The Only Person Worth Competing Against in the Martial Arts

We live in a society that emphasizes competition. We grow up on team sports, we strive to get the best marks in school to win scholarships over other applicants. In the career world, people compete for the best jobs, promotions, professional awards, even the respect of our colleagues. On the home front, people compete by comparing themselves to others, by trying to “keep up with the Jones’s” in terms of their homes and lifestyles, but also in terms of their spouses and children.

It’s easy for this mentality to carry over into our martial arts training, particularly in competition based styles, but it’s not limited to that. Even when tournaments and other forms of overt competition aren’t a factor, there can be a tendency to compete by comparing one’s self to other students, whether it’s their rank (or the length of time one took to achieve it), their technical abilities, physical strength or fitness. This is a waste of one’s mental energy. There is only one person worth competing against in the martial arts… yourself.

No matter how little or how much skill you have or how many accolades you receive, ultimately, you’ll get the  most out of your martial arts training if you focus on kaizen or “continuous improvement.” If you only focus on being better than other people, you’ll limit yourself one way or another. If there are many people around you that you perceive as being “better” than you, and you put your mental focus on this,  you’ll feel demoralized by a perceived lack in progress if that is your only measuring stick. If people stay “ahead” of you, you’ll never feel like you’re making progress, no matter how much better you get in reality.

On the other hand, if you have this same attitude and you get to a point where you’re “better” than everyone else around you, you’ll stop progressing because you’ll lack motivation to train because you’re already “at the top of your game.” Look at GSP for example. He never stops learning and trying to improve his game for the MMA ring, even when it seems like there is a vast chasm between him and anyone else in his weight category. Here is a direct quote from him: “I consider myself a martial artist, and it’s like being a doctor – a doctor keeps studying all his career, and it’s the same thing for me. Even if I reach a good level of fighting, I have to keep my mind open, keep studying and keep learning new stuff.” And that’s why he stays on top.

Whether you’re an active competitor, or you train in martial arts for personal development, be your own measuring stick. Don’t focus on being better than anyone else, just on being better than you were, making continual progress one day at a time. By maintaining this attitude, you realize true mastery, no matter what title, rank or level of ability you achieve, not just in the martial arts but in life on the whole.

What are your personal attitudes toward competitiveness when it comes to your martial arts training? Please share your views in the comments. 🙂

Comments (3)

3 thoughts on “The Only Person Worth Competing Against in the Martial Arts

  1. Lori, thank you very much for your web site, your blog is full of deep and meaningful articles. I would join your classes straight away if I lived in Canada.

    I recently started Jiu-Jitsu classes and find them very enjoyable but our sensei seem to be an “active competitor” and thinks club competition is the best way to test your skills. I train in this martial art for personal development, enjoy grappling in the training sessions but do not like an idea of going into competition where people of different height, weight, age and skill will be putting 100 percent effort. This will seriously increase the likelihood of an injury.

    Can you suggest a way to deliver this message to sensei without coming across as a wuss?

    1. Hi Sergio, thanks for your comment. That’s a tough situation, but if your Sensei is a good teacher who cares about his students, he’ll be open to listening to what you have to say. Just make sure you say it in an assertive, yet non-confrontational manner that is open and honest. Say that you have nothing against live training in class, but prefer to not enter competitions of that nature. That should be more than enough if you have a good instructor. Good luck!

  2. Hi Lori great article and very inspiring. You have definitely given me some insight for my practice this evening. It’s interesting because there is sometimes so much competition in martial arts which in the end makes the art lose meaning. Which style is better, or you have to be better than the next person. I guess the biggest fight is really with yourself.

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