Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tournaments: Should I Compete?

Yes. Have a nice day. Oh... you'd like an explanation. Sure. Several years ago I read a Tae Kwan Do Times Magazine article which made the case against competition, and the author made some interesting points. Competition is being looked at differently today than in years past because of the possible negative effect it can have on a young person's self esteem. In this post, I'll address whether or not you should compete. Next time, I'll look at making the decision for someone else, most notably a child.

The best reasons for competing in a martial arts tournament have nothing to do with winning or loosing. The value of the tournament is not related to the trophy, the announcement of your name, the score you receive, how many competitors were in the division, or even how tough/close the match was. The value of a tournament begins, proceeds, and ends with you and the improvement you make during your preparation for the event.

I don't give a rat's behind whether you win, place, show, or show up. Literally - I don't want to hear if you took first, third, ninth, or tripped over the mat and fell into the head judge's lap. (although that would be pretty entertaining). What matters to me, and what should matter to you is your growth as a martial artist.

To be sure, your attendance in class, and your tests should be indicative of your progression through the ranks and should relate to an improved ability. But there is nothing like tournament preparation to really get one motivated to push themselves to performance levels they would not otherwise achieve. Our school participates in any number of tournaments from October through June, but our event is always the first weekend in May. Our students begin preparing for this tournament in February (the good ones, anyways).

My recommendation is for each and every student to prepare as if they are going. I don't ask anyone to pay for the tournament, or even to commit to going until the week before; but I do ask that all of them prepare as if they are going. Each student selects a hyung (form, pattern, kata) to practice, to focus on, to strive to perfect. Some students will also work on their sparring drills, or breaking techniques. For two months we work on these tasks, addressing details, improving balance, stance, power, and control.

Some of the students will score well, some will be victims of large divisions where the numbers just work against you; others will be thwarted by part-time armature judges (doing their best) who miss obvious or subtle elements, and still others will end up in strange groupings of ages and ranks that defy logic. Such is tournament season.

It doesn't matter. Let me be blunt; if you win first place and go on to become Grand Champion - it doesn't matter - burn the trophy lest you start to believe you're special. However well you perform at the tournament - you will have become a better practitioner because you prepared. That is what is important. If you take first place. Great. Come in dead last - Great! No, really, I mean it. Every single martial artist is on their own personal journey - a journey that involves physical, mental, and (some would say) spiritual growth. If you take karate to collect trophies, I hate to break it to you, but they cost about $20 US American. You can buy one at the local hobby shop.

What you cannot buy is personal growth. That only comes with personal effort - and tournament season is a great time to focus, commit, and excel. Go to the tournament - no matter what the score. You win!

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