Vancouver Traditional Martial Arts Academy
Vancouver Traditional Martial Arts Academy
Within the vast array of Martial Arts Clubs, Gyms and Dojo’s that exist today one of the most controversial subjects is the place that competitions have in training . There are many claims made by many schools both for and against tournaments and competitions. It is a subject that can be difficult to make sense of and has some serious implications for the martial arts practitioner in many ways. In the end the path that the individual martial artist walks will be greatly influenced by the way they see competition and it’s place in the Dojo.
Like all controversies there are two main camps in this ongoing debate There are those who see competition as entirely self serving and ego bolstering and then there are those who think that without competition one cannot achieve their highest abilities. Of course most martial artists have mixed feelings about the issue and so for the sake of the article I will be calling the two camps the Traditionalists and the Sport Fighters. However to be sure the arguments for and against competitions is not black and white subject but rather one of many shades of grey.
Competition is a complex subject and one that seems deeply ingrained into nature itself. Fights over mating rights, territory, and social hierarchy are all pivotal aspects of most animals lives. So it is only natural that homo sapiens would follow suite, albeit somewhat more complex and flamboyant, we humans play out these primal roles as well as any animal. So this makes the question of the proper place for competition a good one to think about within our economic lives, social lives, corporate structure, and of course, martial arts training.
First the general arguments for and against competitions within the martial arts community.
Traditional Martial Arts Are systems designed and built to address the harshest realities of life and death combat. In such situations nothing is off the table and survival is the only goal. Interwoven into this is the philosophies of these arts which are fundamentally driven towards a transcendence of the ego and an overcoming of emotional and intellectual immaturity. Because of this they see the desire for a trophy as an ego based fetish and something that misses the point of the training entirely.
Combat Sport Martial Arts Are systems practiced and developed with the goal of victory in the octagon or on the mat kept in the forefront of the practitioners mind. They believe that only by facing another fighter in a competitive setting can a person truly know how to function in the high stress environment of a self defense situation. They also claim that the results of winning and losing encourages an individuals progress and personal development in a multitude of positive ways.
My take on this argument is that neither is better than the other. It’s like trying to say that driving a Nascar as hard as you can to get across the checkered flag is the same thing as driving an ambulance through a crowed city to get to a hospital with a person bleeding out in the back. There may be a lot of generalized similarities but the fundamental situation is completely different.
If it can be well understood that training to survive someone attempting to kill you is not at all the same thing as training to win a competitive sport fight then a much clearer perspective can be gained on where competition can sit in the world and in the Dojo.
It reminds me of a story my Sensei once told me.
“There was a man who lived in a little house in the forest. He was very old, he had lived so long that all the people he knew had died and he was left alone. One evening as the Autumn winds were rising he was walking back home with a bundle of firewood upon his back. The weight of it suddenly was to much for his old bones and he let the bundle fall to the ground. Exasperated he cried out for death to take him. “I am old”, he cried, “I’ve lived a long life, and now I am alone, let me die”. At those words a shadow took form in front of him. It rose higher and higher until it took a shape, it was the shape of death, a figure in a hooded cloak carrying a scythe. The phantom in the black cloak spoke with a voice that was like some great wind howling through a endless cave. The sound of it was unsettling to the bone. It said, “you have summoned me”and the old man knew a fear like he had never known before. He replied “I’m deeply sorry to have bothered you but I seemed to have dropped my firewood, can you help me put it on my back once more?”
This story with its vivid imagery is suppose to remind us that despite all else that might occur in life the desire to stay alive is a drive that outweighs all other feelings and impulses. Deep down we all know that we cannot take our worldly possessions into the great unknown when we pass. In fact most mystical traditions are very insistent on saying that physical reality is ephemeral. Claiming that life cannot be firmly grasped any more than a handful of water can be tightly squeezed.
I once had a student ask me for some advise on a situation he had gotten himself into where his arm had been broken by another man in a bar fight. I listened to the story and right away knew it was all totally unnecessary, the argument that started it was all vanity and shallow pride, the fight itself was more chest beating than real fighting, and his arm was only broken as a result of the two of them slipping and hitting the pavement hard together. So I reminded him to consider his death before ever getting into another situation like that. I don’t think he understood my meaning.
It is the true difference between the two camps of the Traditionalists and the Sport Fighters though. One system never forgets that to lose is to be killed. The other focuses on winning the most points or trophies. This difference nullifies the question of who would win in a fight. Traditionalists don’t fight to win and sport based competitions are not life and death struggles. My young student missed the point of my statement as he had not realized that to stand against someone who’s intent is to kill means you must be prepared to die yourself. This is never the case in sport based competitions.
So we can see that the two camps are not developed towards the same goals and so are not directly comparable to each other.
In part two I will discuss the ways each camp trains and how that affects the individuals abilities and mindset as a result of the each type of training.