“Losing creates adversity. Overcoming adversity builds character.”
– Dan Gable
For some students, participation in sporting competition is important. Certain individuals are competitive in nature and have a strong desire to challenge themselves and to overcome obstacles. This conclusion is evident in the wide popularity of martial arts which have fully developed their sporting aspect; Western boxing, wrestling (collegiate, free style and Greco-Roman), Japanese Judo, and Korean Taekwondo. In addition to having broader appeal and acceptance as a recognized sport, the development of these fighting methods as sports has also generated more research into their practice and performance and have led to a better understanding of both how to conduct training and also how to get maximum benefit out of training. A modern sport approach introduces scientific training methods and raises the level of the athletes.
In creating sporting competition for a martial art, the fundamental tension has always been between participant safety and realism. How does one develop a method which is relatively safe but which is not so limiting as to no longer have meaningful connection to martial arts training? Certain techniques by their very nature are hard to control and thus very dangerous to perform in a sporting environment. Among such techniques I would list head butts, elbow strikes, knee strikes to the face, striking a downed opponent, throws which involve joint manipulation and throws which result in the opponent landing on their head or neck. None of these techniques have a place in an amateur sport. It is important to remember that in all major sports, amateur competition constitutes a majority of participation. Certainly, a “professional” level can be created and can be more demanding but it will always be relevant only to a small minority of the population.
In the past, sports involving grappling have been inherently easier to organize because such techniques offer a greater degree of control. Fortunately, recent advances in technology have made available for sporting competition other techniques which in the past were difficult to perform safely. For striking methods, it is now possible to cover all striking areas in safety padding allowing for impact with a reasonable degree of safety to both parties. Of course, all participants in amateur combat sports involving striking should also wear groin protection, fitted mouth guards and headgear.
Combat sports use weight classes so only fighters of similar size compete against each other. Ideally, combat sports should also use a class system so that fighters of similar experience compete against each other. Such a system encourages participation by beginners and allows athletes to gradually gain experience. The accumulation of experience eventually produces elite level athletes and raises the overall level of the sport. Similarly, combat sports must have consistent rules. Standardization of rules produces predictability. Predictability sets standards and helps develop effective coaching programs.
A unique feature of the development of effective combat sport is that if the sport meets the above criteria and enforces it’s ideals, it will develop values and virtues similar to those of the so-called “traditional” martial arts; respect, discipline, courtesy, fair play, cooperation, unity and sportsmanship.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve celebrated with students who lost decisions and I’ve also screamed at the top of my lungs at students who just won a match. I demand their personal best, that they give it everything they have and strive to be the athlete they are capable of being.
I insist that my team is always a class act. We always show good sportsmanship no matter what the outcome. I stress with my athletes that the purpose of competition isn’t really about winning a lot of trophies or to produce champions. The process is what is important. Every time you step on the mat, in a ring or in the cage you will learn something and get better. In competition, keep a few things in mind;
• Is winning special if dignity is sacrificed?
• Does losing hurt as much if respect is gained?
• If you did your best, there is nothing more that your coach or you can ask for.
• A fighter often trains harder and learns more as the result of a loss.
As coaches, we can get as emotional as our athletes, but we need to learn how to address an athlete after a match. No one is perfect, and I’ve learned a lot myself by trial and error. There are no stead fast rules except; don’t be too hard on them if they just lost, give them both positive and negative feedback (what they did correctly, what they need to work on), and stress that you’ll go back work on things and get ready for the NEXT match.
I believe that as long as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes conduct themselves like participants of other combat sports, we will be able to gain wide social acceptance and attract men, women and children. We will attract all segments of society.
NOW GO TRAIN!