Tournaments: Good or bad?
Tournament competition is purely a voluntary thing. You don't *have* to compete in a tournament. But, if you don't try it at least once in your martial arts course of study, you'll be missing out on some wonderful lessons. If your school allows its students to participate in tournaments, I suggest you consider at least watching one.
Some schools believe that tournaments only teach the aspects of "winning and losing", and that tournaments "cheapen" the true teachings of the arts. On the other hand, some schools believe that tournaments can have many benefits. Let's discuss the pro's and con's:
- You learn how to play the "tournament game"
Tournaments have rules, and to be successful, you want to get to know the rules and the strategies based around these rules. In any event, the judges panel determines your scores. Your teachers and coaches will show you how to keep the judge's attention, how to perform so as to highlight your strongest points, and show you how to set an good example that will allow the judges to remember you at future tournaments. Cheating has no place in tournaments, neither does bullying competitors to intimidate them.
- You learn sportsmanship
Its not whether you win or lose, its how you play the game".....a very often quoted phrase by coaches and teachers everywhere, in all sports. If you win, win with humility and appreciation for your competitors, and if you lose, lose with grace, dignity, and sense of learning what you can do to improve for the next time.
In order to gain the benefits of tournaments, you must first determine what the terms "win" and "lose" mean to YOU.
What IS "winning", anyway? Does it merely mean that you get to take home a shiny trophy or a beautiful gold medal? Does it mean having bragging rights at your school? Does it mean that you're better than everybody? Does it mean having people recognize you as a "winner"? Yes, while "winning" does entail attaining a prize, the "Prize" must be thought of as much more than a medal or a bunch of plastic and wood assembled together to look like a trophy. You must think of the "prizes" such as learning to see what you can improve upon, even if you've bested the rest of your competition, and realizing that the confidence of a "win" will motivate you to work harder. Besides....a trophy only means you were the best on THAT day.....you'll need to keep working hard because everyone that didn't get that gold medal will be working hard to get it next time!
What is "losing"? Does it mean not getting first place? Does it mean not getting a trophy or a ribbon? Does it mean that your teacher will be disappointed in you? Does it mean your skill is bad? For some, the term "lose" means "to fail". However, it can also mean that you've parted with something you currently have, unwillingly, or by accident or misfortune. Now think about it....if you've never had that particular tournament's gold medal or trophy, or if you've never had a "win" at a tournament, how can you "lose" it?
Here, sportsmanship is key. Both "winners" and "losers" should realize that learning is the key element to such competitions. Win with humility, lose with grace.
- You learn how to train beyond your normal routine
I tell students "Oh sure, you won a gold medal, and that's wonderful. But, all those other people in your division with be working hard to see to it that they get the gold medal next time....so train harder and don't get a big head!"
If you're used to doing your forms in such a way that your winded after a single routine, train to do the form in such a powerful dynamic way so you're exhausted after a single routine. Work on the weak spots on your form. If you're sparring, try sparring one-handed to work on your evasion skills. Spar with friends in other martial arts so you can spar with people that fight differently than your classmates. Ask your teachers or coaches for private sessions so you can get some one on one coaching on forms or sparring. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, because when the tournament day comes, you'd be surprised at how your skill might dwindle when the nervous energy kicks in.
- You learn about other people and martial arts
If you compete in "Open" tournaments (where all arts are welcome to compete, not just one type of art), you'll see a lot of martial artists from different martial arts.....Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, etc. Feel free to meet these people, strike up a conversation with them, watch the other artists in action. You'll learn to appreciate other martial systems this way!
- You learn from seasoned competitors
Watch and learn from tournament veterans from not only your own school, but from other schools as well. Learn how they approach the forms ring or the sparring ring. Watch their concentration or execution of movement. "Learning from those who are farther down the path, with show you what to expect as you keep walking the path."
Now, let's look at the possible con's. However, these disadvantages only happen if all you are concerned about is "winning".........
Cons (if all you're concerned about is winning, then you just might......)
- ....Lose sight of the true nature of your art
Martial Arts, first and foremost, teach us much more than winning trophies. They teach us self defense, courage, tenacity, the culture, lineage and history of your art, respect for those who have mastered the art, the importance of hard work, philosophies of the past, and a ton of other things. If all that concerns you is a trophy, then you'll only have a roomful of trophies that will eventually gather dust or break, rather than a treasure trove of life lessons.
- .....Get a big head
Being proud of your wins accomplishments is one thing, thinking you're the the universe's gift to martial arts is another! If the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you meet someone at a party is: "My name is ______, and I'm a regional forms champion in Karate", then be prepared to not talk to anyone at that party. (unless of course, you meet up with another "big head", but at that point, you'd be playing the "one-upmanship" game). Be proud and feel good about your accomplishments, yet allow that pride to motivate you to work hard and assist those less experienced. Bragging doesn't win you any groupies.
- .....or, you lose confidence and give up entirely....
I've met people who competed in two, maybe three tournaments, did not attain medals or trophies , and gave up entirely. They said "Why bother? Everyone else is so much better, faster....I'll never win....blah blah blah"
When I began competing in tournaments as a brown belt in Karate (yes a brown belt...it took me that long to work up the courage to try and compete), I did not attain any awards that first time at a closed Karate tournament (only members of my style competed). Nor the 2nd time. Nor the 3rd. In fact, in took me until I was almost a 2nd degree black belt to win a 3rd place trophy. I didn"t give up, I kept training, I kept pushing forward. Soon....I began to attain 2nd place awards, then 1st place awards. Then I set my sights on open tournaments and regional award rankings. I went up the regional rankings and became 1st in the Pac-West NBL (National Black Belt League) rankings. Then guess what? After some years in regionals tournaments, I decided to go National....several years of hard work in attaining awards at National level, I made the plunge to compete at the World level. The hard work, the strenuous pain of training, the sweat, the tears, the toil....all were rewarded with a World Championship under my belt. If I can do it, being that I started out being the most UNconfident person, I know you can do it too.
So, are tournaments good or bad? Well, it depends on how you approach your training for tournaments, and whether or not you see "success" as a black or white. Given the correct mindset, tournaments are wonderful venues to learn a lot about yourself, and to learn important life lessons.
In part 2, we'll discuss tips for the tournament first-timer, travel tips, etc.