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‘Striving  to  be  a  winner’  

By  Maureen  de  Jager     I’ve   often   heard   it   said   that   the   SA   Shotokan   Karate   Academy   kanji   (the   Japanese   character   in   the   SASKA  logo)  translates  as  ‘Striving  to  be  a  winner’.  But  what  does  this  actually  mean?  What  are  the   criteria  that  define  one  as  a  winner  –  or  as  a  loser,  for  that  matter?   Recently,   these   question   were   raised   for   me   by   an   unlikely   encounter   with   a   gutsy   performance   artist,   Anthea   Moys.   Moys   joined   East   Cape   Shotokan-­‐Ryu’s   Grahamstown   dojo   as   a   complete   beginner   in   April   this   year;   and   in   July   she   took   on   six   of   our   toughest   male   karateka,   challenging   them   to   a   very   public   kata   and   kumite   showdown.   With   a   mere   three   months’   training   (and   an   Eighth  Kyu  /  yellow  belt  grading)  behind  her,  Moys  would  be  hopelessly  outmatched  by  her  First  Kyu,   Shodan  and  Nidan  competitors.  From  the  start,  she  was  all  but  destined  to  lose.   Yet,  for  Moys,   losing  was  precisely  the  point  –  and  the  central  idea  in  an  ambitious  performance  art   project  conceptualised  for  the  National  Arts  Festival  in  Grahamstown.  Moys  holds  the  coveted  title   of  2013  Standard  Bank  Young  Artist  for  Performance  Art.  Being  a  performance  artist,  she  uses  her   body   as   her   primary   means   of   expression,   making   artistic   statements   by   orchestrating   scenarios   and   events  that  defy  audience-­‐members  to  rethink  their  preconceptions.  So  when  Moys  was  given  the   opportunity  to  create  something  unique  for  the  Festival,  her  artistic  vision  was  to  ‘take  on’  the  host   city  in  a  spectacular  all-­‐out  challenge.   Fuelled   by   the   belief   that   the   best   way   to   learn   about   a   place   is   to   immerse   oneself   in   its   games,   Moys   joined   six   local   sports   teams   and   cultural   groups,   with   the   ultimate   aim   of   pitting   herself   against  them.  On  all  fronts  she  came  in  as  a  total  novice,  giving  herself  a  deadline  of  three  months  to   learn  the  necessary  skills  from  her  eventual  competitors.  The  culmination:  ‘Anthea  Moys  vs.  The  City   of  Grahamstown’,  a  series  of  six  dramatic  contests  for  Festival  audiences.  In  the  space  of  a  week,  she   single-­‐handedly   took   up   arms   against   a   battle   re-­‐enactment   group;   stepped   it   up   in   a   ballroom   dancing   extravaganza;   tested   her   singing   voice   in   a   choral   competition;   made   moves   against   the   university   chess   team;   kicked   ball   against   a   local   football   club;   and   donned   her   mitts   against   ECSR   Karate.     Predictably,  she  lost  –  in  everything.  In  battle,  she  found  herself  outnumbered  by  the  enemy,  shakily   playing   the   bagpipes   as   they   rounded   her   up.   In   ballroom,   too   many   missteps   saw   her   hastily   banished  from  the  dance  floor.  In  choir,  she  was  wholly  out-­‐sung  by  two  resounding  choral  groups.   In   chess,   her   fate   was   quickly   sealed   by   checkmate.   In   soccer,   she   failed   to   score   a   single   goal.   In   karate,  her  Heian  Shodan  and  Nidan  kata  were  no  match  for  the  brown  and  black  belts’  Bassai-­‐dai   and  Empi;  and  her  limited  kumite  experience  left  her  wounded,  winded  and  defeated,  with  a  total  of   2  hard-­‐earned  points  to  ECSR  Karate’s  40.   What  made  these  defeats  seem  particularly  brutal  is  the  fact  that  Moys  had  been  such  a  dedicated   pupil.   She   had   trained   exceedingly   hard   in   the   months   leading   up   to   her   performance:   carefully   dividing   her   time   between   battle,   ballroom,   choir,   chess,   soccer   and   karate;   and   practicing   daily   to   a   point  of  near  exhaustion.  As  a  karateka  her  standard  improved  dramatically  –  so  much  so  that  she   sailed   through   her   Eighth   Kyu   grading.   For   a   beginner   she   was   incredibly   good.   In   fact,   had   the   challenge  been  ‘Anthea  Moys  vs.  the   yellow  belts  of  ECSR  Karate’  she  would  have  had  victory  well   within  her  reach.  But  Moys  had  no  interest  in  testing  herself  against  fellow  beginners.  She  wanted   impossible  odds.  

