Must not lose to fear…tournaments & you

Over the last couple of days I have witnessed a huge amount of discussion in a Facebook group about martial arts tournaments. It seems that many schools complain heavily about why they don’t go to events but, in all honesty, that is all they do…complain.

The image for this post sends a very clear message and it is from the original Karate Kid movie. Everyone pretty much knows the story of Daniel San and Miyagi San, the All Valley Tournament and what happened but let me explain some underlying life lessons that are often overlooked from this story…

Daniel begins the tournament by running away from an opponent. He is not sure how to compete just like every single student who enters a tournament for the first time. It is a new experience and one where you should be learning and growing. Most people walk into a tournament thinking they will win or they will lose. They miss out on the bigger picture which is, just like your first day in the dojo, to learn how to do this. It’s a new experience and you will do good, you will do badly, you will win or you will lose. This is the same as life. Daniel listens to his Sensei, buckles down, remembers his training and beats this guy.

Daniel fights hard and makes it into the finals. During the elimination bought he gets deliberately kicked in the knee by his opponent. While in the dressing room getting looked at he expresses never finding balance if he doesn’t see this through. Miyagi Sensei then fixes his knee and he goes out to compete again. We all know he won the event.

Flash forward to Karate Kid III where he is defending his title. During the fight he is facing a hard core, meaner than mean competitor. He gets pounded on and it seems like the referees are doing nothing to stop the carnage. Eventually he is on the mat, wanting to quit and Miyagi Sensei yells at him “It’s ok to lose to opponent, must not lose to fear”! This is a very valuable lesson that parents, as well as children in the martial arts, should learn. Fear holds many people back from ever achieving happiness in life…but should never be that way.

In this group many of the reasons stated why certain schools don’t go to tournaments included everything from being ripped off, treated unfairly all the way to dealing with parents who don’t like “uneven playing fields”. I am going to address a few of them here as I see it from my 38 years of experience, 34 years of competing and 25 years of teaching the martial arts…

“I’ve seen too many egoes and attitudes in my time in competition”
Ok…to this I say…”So what”. Every sport has those people, every activity in life has those people. Want to know the best way to deal with that? Beat them. Yes, that’s right…there is nothing more humbling to dethrone a “King” than to beat them. But this takes training hard, goal setting, consistent competing. People that complain about the ego and bad attitudes but do nothing to change it are part of the problem, not the solution.

“Tournament sparring is so extremely watered down for safety that you are setting yourself up for failure (in a real fight)”…or “My art is too deadly for tournaments”. I have been hearing this crap since I began Karate back a long time ago. Most of the people that make these statements just don’t like to lose…it is a pride thing. I can see you losing in a real fight if all you do is “sport Karate” or “point sparring” but, let’s be realistic here, most people who compete in tournaments are not just training sport karate. I have competed for over 3 decades now and been in plenty of real life fights as well as being a bouncer, bodyguard and correctional officer. The only thing that I can promise is this…ANYONE can lose a real fight at ANYTIME. We train not to and personally I believe that those who fight in tournaments have a quicker reaction time, better timing, more focus and the drive to win in a real fight over those that just train in the dojo never testing their art or themselves. Then you have the “deadly” group of proclamations.  I have met many people like this and, quite honestly, they are full of doo doo. They won’t even show up to friendly sparring times in dojo because they want to live in that fantasy world. Here’s a truth for you all…every single martial art is too deadly for competitions. Yes, that is right, every single one…but competitors know the difference and use the platform to test their own skills against other arts and learn.

