In the Karate vs Kung Fu post, Shane made an interesting comment I’d like to get back to now. Here’s what he wrote:
Great couple of posts. I’m not sure that I agree about beating a better opponent in a competition, or losing to a worse one. If you win you are better, if you lose, you are worse. Simple as that. The competition is the empirical test, for a given set of rules at a given moment in time. We sometimes are surprised by beating or losing to someone, and occasionally luck can play a part, but if we can’t use competition to gage relative ability, what can we use? Past performance? Maybe. Reputation or the color of the belt holding someones trousers up? I sincerely hope not.
I used to enter a lot of pushing hands comps, and a few karate ones when I was younger. I mostly lost, but through perseverance gathered a handful of medals over the years. On those occasions, I dare say some of the other guys thought they should have won. If they could have, they would have, hence they were demonstrably proven wrong
I hate the ‘what if’ game. You know, if I had just done this technique, I would have won for sure. If I was more mentally prepared. If I had lost a few pounds and gone down a weight. (Or in my case, if I had just spent less time sitting on my arse drinking beer, and more time doing nei kung) It’s all fantasy, and competitions are the corresponding reality check.
All the best,
Here’s how I see it:
For me, it’s not really a “What if?” game. There’s certainly a place for that as analyzing your performance after the fight is key to improving your abilities. But I’m not all that concerned about what I should have done. I’m usually thinking more about getting it right the next time. Fights are chaos in action and there’s just no way you’ll get it right every single time. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
By playing a constructive “What if” game, you use the experience in the fight you lost to your advantage. Instead of beating yourself up over what you did wrong, you get over it and focus on how to avoid making the same mistake. Of course, there is rarely a black and white solution for whatever mistake you make. Usually there will be a bunch of options you could have tried, each with varying chances for success. I think that’s just wicked cool. It means more learning during training and I enjoy that the most. But I digress, back on track:
For me, the value of competing lies in several aspects:
- You train harder than usual when you’re in preparation for a fight. As a result, you learn more about your art, get in better shape and increase your skills.
- You’re forced to look at yourself in an honest way: which techniques am I good at? Which ones do I suck at? AKA, what’s good, what’s bad and how do I increase the former while fixing the latter.
- If you lie to yourself about those things in the previous bullet, you’ll pay for it. So you better be honest.
- You have to overcome your own fears and demons. They all come out to play both in training and during the fight.
- It’s just pure, uncensored, Neanderthal fun.
I also said in that post that I lost to fighters who were not as good as me. By that I mostly mean that I was stronger, in better shape and/or more skilled than them. But I still lost. Mainly because I wasn’t focused enough or didn’t handle the pre-fight stress correctly. And it cost me a lot of my abilities once the fight was on. Putting it differently, had there been no crowds, just the two of us in a ring, I’m confident I would have done much better. I’m not bitter about those lost fights, I did what I could and there’s not much more I could have done.
Another aspect to competing is how it’s just a snapshot in time of your own and your opponent’s abilities: Take on the same guy a month sooner or later and the results could be reversed. If you lose to a guy now and then train with a vengeance, you might beat him easily a year or two later. Or he might beat you once again, who knows? Every sport has great rivalries where competitors are too evenly matched for one of them to beat the other consistently.
So in the end, it doesn’t mean all that much if you win or lose. There will always be somebody better than you. There’ll always be many who are loads worse too. And sooner or later, you’ll become too old to keep up with the younger generation. But if you fight those younger guys without rules, things like experience and being a mean old SOB can turn the tide in your favor. Which is why I don’t think competitions have much actual value as a benchmark for real world performance. It’s better than nothing, but certainly not the be all, end all.