Thursday, March 26, 2015

Competition In Budo: A Guest Blog by Kim Taylor


Every few years I seem to go through a crisis and start looking for the benefit of budo. I read all the latest papers dealing with the ethics and psychological benefits of sport and martial art and think about it quite a bit.
My attitudes never change much, I just need the reminding I think. I'll do a bit of thinking here on the idea of competition in budo if you don't mind. 

First, kids like competition. They move from play to competition as they head toward adolescence and I think that competition is a part of their breaking away from home. It's a part of asserting themselves as individuals, a way to separate themselves from "the other" by "making their mark". 

So we do the tournament thing because the kids like it and they start and stay in the art. So the story goes at least.
Gradings are the same, a way to separate from the pack, a way to distinguish oneself. Kids love grading.
So goes the thinking, and there's me organizing gradings to go along with the seminar coming up. The thing is, I don't teach kids and I haven't been one for a couple of years now. I don't like tournaments or gradings and I find that most of the adults I teach are of the same opinion. Why is that? I think one usually grows out of competition. Adolescence doesn't last our whole lives, at least not physical adolescence. The time of serious competition also spans a very short period. Steve Nash just retired from Pro Basketball at 41. I was stunned to hear that he had still been playing. No wonder he can hardly walk. 

Competitive sport, despite the hype, isn't very good at making better people. The research says so, don't take my word for it, hit Google Scholar and read. Sport, be it martial (kendo, judo, MMA) or otherwise is about playing to the rules, beating the other guy and winning. It's really not about getting along with everyone, cooperating (except maybe with your team if it's a team sport) or dealing with real life... well maybe modern business where we must crush the competition and win that corner office. (What ever happened to being a good craftsman and selling stuff we make to people who actually need what we make?)

A martial art is, at it's heart, about life and death, it doesn't exist in a separate "playspace" like sport, it's connected to some primal stuff that goes pretty deep into our brains, fear and anxiety and stress and most of what we pay doctors to fix these days. Cooperation in the martial arts is absolute, except during the competitive parts. Training is cooperative, the attacker is the instructor, the defender is the student and the attacker never competes, only offers challenges the student can answer. Was it ever any other way in combat? We don't want to defeat our fellow soldiers, we want to have the best guy we can have at our side. If his shield collapses we pay the price too. We don't select soldiers for their fighting ability, we select for the ability to survive the training, then we train them. 

But we compete on the battlefield don't we? The politicians may think so, they may be playing the "Great Game" of empire or, nowadays, getting elected, but the soldiers only ever survive or die. They aren't playing to win they are fighting to live. There is a difference despite the confusion of metaphore and reality in the news broadcasts. 

One of the core benefits of the sword arts is the kata, and I am beginning to believe that's in the final move, the witholding of the killing blow. Kata is only ever cooperative, it's about moving together to higher levels of sensitivity and it's about the final sacrifice of the attacker (uchidachi) and the witholding of the blow by the defender (shidachi). What I guess I'm saying is that the closest sport comes to this is the coach, but coaches are focused on technique for winning. A focus on technique is constricting, not creative. You don't look for new ways to win at a sport, find one and the rules committee makes a new rule against it. You look for ways to exploit those rules, which is not very creative. Finding a new way to survive a sword strike? You have to be a pretty strict cultural-artifact type not to appreciate that. 

To make a kata-based art into a competitive sport is not something I can get behind, no matter how many kids we can attract to the classes by doing it. Performing a kata to win a medal is... a waste of good training time even if you're the most enlightened competitor out there. A full day of tournament with ten minutes of waving the sword around is not good time management. 

Kendo is a sport, let's admit it. The ZNKR spends large amounts of energy trying to fight that opinion and they declare the benefits to society and world peace, but when it comes down to it, the most expensive line item of most national kendo organizations is the team they send to the world championships. It's a real problem for the organization because the kids who are competing are driving the sport in one direction (they just wanna have fun) and the old guys are forever pushing back. I'm not alone in my concerns over competition being somewhat opposed to the benefits of budo. 

And grading? Colin Watkin sensei, Shihan of the Kage-ryu has explained the grading system to us few students. There is none. Your "grade" is survival on the battlefield.
OMG, so does 3dan mean that I "mostly" survive a fight? 

Musashi had 60 duels from age 13 to 27 and won them all. His own assessment was that he was lucky or they were kind of poor swordsmen. He spent the next half of his life trying to figure out how he could improve. 

Good enough for me, I'll leave the competition to the kids.

Kim Taylor
Mar 26, 2015
http://sdksupplies.com/

3 comments:

D Suter said...

A really like this post. No definite answers but plenty of questions. I think looking at our own practice is crucial to developing.

David Tindell said...

I have to disagree with the writer's premise that competition and martial arts are counterproductive. I began training at 41 and over the next several years competed in dozens of tournaments. I played basketball in high school and later on in city rec leagues, and I missed the competition. Preparing for a tournament helped me focus my training, improve my technique in both kata and sparring, and gain valuable friendships and business contacts. My students learned that, contrary to much of what we have in Today's culture, there are still winners and losers in some things and it's a lot more fun to be a winner. They also learned that no matter how good they are, they can't win every time. Learning how to be a gracious loser and learn from defeat is a valuable lesson. This is a lesson you cannot learn by simply training in the dojo, as valuable as such training is.

Draven Olary said...

It is complicated. Winning is not fun when you killed a man to achieve that. This is the real difference between martial art and sport with some martial elements. If you train under the rule of "whatever you do will affect you" you will know what win or lose means. But who trains like this?