyone to practice.|
By some silent signal, the mats cleared, and the judges, garbed in electric-blue jackets, marched out. They were introduced--of course I didn't understand most of what the announcer said, but Simon quietly translated, whispering into my ear, "most of the judges were top athletes or coaches. All have been practicing for years."
|A representative from each school was sent up to greet the judges.|
Once the judges and the competing schools were introduced--in what, I might add, was a thoroughly dignified ceremony--the competition began. I took approximately ten thousand photos (to be precise, it was actually closer to two hundred photos and a total of an hour of videos, which I can't post here because Blogger only likes short videos). I was working with a newer camera, and unfortunately, it simply couldn't keep up with the speed of the athletes' movements, but I did find some suitable photos.
|The first competitor had solid skills.|
Each competitor would walk onto the mat, salute the judges, and then precede with his routine. When he finished, he again saluted the judges. The judges would confer for scoring. Each had a stack of cards resting by their left hand. Once they were done conferring, the judges would hold up the card with their score on it.
|I liked this guy. At first, it was because his uniform was so sparkly.|
|Then he pulled this move. Multiple times.|
|This one hardly ever touched the ground.|
|Leaping and bounding, I tell you.|
|Best color choice.|
I would like to note that while there were women in the competition, the majority of them were in the taichi section (although there was one boss woman who performed kungfu (Tiger style too. Lots of shouting.)).
Then came the taichi. The process was the same as the kungfu--salute, perform, salute, score.
OH HEY. Do these two look familiar?
|Chillin'. Waiting their turns.|
They had swords. No, I don't think they were actually sharp, but it would probably hurt if they'd hit someone. Not that they'd try.
|Again, nice color choice. I'm not biased at all.|
Here we go! The ones I came to see!
|I would like to highlight her uniform.|
|First you think "Pink?"|
|Then you see what she does with a sword.|
When Chuanchao stepped onto the grass-colored mat, my heart faltered. I was nervous for him, not because I thought he couldn't do it, but because it was a competition and sometimes people's nerves get the better of them, despite hours of training.
I shouldn't have worried.
The focus that Chuanchao --and all of the others--had reminded me of the focus I use when I run long distance. It's hard to put into words, but it's the focus that is complete blankness of the mind, yet simultaneously being aware of everything your body is doing. The things happening in your surroundings becomes peripheral--it is unimportant to the task at hand.
I might have whooped when he finished. A very thoroughly American thing to do. While there were a couple of cheers from other sections, my, er, enthusiastic yell definitely originated from a foreigner.
|Awaiting his score.|
I was so proud, as if I had any claim to him. He was my friend, not my son, but I couldn't help it. It's gut-wrenching to perform and be judged on your skills. He'd been practicing for months. Of course I wanted him to do well.
|Another Sichuan Daxue student.|
|As to be expected, since she was from Sichuan Daxue, she was excellent.|
After the performances of the Sichuan University students, Simon and I walked down to the mats, to where they were grouped, hanging out. Simon walked like a normal, sane person, while I skipped, antsy, down the stairs.
Chuanchao smiled as he saw us.
"Good job!" I said, slightly breathless. "I knew you were good, but that was amazing!"
He ducked his head in embarrassment. Then he distracted me by suggesting we take photos, first with me and Chuanchao, then him and Simon, and finally me and Simon--I should possibly ask for those photos. Simon has them somewhere.
The required photo taking over, Chuanchao lead us over to the stage, where the his team rested. We sat in a circle on the stage, watching the competitors. Occasionally, an opinion about the current competitor would be quietly voiced. Mostly, we sat and joked and laughed. I was flustered at first, because of my Chinese.
There was an initial testing of the waters with language. Once everyone had ascertained the language level of the others, we settled into a nice mixture of Chinese and English.
"I'm sorry my Chinese is so bad," I murmured. "I'm sorry."
They simply laughed and showed me how to hold the fencing sword.
Conversations flowed around me. I was part of them, even though I understood little. The camaraderie between the students was blazingly clear. I suppose it would be impossible to train with someone for months, for hours each week, and not get close to them.
At last, Simon checked his watch and said, regretfully, "we should go."
I checked the time. Almost five. We should go back.
We said our goodbyes. Simon jumped off the stage, and I was about to follow when I was stopped by a gentle touch to my elbow. It was one of the students, one I had hardly talked to. He held out his hand with something in it. I took the round object. It was a chocolate truffle. I blinked.
"Thank you" I said, surprised. He grinned and said "No problem."
I jumped off the stage and followed Simon. Chuanchao was with him.
"Thanks for coming." Chuanchao said.
I looked up at him and smiled. The chocolate was warm in my hand. "It was my pleasure."