|Final of All-Japan Judo Championships in 2007 Photo Copyright Gotcha2. Used under GNU Free Documentation License.|
is a continual discussion in budo about the importance of
competition. The argument for competition has two prongs. The first
is that you have to learn to perform techniques under stress, and
competition is the best way to pressure-test technique. The
second is that you have to learn to deal with the unexpected
and the only way to do that is in a competitive situation. I agree
that you have to be able to perform under stress and that you have to
be able to deal with the unexpected. If you’re not learning
to do things when you are stressed, and you’re not learning to deal
with the unexpected, you’re not learning budo.
heard a lot of people expound on the stress benefits of competition.
The desire to win ramps up the stress, and in judo or full contact
karate, the fact that effective technique can hurt, and may even
leave you unconscious, ramps it up further. Add the frustration that
builds when your adversary prevents your technique from being
effective and the stress level can get pretty high. You can certainly
learn something about stress in competition.
know that for most of the time I was competing I found competition
stressful. I would get anxious and it would become harder and harder
to stay still and not fidget as the match approached. I had to
learn to apply breathing and relaxation techniques in order to
control the stress so I didn’t become tense and lose my ability to
move flexibly and quickly.
the match starts the tension can get worse. The more skilful the
adversary, the more frustration and stress. It’s a quick check on
students getting cocky about the strength of their technique. It is
one thing to practice a technique on a partner who isn’t resisting,
and another thing to try to throw someone who is trying to throw you.
The experience of learning to flow from technique to technique is
great. The dynamism and volatility of competition are excellent
experiences for many people.
Rory Miller so eloquently points out in Meditations
every training methodology includes a fail. That is, there is always
a way in which what you are doing fails, and specifically doesn’t
mimic the real world. In competition, it’s that fact that there are
rules limiting what you can do, and what your partner can do to you.
The possibilities are artificially limited so people can compete with
a reasonable expectation that they will be safe and healthy at the
end of the competition. Just think of all the techniques that are
excluded. Or the protective gear that is worn. Then there is the
referee who is there to award points, but also to make sure no one
does anything harmful.
is a safe environment to train in. And the stress level never gets
too high because we know it is safe going in. As much as it is a
pressure-testing experience, the fact that we don’t have to worry
about someone taking a shot at our throat or eyes, or attempting to
destroy our knees or elbows means that we’re not experiencing
anywhere near the pressure of dealing with someone who genuinely
wants to harm us.
are different kinds and levels of stress. I’ve never seen evidence
that competition can rise to anywhere near the level of stress and
fear and adrenaline dump that a confrontation outside the tournament
area and outside the tournament rules produces. When someone swings a
knife at you, the feeling in your gut is quite different from the one
when someone is trying to pound you with the ground or choke you
unconscious in a tournament. The fear and the adrenaline hit you
much harder. That doesn’t make competition useless; we just
shouldn’t think it can do something it’s not specifically
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of the best things about competition is that it is fun. We enjoy it,
whether it’s a friendly match in the dojo where no one is keeping
score, or it is a national level tournament, we enjoy competition.
Competition is so much fun that people will come back to train again
and again just so they can have the fun of competing, both in
tournaments with medals and trophies, and in friendly bouts in the
dojo. Competition is a great motivator for many people, but it’s
not combat preparation and we shouldn’t pretend it is.
are lots of ways stress can be induced in training. I know the most
stressed I’ve ever been in the dojo wasn’t some sort of
competition. Some of the most intense stress I’ve experienced was
the day my teacher swapped out his wooden sword for a metal one
during jodo practice. I’ve made plenty of mistakes during practice
that resulted in me getting whacked with a wooden weapon. Some of the
bruises have been spectacular. When Sensei swapped out the bokuto for
a metal blade though, I broke out in a sweat. If I screwed up, the
consequences could have been a lot more severe than a nasty bruise.
ways stress can be induced: Train into exhaustion. Ramp up the speed.
Increase the intensity. Yes, even compete. Don’t imagine that any
of these comes close to combative stress. The closest I’ve come to
feeling stress equal to what I’ve felt in real confrontations was
in kata practice. Paired kata training as is done in koryu bugei has
consistently generated the most stress-filled training I’ve done.
It can range from very gentle walk-throughs to adrenalin rush
inducing intensity. It all depends on what your partner is giving
koryu teachers have never given me more than I can handle, but they
have been more than happy to give me more than I thought
could handle. They ask me to put as much as I can into practice, and
sometimes that includes dragging me past the edge of what I perceive
as my ability into frightening new territory. That’s part of their
role. In koryu the senior is responsible for taking the losing role.
It is the senior’s job to control the speed and intensity of training
so the junior gets as much from the training as is possible.
of the complaints that people make about kata training is that you
know exactly what is going to happen. In good training that is, and
isn’t, true.I was strongly reminded of that recently. I was working
with a senior teacher who would attack into any opening I left while
doing the kata. I got whacked on the head with his fukuro shinai in
places where it’s not called for in the kata. It was good kata
training. He showed me openings I was leaving as I did the kata. In
most instances I was too focused on one aspect of the kata and he
attacked where my awareness wasn’t.
about inducing stress! My stress level went well above what I have
felt in competition. It was a lot like randori because I never knew
when he would spot an opening and fill it with his sword. Thank
goodness it was a fukuro shinai; a bokuto would have left colorful
bruises in a number of places.
way of practicing kata is a great one, and it provides the same sense
of uncertainty that competition does. In koryu kata practice, your
partner is supposed to be trying to kill you. It makes sense that
they would attack any opening you leave, not just move with the
choreography of the kata. Uchi’s intention to attack you anywhere
they can is important for making the kata practice as effective as
possible. In koryu kata the role the junior person takes is the
winning side, and the choreography of the kata on their side is the
optimal set of techniques for the situation. That doesn’t mean the
senior, in the role of uchi, should just go along and forget
about any attacks that are specified. In good kata practice, uchi is
always looking for additional opportunities to attack. If the junior
does a good job, there won’t be any. Since the junior is in the
process of learning, they will make mistakes, leave openings, and get
attacked. If you practice kata correctly, the planned actions are the
logical ones. If you don’t, other options present themselves.
element of unpredictability and spontaneous action is what gives
competition its real value, but the stress level of competition
isn’t any greater than many other exercises. Competition involves
learning to see openings and to close them. Learning to deal with
unexpected attacks and how to prevent them. Learning to flow from one
action to the next without pausing and without leaving openings.
That’s where the real value of competition is. I just don’t think
that it’s the only way, or even the best way, to learn these
rules that make safe competition possible also limit its value for
learning to deal with spontaneous action. Too many options are
artificially eliminated. Judoka get used to nothing coming at their
faces and not having to worry about strikes. Karateka don’t have to
worry about opponents closing with them. No one learns to deal with
weapons attacks. No one learns to deal with asymmetrical situations
where people are armed differently.
competition everything has to be fair. No one would show up for
a competition where you don’t know if you or your opponent will be
armed or unarmed, or even armed similarly. That wouldn’t be fun,
and it wouldn’t be a fair comparison of skills. It would be much
more realistic though. And more dangerous!
think that too much concentration on competition will render one
blind to everything that is not allowed in competition. A little
competition for the purpose of learning to be spontaneous and flow
isn’t bad. Too much focus on competition and you risk training the
things that aren’t allowed in competition right out of your system.
If you ignore all the stuff that isn’t allowed in competition, very
soon you aren’t doing budo. You’re only doing sport. Kata
training can fill in some of the gaps. Budo training doesn’t need
competition to be effective.
Special thanks to Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D., for editorial support.
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