On Sunday I took myself along to the 54th Miyagi area karate competition. I was entered into the men’s kumite (fighting) so that i would have something to do other than watch karate all day. I did not hold out much hope of doing well since I had not been training towards it particularly, but was using it as something to help increase motivation to get myself to training. When the journey to training is an hour and half round cycle trip away, plus a couple of hours training on top of that; sometimes the option of just chilling wins hands down. Although the language barrier often means I’m left standing there slightly confused and embarrassed, I have been enjoying the training and feel I have been accepted into the club. The head Sensei is extremely friendly, and really tries to help me with a mixture of obscure English and fast Japanese, often pitching in to physically manipulate my body.
I’ve found the training in Japan to be very similar to that which i experience back home, although often less intense. As with many formal activities (e.g. work) in Japan, it’s not how many effectively you work, it’s how many hours you spend on the clock.
But often when someone choses a sport/hobby, they will dedicate themselves to it entirely. I often see this at school with students doing their club activity before school, at lunch time, and after school, every day of the week (including weekends and holidays). One such club at the competition from Tohoku Gakuin junior&senior high schools demonstrated exactly this. Their competitors were incredibly good and many of these teens would have ripped me apart on the karate tatami.
But whilst their physical displays were highly impressive, it reminded me of the problem of training in order to win competitions. When your self esteem is determined by your victory over others, then you will more often than not be disappointed. Only one person can win, and even that person cannot win every time indefinitely. Now you could argue that this is what drives a sports person to train harder in order to reach the highest level.
But when reaching this level sacrifices other aspects of your life, such as friends, other hobbies, new experiences, building social skills, doing things spontaneously, is it really worth it? Chancing everything on the hope that your body has the right muscle fibres for your sport, that you have sacrificed more of your time than anyone else, and hoping that you don’t get injured. It’s not a recipe for feeling good. I experienced some of a competitors heart ache when visiting the toilets just after he had lost, and heard him weeping and cursing in a cubicle
And even if you achieve the top level, will anyone outside of your sporting niche give two shits? Chances are no.
I think sporting competition is best left as a side activity to not be taken too seriously. One of the reasons I continue to enjoy karate is the focus you can place upon yourself, and the endeavour within yourself to do better than you have done before/do the best you can. If you give yourself your all and are not comparing yourself with others then is this a much fairer competition, which you can ultimately achieve something from.
In the end I had a really good day watching karate performed in its ancestral home, and speaking with some really friendly people (whilst waving madly at dumfounded children. Me not them)