For the longest time, I held the belief that competition in martial arts was unsafe, and ultimately counter to the guiding principles we engender. I believed that deliberately putting yourself in harms way, and looking for a fight was reckless and only served to fuel the ego. The idea that “I’m better than you” or “I’m going to smash that dude’s face in!” never appealed to me. Quite the contrary. But recently, I’ve been forced to think about it a little differently as a result of making some great new friends in the pursuit of being a truly great martial artist.
Competition is inherent in both the practices of HEMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This simple fact had a lot to do with my reluctance to try either, but I decided to put my prejudice aside and my feet in their shoes. What I discovered was surprising. To both of these groups of people, competition wasn’t about proving anything at all. It was simply a tool by which to measure your progress, and find the areas of training that you need to focus on. In short, a very fast, very pragmatic test.
Ken Dietiker from Seven Swords Academy refers to competition as one leg of the training tripod, along with solo practice and paired drilling. It strips away the politeness of training, and the illusions created by the safety demands of daily training. If you were to train like you compete every day, you would constantly be injured, but if you punctuate your training regimen with competition against an opponent equally driven to win, you very quickly get a clear picture of where you need work.
My other apprehension about competition was put to rest by the athletes at 253BJJ in Tacoma. From the minute I walked in, and every second I spend on the mat I see humility, dedication and a spirit of camaraderie. I realized that in addition to the careful instruction of Professor Michael Proctor, competing taught these people perspective, because they’ve all lost at some point. Failure is a tremendously powerful tool in learning to quell the ego and finding the drive to improve.
So, am I ready to dive in and throw my students to the wolves of an MMA competition? No. Do I think that given the right setting, the right opportunity and a healthy consideration for safety, that we could all benefit from testing ourselves against another person? Absolutely.