“Biggest problem we run into is favoritism and inconsistent judging”…yeah, well, welcome to the world of sports! Every single one of us that have been competing for years have been robbed, cheated, thrown under the bus and more. It is part of the experience and what it should do is propel you to train harder, work harder and get better…not quit. That is what quitters do, not successful people. Imagine being in a job where you are dealing with favoritism and you just get fed up and quit. Now you have no income, no way to pay your bills and most likely will be upset in the next job endeavor you take as well. Image your child having a teacher that favors others in the class. Shouldn’t you teach your child that they can overcome this by working hard, listening and getting good grades? I think my point is taken. I have seen a lot of black belts claim this as to why they don’t go to events but yet hold their own “inner dojo tournaments”. While I support inner dojo events you cannot give a participation trophy to everyone and actually expect them to train harder, work harder and improve…it does NOT happen. There are even groups out there who hold inner dojo tournaments and proclaim themselves state, regional and national…even world champions yet they have NEVER faced a real champion outside of their “closed minded” events. Want to be a real champion? Get out and earn it. Quit lying to your students if you aren’t willing to risk it all by having them actually attend events with legitimate world champions and compete against them. Why don’t they do this? Because they like living in their lies, marketing their students as being the best and the general public doesn’t know any better…which is sad.

“Poor black belt behavior” or better yet “unsportsmanlike behavior”…once again this is going to happen in any sport as well as life. Who should be blamed for this? Their SENSEI! Yes, that’s correct. The tournament didn’t cause the competitor to throw a fit…it was their lack of training in the principles of the martial arts. Losing with integrity is a huge thing if you walk around claiming to be a black belt…a real black belt. Many years ago I fought a black belt who was a highly ranked competitor in a major circuit. I beat him 5-2. After every single point I scored he threw a fit, argued with the refs and even tried to take my head off a couple of times. Even with his bantering going on I stood there, silent, focused on him and ignoring it. When he lost his headgear went flying and he cussed out the judges saying it was rigged. The funny thing was I didn’t know anyone at the tournament and no one knew me…he lost to a nobody and that is what caused his issues. I also noticed that his entire school were that way the entire event. They threw fits, parents argued with judges and made scenes. To me that person, and his entire school (including the parents), learned this behavior from him…no one else. Lead by the example you want to see and it will be so…act like a fool and your school will be full of them!

“Most of us run small schools. We tend to get crapped on by large circuits.” You want to know something…the majority of schools competing run small schools! I know I do. You want to be respected? Earn it by competing consistently, helping out at events, judging properly, knowing the rules and being the change you want to see by leading by your example. The first two years my students competed after I opened my school we struggled to win anything. It wasn’t that we were being “crapped” on, it may have been because no one knew us (it was a circuit) but the reality was this…we had to train harder, compete more often and learn to WIN. We did so and next thing you knew we had several champions on the circuit…and still do to this day. You don’t get crapped on by large circuits…you get even and begin to win by training harder to do so. That is the truth of it.

“The rules don’t fit our system”…now this is a big excuse. Rules can be learned and trained. A good black belt will be able to adapt on the fly to anything that life throws at them…so this excuse is invalid and just that…a reason to avoid losing.

I literally could go on for hours in this blog post but these were some of the ones that caught my attention the most. In closing let me state this…no matter what a person’s excuse is to not go, or take their students, to tournaments it is just that an excuse. Perhaps the only valid reason I have ever heard is “I just could really care less as it isn’t part of my goals”…this I can understand and it is a very valid statement. However if they keep their students from events that want to compete then they are failing as an instructor…that is a fact.

Tournaments are not the most important part of training in the martial arts at all and only account for about 10% of the focus in any good martial art that attends them. That being said making excuses to not attend them or proclaiming to be ripped off / biased rules / unfair judging and more are just that…excuses. You want to see change? Then work hard, get active, become supportive and be that change you want to see. Not every circuit is for everyone but luckily we have many to choose from however proclaiming to be a world champion from a small, never heard of organization yet never going out and facing other ones is a falsehood or lie. Living in that lie doesn’t mean you are  great…it just means you are afraid.

Never be afraid to lose, especially in front of your students. When you do make sure it is with grace, integrity and watch what you say. If you complain about being robbed or unfair treatment then guess what? You just opened the door for the sideline soccer parents to throw fits and you will be dealing with it. Set the example, be the example and lead by example…that is what a REAL black belt will do…

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