In  the  run-­‐up  to  her  performance  I  often  heard  people  ask:  ‘What’s  the  point?’  Indeed  I  pondered   this  myself  on  occasion.  Why  would  Moys  deliberately  set  herself  up  for  public  failure?    What  could   she  possibly  gain?  I  doubted  the  merits  of  losing  in  such  a  spectacular  fashion  –  and  I  questioned  the   intentions  of  those  who  would  buy  tickets  to  watch.  I  worried  that  it  bordered  on  the  farcical.  But   something   about   Moys’s   attitude   –   about   the   seriousness   with   which   she   embraced   her   karate   training  –  compelled  me  to  keep  an  open  mind.   All  I  can  say  is  that  my  doubts  were  assuaged  completely  when  the  day  of  our  karate  contest  arrived,   and   I   saw   our   rising   star   in   action   against   the   brown   and   black   belts   of   ECSR.   This   was   a   genuine   challenge,   undertaken   most   sincerely   by   an   earnest   and   devoted   karateka.   Moys   gave   it   her   all.   And   despite  the  points  rapidly  stacking  up  against  her,  she  radiated  triumph,  carrying  herself  for  all  the   world  like  a  champion.  She  kept  her  resolve  and  focus  through  several  rounds  of  nail-­‐biting  kumite  –   at   one   point   losing   her   breath   when   her   black-­‐belt   opponent   landed   a   solid   gyaku-­‐zuki   (reverse   punch),  but  never  losing  her  nerve,  her  composure  or  her  positive  spirit.       The  effect  was  utterly  captivating;  the  support  from  the  audience  electrifying.  Spectators  who  had   never  even  met  Moys  offered  vocal  encouragement,  cheering  her  on  when  it  looked  like  she  might   score  and  waiting  in  silent  anticipation  as  she  recovered  from  her  injury.  Notwithstanding  the  title  of   her  performance  –  ‘Anthea  Moys   versus  The  City  of  Grahamstown’  –  it  seemed  to  me  that  The  City   had   come   out   in   full   support.   Even   the   ‘opposition’   recognised   and   honoured   her   bravery,   symbolically   giving  her  the  victory   when,  at  the  end,   one  of  the   ECSR   karateka  presented  Moys  with   his  medal  on  behalf  of  his  team.   So,  technically,  Moys  lost  the  contest,  but  she  managed  to  galvanise  a  city.  Why  the  overwhelming   support   for   a   ‘loser’?   One   possible   reason   is   that   we   can  all   appreciate   Moys’s   fighting  spirit   despite   her   defeats.   In   resolving   to   take   on   six   formidable   fighters,   she   demonstrated   that   the   biggest   obstacle  is  karate  (as  in  life,  perhaps)  is  not  the  size,  speed  or  skill  of  one’s  opponent  but  one’s  self-­‐ imposed  limitations  –  the  restrictive  preconceptions  that  dictate  what  one  can  and  cannot  do.     In  this  regard,  Moys  also  got  me  thinking  about  the  difference  between  ‘being  a  winner’  and  ‘striving   to   be   a   winner’   (as   in   the   SASKA   kanji).   ‘Being   a   winner’   suggests   a   particular   state   of   accomplishment,  vindicated  by  titles,  medals,  trophies,  a  place  on  the  podium.  But  ‘striving  to  be  a   winner’   suggests   something   else   entirely:   an   enduring   fighting   spirit;   a   Moys-­‐like   attitude   of   mind.   For   many   of   us,   the   prospect   of   actually   ‘being   a   winner’   remains   sadly   out   of   reach,   despite   our   sincerest  efforts.  But  ‘striving  to  be  a  winner’  is  a  possibility  open  to  everyone.  And  while  ‘being  a   winner’  is  certainly  commendable,  it  is  also  often  short-­‐lived:  lasting  just  until  someone  better,  faster   or  stronger  comes  along.  But  the  rewards  that  follow  from  ‘striving  to  be  a  winner’  can  sustain  one   for  much,  much  longer  –  perhaps  even  for  a  lifetime.     Just  ask  Anthea  Moys.