Friday, January 7, 2011

Why Competition is Important For Every Martial Artist.

My First Toughman Contest (2009)
I spend a lot of time on martial arts forums.

On some I actually create and reply to posts. On others I simply lurk.

One common topic discussed on these forums is the value of Martial Arts Competitions. Specifically the value of fighting competitions: full contact tournaments, point sparring tournaments, grappling tournaments, and sanctioned event-style fights (boxing, kickboxing and MMA matches). More simply: Combat Sports.

In one corner you've got the camp who feels as though competing in combat sports provides no value to their training. In their minds they have "teh most deadlyz techniques!" and they can't fully utilize those "deadlyz techniques" in any sort of combat sport. This makes competition irrelevant to their training because they're already working on their "deadlyz techniques" in the most effective and humane way possible.

In the other corner you've got the camp who believes that competing in some sort of combat sport is who reason anyone should train martial arts. Further, they believe, if you do well in competition you'll do well in a real fight.

Both camps are wrong and both camps are right.

Competition Has Its Place (but...)

As usual the reality of situation is never as black and white as either of the two sides would have you believe.

Every Martial Artist can gain something of value from competing in a combat sport. Why? Here's the bullet list:
  • Competition will stress-test your skills - Squaring off with someone who is trying to hurt you or beat you in some way will cause you to experience a tremendous amounts of psychological stress. Sure, it isn't the same amount of stress that you would experience if you were to be in a real fight but that doesn't mean that competing lacks any value. Scenario drills that are designed to elicit a stress response don't create the same amount of psychological stress as a real fight either, but that doesn't mean those drills lack any sort value to the martial artist.
  • Competition exposes your weaknesses - It is easy to think that because you train hard and, perhaps, aggressively with your own group (dojo, gym, ect...) that you are already aware of your own weakness. However, when you actually go out and "mix it up" with martial artists that aren't part of your regular group I'm sure you'll find that your weaknesses will be exposed. I know mine did.
  • Competition keeps things fresh - It's common for your training to get..."stale". The cool think about competing is you get to meet new people and share ideas. You'd be surprised how much guys "talk training" even when you're about to beat the shit out of each other. Also, when you lose you become motivated. When a weakness is exposed during competition you'll train your ass off to eliminate - I'm 99% sure that's a fact.
Now, I know that martial art competitions/combat sports have their weaknesses.
  • Competition doesn't completely prepare you for a real fight - it only prepares you for certain aspects.
  • Competition can distract you from the real purpose of being a martial artist - which is self defense.
However, these weaknesses don't mean you should shy away from martial arts competitions/combat sports. You should simply understand where they fall on a martial arts training continuum.

So, the take away form this post is you should compete to improve your skills and to have fun. If you feel like I missed any pros or cons of martial arts competition/combat sports let me know in the comments section.

Train Hard,
Josh Skinner (donjitsu2)



  1. Good post, Josh. I do think there's another benefit, which applies not just to martial arts tournaments, but to competition in general: it gives you a more focussed target for your training. Since self-defence is something which is difficult to define, and there's never a time limit when you have to be prepared by, it's easy to not train your hardest (hardest in the smart, well-planned, optimal sense: not just high-intensity all the time) and to skip days or various important factors which are less exciting to improve (flexibility, anyone?). If you have a fight that you've signed up for, you have a deadline. You'll not just work your arse off afterwards to fix a weakness, but you'll work your arse off beforehand to try and get as well prepared as you can be.

    This, as I said, is far more general than just martial arts. Not just competition, but really anything where you're going to be tested in some fashion. For me, doing the HKC and RKC (going in April) kettlebell instructor courses gives me a deadline to make sure I really work on my weaknesses. I spent ages working on my hip mobility before the HKC, something I wouldn't have done much of otherwise. That's just one example, but there's heaps. Another would be competing in powerlifting or some other strength sport. It'll force someone who enjoys lifting to really put themselves to the test, and there's a lot of benefits to come from that (even if your regular training goals aren't to win a comp).

  2. Those are good points, Samuel. Thanks for bringing them up.

  3. Good balanced post. I like your comments too Samuel. Competing is testing yourself. When competing you feel the effects of adrenaline. You may experience tunnel vision and auditory exclusion. Any fine motor control techniques you try will fail. Conditioning matters. All of these things have a direct carry over benefit to real self defence situations. It tests your stuff. If it does not work in a competition, how on earth wil it work in a surprise self defence situation?