As in Combat, So in Life: What We Gain from Competition
By Jordan Shipman
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Choosing Self Improvement
Easton Training Center is a diverse community from all walks of life, all around the world. The common bond that brings us all together is the journey of self discovery; our desire to better ourselves.
Our society today is conditioned to believe there should be no discomfort in life. We should never be uncomfortable. And if we are, it is a signal that something has gone wrong. This programming is so strong we go out of our way to resist what is uncomfortable. We are trained and prepared for comfort–which is not at all what confronts us in the real world. At some point in life, someone or something is going to test you to see what you’re made of.
We become so involved concealing our own shortcomings we end up fooling ourselves. But hiding from our weaknesses simply perpetuates them. Avoiding what is difficult reduces our capacity for coping effectively with the challenges of real life. Just as our muscles require stress to develop and grow, so do our weaknesses. To improve ourselves we must embrace the right kind of stress as an opportunity to grow stronger.
Easton’s stated purpose is to develop every aspect of the individual–not just the fighter–through the development of battle tested martial arts.
Competition as a Tool
Not everyone gets the opportunity to be stressed by the potential to achieve exceptional things. This is what the annual Easton In House Tournament is all about (this year’s event took place on Saturday October 13th 2018). It is a vehicle for personal growth: not only an opportunity for competitors to test their fitness, challenge their peers, and demonstrate how hard they’ve worked–but also an opportunity to improve as people–to develop the powerful capacity to respond to adversity and crisis with fight and mental toughness.
“How tough am I? Do I have what it takes?” These are big questions and the answers can be hammered out on the anvil of competition.
Competition is a tool. With the right mindset and approach, it can give you whatever you’re looking for. It can make anyone a better person. To get tougher, to build strength and resilience–to develop the capacity to handle whatever life throws at you–you have to step into the fire. Competition can be that fire.
Learning to Expect the Unexpected
One of the first lessons competitors face on comp day is the power of the unexpected. Perhaps not what you might think at first… Some participants arrived late to the event because there was an accident on the highway and got stuck in traffic. They had to run straight into the Denver academy, quickly change out and proceed directly to their mat. No warm up, no preparation. Curveballs out of your control are commonplace in all levels of competition. The best laid plans never go off without a hitch. This as true in life as it is in competition. In this way, the competition is a training ground to practice problem solving and cope rather than be unnerved when the unexpected happens. The ability to improvise, adapt and overcome is as key here as it is in life.
The first match in any competition is the hardest. But the first match is not the first opponent in your bracket. It is yourself. It’s just showing up and overcoming your own nerves. For the newer and less experienced Easton students, it was the first time they’ve ever been confronted by their own anxiety in such an environment. The truth is most athletes get nervous before and during a competition. Nerves and anxiety are just proof that you care about your performance. If you aren’t nervous–then maybe you didn’t put in any work. A little bit of uneasiness is necessary. The competition is an opportunity to learn to use that anxiety to sharpen your focus and bring out the best in you.
Confronting Weakness by Embracing Fear
Confronting your weaknesses demands courage. Opening up to the truth about yourself can be pretty scary because in life we spend so much of our energy covering up our weakness and very little energy exposing them. What most competitors truly fear–if they can admit it–is the embarrassment that they will fail to perform in the moment and they will suffer the consequences of anxiety and panic. Fear, perhaps more than anything else is what holds us back in life. It makes us more defensive, insecure and–by way of compensation–more aggressive towards others. Fear makes us scared to be who we really are. Fear makes us feel inadequate. Competition is the dimension where we can face our fears. It is where we can come face to face with ourselves. No hiding, no protecting, no covering up. We can learn to tame fear and use it to our advantage. We can turn it into our weapon.
One reason fear can be so debilitating is the seemingly personal nature of a one on one match. It’s just you and your opponent after all. So it must be about you and me. But the truth is the person agreeing to face you in this duel is doing you a great service. They are allowing you to test yourself against them. They are going to allow you to strive fully without holding back and you are going to do the same for them. They are a part of your struggle for self knowledge, your quest to make yourself better. This is what the Easton community is all about. Iron sharpens iron.
Finding Your Mental Toughness
It is abundantly clear in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition that everything is interconnected. The mind, body, spirit, thoughts, feelings and emotions are all part of the same continuum of life. There is no separation. The goal of the competitor is to turn all these things into an unbeatable blend. Whether in training, competition or life, tough times require mentally tough responses. They key is looking at problems as opportunities to find new solutions. Mastering these skills open up greater avenues of power and knowledge.
Becoming mentally tougher in life is acquired the same way we learn any skill on the mat: Practice and repetition. Anyone can get tougher and learn these skills at any stage of their life. Young and old alike. We can all strive to be the best version of ourselves. We can build mental fortitude and drive forward. If we can learn to manage our emotional and physical states when our adrenaline is spiking in a practice environment, we can build the confidence that we can handle anything that comes our way in life.
Becoming the best version of yourself is about more than winning. You have to love competing more than you love winning. You have to love the journey from beginning to end. Because temporary failures and setbacks are integral to both Jiu Jitsu and life. It is through our failures and continuing to take chances that we eventually succeed. Failure is wonderful teacher if we learn the lessons it has to teach us and then act on them. In fact, if you don’t succeed on your first attempt–it’s only a failure if you refuse to come back and keep working until you get it right. The only way to see is a loss is an opportunity to get better. Losing is just a step on a much longer path. A Japanese proverb says it best, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” This understanding extends to all things.
As in combat, so in life. It is never over until it’s over. Never stop fighting. Never give up. Never surrender. No matter how many points you’re down, no matter how tired you are–you must persevere. Eventually you will break free.
The Growth Mindset
The quest towards your best self is undeniably hard. We overcome one weakness, only to reveal a new one. We have to maintain our eagerness to learn and grow. Victories in any arena of life are determined far more by spirit and mental toughness than by any genetic gift or luck. Personal growth is a long term game. It is a lifelong pursuit on and off the mats. You’ll never finally arrive, never finally get it, never finally get over the top. You only get stronger or weaker, closer or further away. You only grow or you don’t grow. The objective is to continue growing, moving forward, challenging yourself to reach beyond and replace weakness with strength.
It is far better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand gold medals. The conquest of yourself is the most important competition of all.
Some suggestions for further reading: