Why is Competition so Important?
One of the most important aspects of martial arts is competition. The martial arts experience is one of personal development and skill building, competition allows the practitioner to gauge their growth in a far less protective setting. Even more valuable, competition exposes the competitor to stresses unavailable in a casual training setting.
As an avid competitor I’ve personally found that competition has helped me develop my abilities as a grappler, here are five ways that it has helped me, and may help you.
- Stress Inoculation. The more I grapple in competition the more comfortable I become with unsimulated violence. The energy opponents bring to competition is jarring, and the first few times anyone competes, especially in a combat sport, that energy is a lot for anyone to handle. Each time you compete you learn to anticipate the energy and are prepared to handle it better. As nerves become exponentially less intense the grappler begins to be able to problem solve on the fly, this probleming solving ability is perhaps the best weapon that grappling gives us. Our opponent is a puzzle and the game is to solve the puzzle but the first puzzle we have to solve is our own personal puzzle.
- Comfort with violence. Similar to stress inoculation but with its own distinct qualities, comfort with violent situations is a deeply valuable aspect of competition that prepares competitors for their rest of their lives. There is an energy brought to the mat by competitors willing to do each other harm that simply doesn’t exist in training or other settings. Most competitors will willingly break their opponent but would not do so to a training partner. This exposure teaches the competitor to remain calm and calculated.
- Quick strategy skills. When an individual steps onto the competition mat, even if they are fully prepared, there is often a factor that wasn’t planned for. Maybe the competitor didn’t sleep well the night before, maybe the opponent arrives with a different strategy than they’ve played before. One way or another more often than not decisions are made on the fly on the competition mat and because of this competitors develop faster thought processes for these sorts of scenarios. This translates to the competitor being able to come up with strategies quicker in other real world scenarios. Competition is very much a mind exercise.
- Fitness through preparation. There are few better motivators to get in shape than “My opponent will kick my butt if I don’t.” Some of us who train don’t necessarily have the best general fitness, some don’t have the best diet or the best discipline. Competition is a fantastic motivator in that if the competitor isn’t in decent shape their performance will be poor. This is a powerful motivator for many as failure is terrifying to many people.
- Winning or learning. There’s an age old saying that in competition you either win or you learn. The truth is you can learn from your wins and you can win even in your losses. For some competitors simply stepping out onto the competition mat and gaining that experience is an inherent victory, for others the mistakes made on the way to victory or quick choices made subconsciously can provide valuable insights that can later be used as training tools or technical cues. If you are a competitor, or if you intend on competing, make a plan for yourself on how to learn from competition regardless of outcome and stick to that plan.
Competition is a valuable vehicle for self development. Competition in combat sports exposes many fears and anxieties to which humans may be prone and gives the competitor a chance to face those fears and anxieties head on in a productive environment.
If you train jiu-jitsu, or wrestling or judo or really any sport at all, you should try to compete to see if it’s for you. If competition is something you want to do the best way to get good at it is to do it frequently and you will very likely start to see the significant benefits of it once you’ve become acclimated to the competition environment.
Competition isn’t for everyone, but if you are looking for a way to grow your grappling acumen and maximize your own potential competition is a great way to do it.