To compete or not compete?
I have a great appreciation for the benefits of competition. However, I also completely understand why someone may not want to compete or have their own child do so.
With such an exceptionally small percentage becoming elite level competitors, the likelihood of facing a loss at some point in your competition career can be tough on your ego. The mere thought of competing can increase anxiety due to nerves of performance or the possibility of injury. On the other hand, many competitors use competition to maintain psychological control over their own negative thoughts, emotions, or fears.
We all have that internal battle with the voice that says “you can’t do it”. Competition will take you outside of your comfort zone, letting you experience a higher level of nerves than is possible in a normal class and test your performance under pressure. Once you get over the anxiety, competition has the benefit of helping you learn at a faster rate by going against people that you may not know and are much less predictable than your normal training partners.
In order for us to really put into practise what we are studying we must put it into a realistic situation to be tested. A live resisting partner, also trying to apply their techniques against you, is the best way to mimic the reality of a stressful self-defense situation. The very reason I took up martial arts was after a friend was badly attacked, competing reminds me how I react under pressure. But really I competed because I loved it even with all the massive anxiety before hand.
The other really positive outcome of competing is the bonding experience with our fellow martial artists and even opposing competitors. Someone willing to take the risk of competing in a combat sport appreciates that their opponent is helping them to improve as a martial artist, as well as testing themselves. We share the highs and lows of the emotional experience of competition. A wonderful moment between two of our junior students, age 7 and 8, one ruffled the other ones hair saying he hoped they got a medal next time, they had a hug and shook hands as they wished each other well. These moments occur throughout competitions days by students of all ages and backgrounds.
Of course we want to win (lets not pretend otherwise!). However, this does not define you as a martial artist. A World Champion is likely to be more interested in the journey that brought them to their title and the struggle to get there, than they are at getting the gold medal itself. We love seeing Rocky winning the title at the end, but only because we knew what it took for him to get there!
There are also a variety of perspectives on whether or not to compete.
Some feel allowing their child to compete in a controlled environment and test themselves with limited risk of injury (whether to their physical self or their feelings) helps to build the character of the child. On the other hand, some parents are not willing to take even a negligible risk with their child being injured or seeing them cry over a loss and are averted to competition all together. My believe and experience as an Instructor shows me just how much students progress after competing, in character, in confidence and yes there are often tears but it is rarely through injury..more frustration. It teaches such a valuable life lesson and most who compete and cry at their first, always say they want to do it again. That says it all.
Adult Students perspectives
Adults have the privilege / curse of being able to decide for themselves on whether or not to compete. They have to balance the cost of the competition, the time cost of spending a day (or more) at a competition, the risk of injury that may take them away from their work, and the anxiety that they will inevitably deal with that comes with performing/ competing in front of others.
I never regret stepping on the mat (or in the ring), in fact it was the driving force throughout my training and I loved it! Even if I walked off it thinking wow that did not go to plan!
Try everything, while you can 🙂