This blog post is dedicated to Gordon Miller:
As I run around knocking one admin chore after another and prepping the house for my absence (yes, husband unit can manage two kids by himself for eight days, but I'm not aiming for survival here, I'm aiming for survival in style so I have prepped a whole bunch of meals and other essentials to make sure he's ready), I reflect on one of the greater benefits this first year of competitive karate has brought to us. And that's character development, particularly in my daughter.
(Yes, it's also helping me improve and become a less wretched wench, but I want to focus on her for this post. Patience, grasshopper, we'll get to me soon enough.)
Anyway. Kids. And character development. By which I mean several things. There are obvious benefits like increased discipline, increased fitness and a great deal of mental toughness that she wouldn't have in comparable quantities had she not pushed herself past her limits day in and day out throughout this whole year of training. Woohoo fitness.
Competition (in karate or any other competitive activity) also has the great benefit of teaching kids how to handle losing with grace. Not just when they get themselves defeated by a stronger or more talented opponent, but also when they get themselves defeated because they weren't performing at their customary level - for whatever reason. Which is harder than the first kind of loss. Obviously when you lose a fight against the reigning world champion and you've just been competing for seven months, that loss is easier to take than when you lose a fight because you didn't fight the way you should have. (Ask me how I know.)
There's this quote floating around many competitive activities: You don't lose, you either win or you learn. It's very true. Sometimes you learn something painful and unpleasant about yourself. But the desire to win the next round forces you to push past that and focus on ways you can improve yourself. And that's often an invaluable skill to possess in life. Great if the kids can start learning it at 10 rather than 42, when the consequences are usually a lot less severe.
So that's all good. But there's something else. And that you may not find in every competitive activity, for it has more to do with how you are coached than anything else. There is the desire and ability, after a while, to help newer competitors learn the ropes.
We were just at a tournament in Mississauga this weekend and we had a group of competitors for whom this was the first big out-of-town event where the competition is fiercer than what you typically find at smaller, local contests. Some people take to this sort of thing real quick, but others need a bit more time to adjust. It can be intimidating to get in a room with hundreds of very loud people who all seem to know what they're doing when you're new and very unsure about everything from where the bathroom is to how elimination rounds work. There may be faster ways to make someone feel small and insignificant than to get them surrounded by champions and legends, some of which will be judging your performance personally, but it will do until something else comes around.
My own daughter is not yet an expert, but she's been to about a half dozen of those tournaments now so she's starting to have some idea how they work. And she was keen to help guide and reassure her newbie friends about the proceedings. As were many of our more experienced kids and teenagers, some of whom spent their day (after they were done competing) running from ring to ring to coach and encourage their less experienced teammates. Which is a nice tribute to the way we are being coached - ours is a strong team, where people are encouraged to look after each other. Yes, we train to fight hard and win - even sometimes against one another. But when we sign up to compete we also sign up to cheer on our teammates and it is very clear we are not to leave a venue until every last one of us is done competing.
To have children and young adults trained in this kind of atmosphere is a great way to ensure they will grow into strong, competent, caring and generous adults who take time to help others become the best they can be. That's not something you find in every competitive activity, but it is something you should find in a good martial arts school, and I'm pleased and proud to say I belong to one of the best martial arts schools anywhere.