This post was written by Will Ng, 3rd Dan. The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Central London branch, its associates, or the BSKF.
Czech Republic was going to be my last big Kempo trip before I move back to Hong Kong. It also happened to be IKA’s inaugural international Taikai, and 2nd international seminar. Knowing I am unlikely to attend another Taikai / seminar, or spend a great weekend with a bunch of great friends, I was quite determined to get involved in the Taikai as much as possible, and so I entered for pair-form embu (with Antonio), group embu (with Ben and Karl), shakujo tanen and randori categories.
In the weeks leading up to the Taikai, Antonio and I made sure we practised as much as we could both during and outside of class, especially given our schedules did not always match up. But by the time we arrived in Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic, we were reasonably happy with what we had. Of course the embu itself could be refined and perfected even more, but that would probably take months.
The Taikai was due to start at 10am on the Saturday, so we decided to get there earlier for some last minute practice. We managed to run through it 3-4 times (though still not 100% happy or ready at this stage) before the bombshell came. Just before the event kicked off, Yasue Sensei and Mizuno Sensei called us over and said that a proper Taikai must have an opening embu as part of an opening ceremony, and that we should do ours. For a split second we both laughed, thinking that Sensei was just pulling our legs. But of course he wasn’t, and of course it would be very rude and disrespectful to refuse!
Were we prepared? Yes and no. Sure, we'd practised it enough times by then, but psychologically much less so. For a start we thought we had at least another hour to psych ourselves up! My gut was retching. The not-so-big breakfast I had earlier was finding its way back up. Butterflies were flying through a hurricane inside. I’d never been so relieved of how long the opening speech takes, first in English, then translated to Czech. At one point I even imagined myself vomiting in front of a hundred people.
But then the quote that I had read from an article the day before resounded in my head:
“If not me, who? If not now, when?"
This was actually a quote from Emma Watson in her interview with the BBC explaining how she overcame nerves before giving a speech at the UN headquarters. She is completely right. Who else would do it except for me? Even if there was somebody else, this is an opportunity given to me (and Antonio). How stupid would I be to give it away, whether by turning it down, or not giving it my all. And if I didn’t do it now, when else would I do it? My tailored-made black belt has 一期一会 (ichi go ichi-e) written on it, and I’ve been wearing it for the last 7 years. Isn’t this the perfect opportunity to practice what I preach? Chris had told me once – if I’ve been asked to demonstrate or teach something, it is because I have earned the trust. So why lack the confidence?
Antonio and I both knew there was only one thing we could do – one thing we must do – which was to perform the best ever run of our embu. This was it, there was no holding back. To be asked to perform the opening embu at the inaugural IKA Taikai was probably the biggest honour we have had in our Kempo careers (but let's not blow it out of proportions either!) Opportunities like this do not come around often, and probably won’t do for a long while.
Afterwards, we were both so happy and relieved that we did it. The rest of the Taikai felt like a breeze after that. As it turned out, we didn’t win in the competition later on that day, but I left the Taikai with no regrets.
Learning that we should have the confidence to say yes every time without hesitation was worth more than any trophy or medal, because we can do it; because others have faith in us, so we should have faith in ourselves too; because "if not me, who? And if not now, when?"