I fully expected to win. I was big for my age. Strong. A talented martial artist. And on the local tournament scene, I dominated.
I was a good fighter when I was 15, and I was excited to show what I could do in my first national tournament.
I’ll spare you the details. I got dead last.
If I had won my first match, I would have kept fighting, probably another 7 or 8 rounds, and been hailed the champion. But no… I was stopped in my tracks at round one.
I lost my first fight to a competitor named Trevor Nash. That year, he went on to win the world championship in our division, and after the whole division concluded, he pulled me aside and told me some glaring errors I made. He was gracious, kind, and gave me some high-level coaching that I still use today, and still coach my students with.
That tournament was a turn around for me. I arrived expecting to win and I left TOTALLY inspired to train.
I studied while there. I watched every division I could. I wanted to see what the winners were doing, how they fought, how fast they were, and what new moves they were using.
I listened to coaches coach their students. I took notes. I wrote down pages of ideas, things I would do and practice when I got back.
That one tournament made all the difference for me.
Mindset is everything. Life happens FOR us, not TO us. That weekend, I didn’t lose, rather I was given a gift… inspiration.
I left and went back home and immediately began training harder and more consistently. I knew what I wanted to be able to do, and went to work on it.
A year and a half later, I went to the world championships and placed 2nd. 3 years later in 2001, I went back and won the gold.
And while winning feels awesome, we teach our students that there are really only 3 reasons to compete in tournaments:
1. To have fun.
Tournaments are a blast, and the energy there is infectious. You can’t help but get excited about martial arts.
2. To make new friends.
Life long friendships can be forged in competition and meeting new people from other schools and styles, human beings that share your passion and hobby is an amazing experience. And keeps you motivated.
3. To learn.
This is the major reason to compete. We learn about ourselves, we learn how to communicate with ourselves, to accept defeat, to deal with failure. We learn what is winning. The person who beat you… were they stronger? Did they kick higher? More intense? What can you emulate as you train to improve?
Notice that winning didn’t make the list. Sure, winning is fun. But that shouldn’t be the main reason to compete, especially at the beginning of your tournament career.
And even at the top of your game, the best in the world have to lose. That’s called life. And honestly, there’s a right way to win. And there’s a right way to lose. Are you a gracious loser? Are you a humble winner? So many valuable lessons to teach students as they compete and win… and lose.
So should you compete in a karate tournament? Absolutely. Should you try to win? Absolutely. Do your best. But regardless of what place you take, there are absolutely other ways to win and have a successful day.