On Competition in Martial Arts

By Master Eric Sbarge

The martial arts didn’t originate in antiquity as competitive sports but rather as practical means of defense, both for individuals and communities.  Over the last two to three thousand years they’ve evolved to include spiritual practices for self-cultivation, and competitive sport for personal development and community pride.

Today there is ample room for all three categories to flourish:  Self-defense, spiritual cultivation, and competition.  While I personally find the greatest value in the spiritual aspects of my martial arts training, I also appreciate the security and confidence of self-defense training, and I’ve gained several benefits from having competed in various venues for almost twenty years.

Here I want to offer some thoughts specifically on the competition aspect of martial arts training.

I’m sure you’ve frequently heard the expression in martial arts, “Your toughest opponent is yourself.”  However true that may be, it too often stands alone as a yang without a yin.  Missing is the counterpart, “Your greatest ally is yourself.”

You are both your own opponent and your own ally, and competition offers a great opportunity to help defeat your negative thoughts and habits while allying with and building on the positive.

A few of the qualities we most often need to battle within ourselves include fear, arrogance, timidity, doubt, laziness and boastfulness.  Competing, whether in the fighting ring or on the performance floor, forces us to confront and check these negative emotions and impulses.

The qualities we want to build and strengthen in ourselves often include confidence, fitness, respect, bravery, humility and good sportsmanship, and competition gives us a great chance to cultivate these traits.

At good martial arts competitions, when a competitor fails to display positive qualities and reveals negative ones – arrogantly criticizing judges, lazily failing to come prepared for an event, boasting over one’s victories – that competitor sticks out like a sore thumb.  But with continued training and feedback from instructors and officials, to switch metaphors to an apt Japanese expression, eventually that nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

Now granted, at poor martial arts competitions – and there are many of them now days especially at the professional level – the very qualities that we are trying to temper are often fed:  Big egos and arrogance, disrespectfulness, poor sportsmanship.  But I am confident you can distinguish between the good and bad.

Among the many good competitive venues that are out there are the Kuoshu-affiliated CACMA tournament that we hold here in Charlotte, and the other Kuoshu tournaments around the country and the world.  I believe they exemplify the positive aspects of competition and will benefit any serious martial arts student, which is why The Peaceful Dragon supports them and takes part in them.

I want to congratulate all of our Peaceful Dragon students who have competed and collectively had a great showing at past CACMA tournaments.  Next up is the International Kuoshu Tournament in Baltimore later this month.  All are welcome to compete, or come and support our competitors and learn by observing.

While sometimes the nail that sticks up needs to be hammered down, on the flip side if you stick your head up and compete you will see much broader horizons and no hammer will await you (though a friendly fist or two might).

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