Thursday, September 12, 2013

Martial Arts and Competition or... 'Please stop... just... stop.'

Traditional Kung-Fu has a peculiary relationship with competition, marked mostly by disdain if not outright hostility in many cases. Many traditionalists have interpreted competition as self-delusion or self-aggrandizement. Its worth noting that the 'super practical' drills of the most fundamental of traditionalists could be viewed in a similar manner by contemporary practitioners, but I digress.

This attitude has developed to its current state because of the going and counterproductive struggle between traditional and contemporary iterations of many martial systems.

Many traditionalists choose to look down upon competition, viewing it with contempt. Whether we choose to admin it or not, we know that stereotype. Sneering and often unphysical fighters who say that tournaments do not reflect real world conditions. This is not to say that all traditionalists are of this ilk, that there is not value to the idea BEHIND this reasoning, or that all those who believe such are, themselves, unathletic. Nevertheless, the stereotype often holds true. You say tournaments don't reflect real world conditions?

You know what? Neither do forms, drills, conditioning, weight-lifting, sparring, weapons practice, road work, or bag work. That isn't the point. Physicality is universal, it supports itself and contributes to development in all mediums. Many of the greatest fighters I know are dancers, acrobats, and gymnasts. Individuals who have learned their own bodies and the nature of physicality intimately before ever thinking of turning that knowledge to a martial medium.

Why? They know their bodies and they are involved in constant intrinsic and extrinsic evaluation.

Watching tape, judges evaluating competition, trainers evaluating the form of their students, coaches evaluating technique. These physical practices contain many levels of examination from multiple sources, many of whom are uninvested (and therefore, more objective) in an individual student.

The point of competition should be internal and external evaluation. It is a starting point, rather than a conclusion, and should be viewed as such. When it is viewed as such it becomes a valuable tool both in improving one's physicality and in helping maintain the mental and emotional well-being of a fighter.

It cannot be viewed as the most accurate representation of skill, but neither can competition be written off as completely irrelevant.

Like many of the more esoteric parts of martial practice (rigorous meditation, weapons practice, specific conditioning), the purpose of competition must be sought out and meditated upon by the individual. It is not handed to you, like all the other valuable realizations that come in a martial artist's evolution, it must be earned.

Are we truly so lazy and selfish that we cannot search for the benefit in something. If it is not immediately apparent, our instinct is to write off the entire process?

This is part of a disturbing trend, where we search for rapid benefit with minimal time investment. It speaks deeply to the lack of emotional and mental investment in martial training. Physical investment, by comparison, is much simpler.

We, as martial artists, must delay gratification and train ourselves to search for deeper meaning in all of our practices.

It is in the search of deeper meaning that fighters find their virtue and become warriors.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Martial Arts and Failure

The concept of failure has a unique place in society and in our minds. Even the word, 'failure', carries with it implications that are important to understand, as the term has become incredibly stigmatized. There is a sense of permanence to failure, that it is a state, rather than a single event, and that recovery from that state is impossible.

The martial arts encourage an entirely different attitude towards failure. In martial arts, failure is not just an inevitability but an integral part of the process. Failure is necessary for success. Failure builds a student up so that they can break technique apart and understand it in detail, teach it, interpret it and lend it their own unique perspective and life. Failure is the basis from which all martial arts improve, grow, and develop. Failure was celebrated. Sifu brought up, reveled in, and delighted in pointing out my miserable failure. His attitude towards my failure turned it into delight, as we looked upon our efforts as both a challenge and a source of humor. The truth is that the martial arts are hard. We ask ourselves to do remarkable things through hours of grueling practice and emotional investment. Why expect perfection to show itself immediately? Why beat one's self down because you do not achieve this perfection instantly? That's dumb and you should feel dumb for thinking it.

This altered conceptualization of failure is one of the reasons that I blanch when I see notes about martial arts increasing the confidence of its students. I, personally, have never felt more confident because of the martial arts. I have felt objective about my abilities, more aware of both the good and the bad but without stigma or prejudice. This is the real value of martial arts, the belief that the state of a person simply is without there being a judgment value based on their abilities.

Inability was neither viewed with dysphemistic or euphemistic attitudes. As I grew and learned, I never felt that supposed increase in self-esteem but instead lost the stigmatization around failure.

And we all must. Failure simply IS, neither good nor bad. Deal with it.