Why Martial Arts Competitions Can Be Self-DefeatingBy Jennifer Shipp
There are some skills that are simply not meant to be put into an arena. That’s not to say that an athletic pursuit that involves punching and kicking isn’t entertaining to watch when two people take their places inside a ring. And I’m not saying that it isn’t easy to keep score when two people are duking it out, but rather than when it comes to martial arts, competition can at times, be self-defeating.
Martial arts were originally developed for self-defense, not sport. There are several myths about the true origins of the martial arts that we know and love today, but none of them have to do with competitions or the sport of punches and kicking. That’s because people didn’t fight for the sport of it back in the days of early farming villages and the teetering beginnings of civilization. They fought for their lives and they fought for their families, their communities, and to protect a way of life. The martial arts were developed before the advent of guns and weapons of mass destruction. The goal of the martial arts was self-defense, not sport, and certain not entertainment.
Putting the martial arts into a competitive framework can be motivating for some students, but a lot of students are honestly petrified of it. That makes sense. A lot of people get hurt doing martial arts competitions because the goal is to win, not to preserve your opponents health and goodwill. Unfortunately, one injury from a martial arts competition can translate into a lifetime of pain and difficulty and in my opinion, that threatens the very core of doing martial arts to begin with. If the point is to study the martial arts for self-defense, than doing competitions can impede, if not make self-defense impossible. So therefore, it’s self-defeating.
At the same time, it’s important to practice sparring. In our in-person classes, we spend a lot of time working on sparring because in my opinion, this is the meat of the program. But we aren’t competitive. The sparring isn’t for points and there is a strong focus on respecting one’s opponent. Mercy is an important attribute and it becomes possible through control of the movements and through practice at anticipating another student’s actions.
So if you feel pressure to compete and you’re really not sure, maybe just watch the competition from the sidelines rather than signing up. It isn’t necessary for you to do a competition to be an amazing martial artist, after all. In fact, if you compete and you’re not ready or not fully engaged in the sport side of the art, you may walk away with injuries that could diminish your skills rather than enhancing them.