Sebastian Witt talks about his experience traveling to Europe to compete in the World Championships.
In March of 2019, I traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to participate in the team trials for the AAU Karate National Team. Around 60 other athletes were also there, all of them performing at a very high level. After two days of evaluation in kata, kumite, and athletic ability, we were sent home to wait for an email notifying us of whether or not we had made the team. When I got the email, I was very excited to learn that I had been selected to join the team at not only one but two tournaments in Europe in mid-June. For the second tournament in Bratislava, Slovakia, around 80 athletes would be going. However, for the first tournament, I had been one of only nine athletes selected, which I was very honored to be. I am very lucky to have the dojo family and community that I have because in the time leading up to the trip when fundraising was needed, I had the full support of everyone around me.
When the time finally came, I, along with eight other athletes, three coaches, and several parents made the long trip to Budapest, Hungary. This particular event, the ISF World Combat Games, was a special event for high school-aged students competing in four different sports: wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, and karate. Though we didn’t mingle much, it was amazing to see the most elite young athletes from all over the world all in one place. In several years, the people we saw will most likely be representing their countries in the Olympics. After a day of training and an opening ceremony during which I got to carry the American flag, competition began on the third day of our stay. Female kata went first and was followed by all light-weight kumite divisions, my division being first. There were six in total, split into two groups of three for round robin competition. I fought a Ukrainian first and lost 4-0, and then fought a Hungarian and lost by about the same margin. They were the fastest and smartest fighters I have ever gone up against. Other members of the team later found out the same. On day two, I competed in kata first thing in the morning. The score I received was not enough to move on to the second of three rounds, and so I was done. Overall, the team left with three bronze medals.
We finished competing in Budapest on Wednesday of that week, hopped on a bus that night, and found ourselves competing in Bratislava, Slovakia the next morning. Over three days, I competed in two kata divisions and three kumite divisions. My performance in those days got better with each day as I relaxed and learned from the previous day’s events. On the final day, in the 16-17 -55kg advanced kumite division, I finally got my first win, where I felt like my head cleared and my body fell into a groove. Unfortunately, I lost the next fight to a Romanian who would later win first place. However, I had done enough to secure third place, my first international medal.
Though it was tiring, daunting, and frustrating, the trip was especially enriched by the people around me. The chanting, cheering, high-fives, and words of encouragement never stopped. The coaches were passionate about helping us win, but were caring and reasonable. The friendships and memories I made will never be forgotten, nor will the incredible experiences of being overseas. I intend to use as much of what I learned as possible from that trip to help me as I continue to grow.