I have been studying martial arts since before I could read, and now it comes as naturally to me as breathing. I’ve learned multiple styles from many teachers, and have trained with dozens of students. I am very proud of everything I have learned and accomplished over two decades. To the best of my ability, I have tried not to take any of my lessons for granted. To keep myself honest and driven to push myself further and further to become the best possible martial artist I can, I try to compete in tournaments whenever I can. If you are a martial artist and reading this, I highly recommend you do the same. Let me explain further.
Firstly, tournaments are a great way to get out of your comfort zone. I didn’t begin competing until I was about twelve years old (just under a decade into my training), so I had spent most of my childhood surrounded solely by the martial artists (teachers and students alike) I grew up with. Competitions give you the opportunity to surround yourself with folks of different styles and philosophies outside of your school or dojo. If you are to continue growing as a martial artist, you need to grow comfortable with the uncomfortable. Expose yourself to martial artists who are different from yourself. Many martial artists pride themselves on being humble. Putting yourself out there in new situations keeps you honest, and I can’t stress enough how important it is not let your ego prevent you from adapting to the larger world around you.
Secondly, it puts your skills to the test. Since martial artists don’t pick fights with random strangers on the street (the well-trained ones at least), tournaments are the best opportunity to take what you’ve learned and use it practically in an environment of people with the same passions as you. Whether you compete in open hand forms, perform with a weapon, or spar for points or glory, tournaments grant you the chance to strut your stuff! Provided it comes from a desire to have fun rather than a display of arrogance, there isn’t anything wrong with healthily showing off. At the core of it all, martial arts is exciting, extravagant, and playful. Give yourself the opportunity to play and push yourself while keeping your metaphorical (or actual) sword sharp.
Lastly, and certainly not least importantly, having a little competitive edge is a lot of fun. Competition isn’t about walking into a ring and being better than the guy next to you. It is about being the best possible version of yourself every time you step in there. Sometimes you’ll score high, other times you won’t win that fight. And that is okay. There are thousands of talented martial artists all over the world. Part of the training experience is being confronted by folks with more natural skill or talent than you. When I was a boy, losing was never fun, but now it EXHILARATES me. Well, to be honest, losing still isn’t that fun. However, I use it as an opportunity to learn something and push myself even further. That way, from tournament to tournament I remain steadfast in the belief that I will only get better with time. It keeps me from being too aggressive towards my opponents (you have a lot to learn from them, too!), and prevents me from seeing the bigger picture from the wrong side of the telescope.
All in all, tournaments aren’t just a recommendation from this martial artist, I’d call it a necessity. There is an endless amount of martial artists out there, even less that have come along far enough in their training to consider themselves experts. Who doesn’t love the opportunity to go toe to toe with folks with the same interests and skills? Keep growing, keep pushing yourself, don’t take yourself too seriously, and remain ambitious. You never know what you’ll learn or who you will encounter. To me, there isn’t anything more exciting.
Regards, Gray Wolf