The Joy of Competition

springats2015extreme

At this time I can safely (albeit unofficially) say that I have finished the ATA tournament year as the 2015 Arizona State Champion in Combat Weapons Sparring, Extreme Forms and Creative Forms. I finished in the Top Ten for state in 7 of 8 categories and finished in the Top Ten of the World in 5 of them. I am ranked number one in the World right now in Combat Weapons Sparring. I still have to compete for Southwest District Champion and then finally for World Champion. I have opportunities in 5 divisions to become World Champion. Whether I become District or World Champion does not lessen for me what I consider to be a successful tournament year. It has been a wild ride for sure.

This is not written as a boast, although I’m pretty pleased with myself. We all know my ego doesn’t really need an extra boost. My purpose here is to talk about the joy of competition. Competition has received a fair amount of flak over the last decade or so and particularly when it comes to our young folk. We can’t be seen to be picking winners or losers can we? Heavens forbid we may damage our little one’s fragile psyches.

And yet life its ownself will pick winners or losers whether we like it or not. We will succeed and we will fail. It is life’s undeniable trait. From politics, to business, to work, to love, life is a steady stream of wins and losses and that annoying scorekeeper keeps his tally whether we want to see it or not. It often shines in big freaking bright red neon for all the world to see. I’ve heard people say they are “not very competitive” and only compete “against themselves”. What they’re really saying is they’ve already thrown in the towel. There are many reasons people abstain from active and overt competition. Sometimes not having the means and wherewithal is a factor. But if you can and don’t it’s mostly because of fear. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of injury etc. I’m sure some quit because of frustration and disappointment, but even that’s rooted in fear. It’s mostly psychological fear. Or F.E.A.R (False Expectation Appearing Real). I’m not really judging anyone and we all suffer from it. I simply think everyone should be completely honest with themselves.

It’s not an insignificant thing for me to be able to step into the ring. I’m truly grateful that I still can. A little over five years ago I had the first of two hip replacements. At the time it had been years since I had entered a martial arts tournament. The possibility of not being able to do it again filled me with regret for the years I had missed. Not that there was anything I could have done. As John Lennon wrote “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” But now the door was seemingly being shut on me for good. Or so I thought. Nine months after that first surgery I entered my first tournament since the ATA Fall Nationals of 2002. Ironically my “comeback” tournament was the ATA Fall Nationals in 2009. My performance at that tournament was less than stellar. In fact I didn’t place in a single event. But here’s the thing. I LOVED IT! I loved it because I felt I could, at the very least, be competitive. I’ve been competing ever since. In fact, six months after my second surgery in 2012 I competed for World Champion. That I didn’t win did not lessen the fact that I was competing for World Champion six months after getting my left hip replaced.

So at the beginning of the 2015 season (July 2014) I set a goal to compete in all 8 events in every tournament I entered. I had never done that before. I was going to kick myself out of the comfort zone. Throughout this tournament year I have managed to do just that (with one exception where I had to bow out due to back injury after 4 events) with varying degrees of success. At times it has been brutal. Particularly at tournaments where I’ve also had to perform my Assistant Regional Tournament Team Lead duties, running up and down the venue all day. Finding time to train properly between tournaments has been a challenge as well. I have a full time day job in addition to my own school to run. But I wondered to myself how I would do taking on the full monty. It was another dragon for me to slay. I’ve won some, and lost some. I’ve done exceptionally well and also crashed and burned, but one thing is certain. At least to me. This satisfying feeling of accomplishment was worth every second of it.

In the process I also learned tons about myself, and others. Things I could not have learned otherwise. Some are very personal things I keep to myself; others I don’t mind sharing openly. The most important lesson I have learned is one of the true joy of competition. It is not trite or a cliché that competition changes you and, I believe, always for the better. Regardless of your age, and regardless whether you win or lose spectacularly. Having great people to compete against helps but even competing against poor sports imparts valuable lessons (like how NOT to act like an ass when you win or lose). I’m lucky in that the vast majority of the graybeards in my ring are great guys. Fierce competitors but great guys. Indeed I count some of them as some of my very best friends. Most of them really. They truly make it fun. There’s something to be said for being able to kick and punch and hit your friends with a stick. And afterwards you shake hands, hug and no one gets arrested.

I’m not one for unsolicited advice, so I’ll pretend there was a collective question out there from everyone reading this rant. Here it is. Find an activity in which you have to pit yourself against others. Immerse yourself in it. It doesn’t matter what the venue or event may be, big or small, so long as you have to match yourself against other people. “Competing against yourself” is not enough. There has to be a foe other than yourself. The lessons you will learn will be worth any pain or embarrassment you may have to endure. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a physical competition. It could be Chess or Tiddly-Winks so long as there are people against whom you have to compete and show where your game is weak. It’s the only place you’ll learn that.

The lessons in winning and losing have the same value today as they have always had but there are too many people who want to protect themselves, or their little ones from what they perceive to be a negative experience in losing. That is a mistake. As I said, life its ownself is going to be a journey of successes and failures. When you lose, find out what you contributed to get the loss. Too many people attribute their losses to external factors without accepting responsibility for their own contribution. The one thing they can control and they abdicate it to others. Competition can teach you this message of personal accountability if you’re brutally honest with yourself. Even if you’re not honest with others about it you will know yourself. Knowing that will perhaps put you on the road to self-improvement which may bleed into other areas of your life. And that, in of itself would make it all worth it.

When you win, simply wrap yourself in its toasty blanket and keep that W in your mind for when you need a motivator. Winning is its own reward but the greatest lessons are derived from your losses. I like a quote from Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon. “We are all ready to win, just as we are born knowing only life. It is defeat that you must learn to prepare for.” At the very least, fear of losing should be the last reason you use to abstain from competing. It in fact should be the engine that propels you to conquer it. After all, that dragon isn’t going to slay itself. In the end, make friends, have fun, do your best, learn something, these are all good things you can get from competing. But you have to step into the ring. No other way around it. In other words, to quote an overused commercial slogan “Just do it!”. You won’t be sorry you did. I guarantee it!

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