With the new year, we are once again moving into tournament season. This can be both exciting, and frightening for many of us. For a lot of our new students, and many of our older students, this can be a time of great anxiety. We spend time analyzing our forms, tweaking, and improving them.
Many of our newer students may wonder WHY? Why do we go to tournaments? Why do we compete? What is the point of competing, if this is for my own self-improvement? Tournaments serve several important purposes, for yourself as a student.
One of the best things you can do for your practice, is move outside your comfort zone. For most cases, it is very easy to get into our habits in the school. We do the movement the same way, facing the same way, same speed, same mistakes, and the same great moments. All of us do it. On one visit, even Master Yanxu said, ‘If you ever forget your form, face the direction you learned it in, and try again’.
We become very stuck in our mentality doing the forms. Just as an experiment, turn around and face the opposite direction you normally do it in. You will often find yourself having to think more, and adjust your normal habits. That is one of the great purposes of tournaments. It moves you outside your comfort zone, and forces you to change your habits.
Changing those habits also allow you to assess your own progress. It lets you identify where you REALLY know your form, and where it needs work. You may find yourself working through your form normally, then suddenly get lost, or second guess yourself. This is where you need to do more work. This is a place that you may be going through without thought, and all your work should be Mindful. Always be aware of your body, and how you are moving. Doing tournaments can really help you find the places where you need to increase focus.
Another great experience that comes from tournaments, is meeting and seeing other martial artists. It can become easy to get tunnel vision, practicing only in your school, or only with the same people, doing the same forms, the same way. Tournaments are a great way to see other styles of kung fu, or to see people doing the same style differently.
Not only is this a great opportunity to make new friends and connections. It can be a lot of fun to talk about how you train, or how your forms differ. You may pick up new training tips, or find someone else who had a similar difficulty. By meeting these new people, you can both improve your practice and expand your awareness of other schools and teachers. The martial arts community is deceptively small, and tournaments are a wonderful way to expand this community for yourself.