Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Competition and Budo

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Budo Bum. The full post may be read here.

There is a continual discussion in budo about the importance of competition. The argument for competition has two prongs. The first is that you have to learn to perform techniques under stress, and competition is the best way to pressure-test technique.  The second is that you have to learn  to deal with the unexpected and the only way to do that is in a competitive situation. I agree  that you have to be able to perform under stress and that you have to be able to deal with the unexpected.  If you’re not learning to do things when you are stressed, and you’re not learning to deal with the unexpected, you’re not learning budo.

I’ve heard a lot of people expound on the stress benefits of competition. The desire to win ramps up the stress, and in judo or full contact karate, the fact that effective technique can hurt, and may even leave you unconscious, ramps it up further. Add the frustration that builds when your adversary prevents your technique from being effective and the stress level can get pretty high. You can certainly learn something about stress in competition.

I know that for most of the time I was competing I found competition stressful. I would get anxious and it would become harder and harder to stay still and not fidget as the match approached.  I had to learn to apply breathing and relaxation techniques in order to control the stress so I didn’t become tense and lose my ability to move flexibly and quickly. 

Once the match starts the tension can get worse. The more skilful the adversary, the more frustration and stress. It’s a quick check on students getting cocky about the strength of their technique. It is one thing to practice a technique on a partner who isn’t resisting, and another thing to try to throw someone who is trying to throw you. The experience of learning to flow from technique to technique is great. The dynamism and volatility of competition are excellent experiences for many people.

As Rory Miller so eloquently points out in Meditations On Violence, every training methodology includes a fail. That is, there is always a way in which what you are doing fails, and specifically doesn’t mimic the real world. In competition, it’s that fact that there are rules limiting what you can do, and what your partner can do to you. The possibilities are artificially limited so people can compete with a reasonable expectation that they will be safe and healthy at the end of the competition. Just think of all the techniques that are excluded. Or the protective gear that is worn. Then there is the referee who is there to award points, but also to make sure no one does anything harmful.

This is a safe environment to train in. And the stress level never gets too high because we know it is safe going in. As much as it is a pressure-testing experience, the fact that we don’t have to worry about someone taking a shot at our throat or eyes, or attempting to destroy our knees or elbows means that we’re not experiencing anywhere near the pressure of dealing with someone who genuinely wants to harm us.

There are different kinds and levels of stress. I’ve never seen evidence that competition can rise to anywhere near the level of stress and fear and adrenaline dump that a confrontation outside the tournament area and outside the tournament rules produces. When someone swings a knife at you, the feeling in your gut is quite different from the one when someone is trying to pound you with the ground or choke you unconscious in a tournament. The fear and the adrenaline hit you  much harder. That doesn’t make competition useless; we just shouldn’t think it can do something it’s not specifically designed for.

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