When I was a kid I pursued winning for the sake of getting tangible proof that I’m good at something. I was too immature to see beyond the big, shiny loving cup. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nice prize or wanting one. But I’ve since learned that there’s loads of other reasons to enter any sort of competition.
Whether or not I win anything, preparation for a competition teaches me a lot about motivating and pushing myself. Sometimes there are setbacks along the way and I fret. The day before the tournament on Saturday I was a bit sick and had to tell myself it was OK to withdraw – I’d have that much more time to prepare for the next tournament. I reminded myself that between illness and extra hours at work, I hadn’t practiced much. I ended up feeling better (little did I know it was a 24 hour window peculiar to this particular bug). I won both kata and kumite in my division but I’m not at all satisfied with my performance. More practice would’ve helped, and it’s a lesson I won’t forget.
So is competition all about performance? If it was, I would have simply stayed home. The primary reason I went to this particular tournament was to have fun. Yes, bashing total strangers around a ring is fun. Yes, playing a game of make believe trying to convince people that I’m “ringing” some big biker dude’s “bells,” breaking his grip on my wrist, then finishing him off as he’s doubled over in pain is fun. Seeing black belts and tiny little kids do their stuff is fun. Cheering for people I know and even for people I don’t know is fun. Hanging out with my daughter, watching her, and hearing her cheer me on is fun. When I get frustrated in practice I have to remind myself that tournaments are fun.
Competition is not just a test of how well you do compared to others. It is a challenge for yourself, a test of your own abilities. This can lead to growth. This time around I deliberately chose the kata I’ve most recently learned, not the kata I performed the last two tournaments. I wanted to see where my kata breaks down when I’m under the pressure of expert eyeballs staring at me. The tournament was as close to promotion conditions as I could come. I now know what I need to watch out for and fix before my next promotion, whenever that may be. I received feedback on my fighting, so now I know what to work on next. So you see, tournaments can lead to improvement and growth.
Tournaments are a place to test personal growth as well. We should encourage and express appreciation and respect for one another no matter who wins. I love it when I can hug someone after we’ve bashed each other around a ring. Good manners are imperative – we are, after all, fully capable of hurting each other, so it’s wise to behave like ladies and gentlemen. If we can do this under the pressure of tournament conditions, we are doing well indeed! Tournaments are a chance to be a good example, especially to any children who are watching.
Other organizations’ students come to our tournaments, so it behooves me to join the effort in supporting their tournaments in turn when I can. Volunteers are usually welcome no matter where they come from. Of course the extra entry fees are very welcome – I strongly suspect all the money goes towards renting the venues. It’s good for everyone to see and fight against different styles. So really, tournaments are about more than just each individual competitor.
All that said, I admit I do love winning and I do love the sound of medals clanking on my chest. Who doesn’t love that sound? The particular medals I won this past weekend are beautifully designed – hats off to the unnamed artist! There is room for appreciating the tokens of success. But I think I’m gaining far more than pretty chunks of metal that I’ll never wear again.