In August, 1982, I won two gold medals at the USAAU National Championships. At that time there were two divisions for advanced women’s kata: Open and Mandatory.
In the open division one could perform a kata from any style or even a kata that you had made up yourself. The mandatory division provided a list of kata, four from each of the major styles (Goju-Ryu, Shotokan, Uechi-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu – if I remember correctly). Saifa, Saiunchin, Sei Pei and Superunpai were my four choices. Styles like Shito-Ryu and Kyokushinkai, which derive from Goju-Ryu and Shotokan, found their kata named on this list, also.
I had been training for almost eight years at this point. I was a nidan, a second degree black belt. I weighed 93 pounds and was 4’11” tall – with my shoes on. Theoretically, size doesn’t matter for kata. Once, a kata judge from Long Island named Joyce Santamaria told me, “Your kata wasn’t really better than her’s [the second-place winner]. It just looks better when you do it, because you’re so tiny.”
1982 was a special tournament for me for several reasons. The first reason was the two gold medals. The second was that it took place in Champaign, Illinois. My cousin Chuck, who lived near Chicago, came to watch.
I never, ever allowed a family member to watch me compete. I was so nervous before each competition that I couldn’t sleep the night before; I had a very hard time eating on the same day and spent much of the time allotted for warming up in the bathroom. The thought of a family member being there added so much pressure I couldn’t bear it.
I had told Chuck to come, but to sit way back in the bleachers and not to talk to me, wave, or make contact with me in any way. He followed directions, and managed not to jinx me. Medals in my hand I found him and was taken to Winetka for a meal with my aunt and uncle.
When I got back to Boston I called Jerry Thomson, who was the president of the USAAU Karate federation to find out when the team trials for the upcoming world championships would take place. I was already a member of the team, but rules are rules, and despite my recent victory I had to try out for the team just like anyone else. As I dialed Jerry’s New Jersey phone number I had no idea that my life was about to take a dramatic turn.