Martial Arts

the yin and yang of competition

Competition is tricky. A balancing act. Being 100% non-competing or always competing can be difficult. For me, competition lures me in. In the realm of Ayurveda, I’m a pitta (with some kapha) and once I get into competition mode it can get…fiery. As I face my third taekwondo tournament, the first two not having gone so well, with last place my average finish (sigh) I’m not sure how I want to approach this tournament. What’s my focus? What’s my goal? Can I be too competitive? If I’m too competitive, will it hurt my love of taekwondo and martial arts? Will it kill the fun? Will getting even more last place ribbons hurt my enthusiasm for class?


Competition is part of why I like taekwondo, the reason I’ve stuck with it for almost a full year now. Not the tournament-type competition, but the competition against myself. The goals of the pretty colored belts, the knowledge needed to move up to the next belt. The idea that there’s always a next level.


But, this tournament is coming up and I desperately want to do well. I want to walk out of that tournament with people wondering “how the heck did SHE do that?” I’m burning to ace something, to come home with a first in something and say booyah! middle age, take that! and I’ve been practicing kicks and poomse at home in preparation. I’m naturally competitive and if I let myself, I could get SUPER competitive at tournaments and I’m shying away from that. But…should I temper that, say “I’d want to finish somewhere besides last? Aim for better, not best?”


But I also feel my weight, how I look, may influence my performance and how it is judged. Would a group of black belts look on a more fit, slimmer person doing the exact same poomse at the same level as inherently better because he or she ‘looks’ more like a martial artist? Because the idea of a martial artist is that they are fit, strong, etc? Is that a thing, and if so, how does one compensate for that?


Am I setting myself up for failure, not accepting that a middle aged overweight woman should just be happy with whatever she gets? The pitta side of me that gets fired up wins this argument (of course, Pitta loves to fight and win) and I feel like going in there like Conor McGregor–the f*%$ng whale among the sharks— and walk away with some first place ribbons.


When do we go all out? How do we know when to let it all out and go for it? Or when do seek balance, rein it in, keep the horse at a slower pace? When do you give yourself the talk you give your young kids, about just doing our best and having fun. The yin and yang, the hard and the soft aspects of competition. How to find the balance? I think the answer to this is different depending on who you ask, their age, their gender or gender affiliation, etc.


Yoga and martial arts have similarities with competition. I’ve practiced and taught yoga and yoga therapy for about 15 years, so I’ve seen this same struggle there. Long ago both yoga and the martial arts were designed to strengthen the spiritual devotee, the seeker looking to meditate, commune and reach enlightenment. To keep the body flexible enough to sit in meditation. Now, both seem to have come to focus on the physical aspect far more than the enlightenment and meditative aspects. Even modern yoga has competitive events.


I know as just an orange belt, maybe I’m making a big deal out of this. But being my age and fitness level, I feel like I have something to prove. I DO have something to prove. In middle age women can become less visible. It’s one of the things I love the about the show Grace and Frankie…the scene in the first season where the store clerk is ignoring them, but immediately helps a hot blond 20-something as soon as she walks in. Later, Frankie calls it a super power (can’t see me, can’t stop me!)  I have always been a larger body size, with all the poor self-image that can come along with that. I was never someone who garnered lots of attention based on my physical appearance. And before I reach the age of invisibility, I want to experience a few moments of looking strong and confident. Not just someone’s mom, with squishy edges and no clear outline. (I love being a mom, but you can lose yourself in keeping a kid alive and clean and healthy.)


Tonight, as I was tucking him into bed, my son was telling me that he liked lying there and daydreaming.  We talked about what some of our daydreams are, and I told him that I daydreamed of actually doing really well at the next tournament. And I dismissed it, making it not so ‘pitta’ and insistent, partially because his record at tournaments is the same as mine and I don’t want to pressure him. Do you know what my kid said to me? He encouraged me to be confident and not assume I’d just get last place again. So sweet and wise.


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