By Manny Cabrera III, Chief Instructor

Being competitive can mean many different things.  For most of us, being competitive means to participate in a sport or other sort of game in which there are clear sides.  However, the greatest challenges in our lives don’t necessarily come from other people, but from ourselves.  In order to be competitive in the world—sports, business, school, or otherwise—we must first be competitive within ourselves.  That means that before we can hope to compete outside ourselves we must be disciplined to take a hard look at ourselves and constantly push ourselves towards our goals.  Great leaders stay in the lead because they compete with themselves by pushing their personal boundaries and by getting beyond the inner fears that hold them back.

A prime example comes from our martial arts training.  Most students don’t have a problem with coming to class.  That’s because the instructor’s are right there to motivate you and push you every step of the way.  The spot where most students AND instructors struggle with is training and practicing on their own.  Why is that?  Simply because there are a lot of other things that are just easier to do.  It’s easier to sit and watch television than to go in the other room and practice a form.  It’s emotionally tough for kids especially, because they are very in the moment beings.  What I mean is that whatever they’re doing right now (playing videogames or outside, drawing, etc.) is more satisfying than postponing that satisfaction until later by practicing.  Most adults use the excuse “I’m too tired,” or “There’s just not enough time.”  I know because those are the ones I use.  In order for you to be in true competition for anything, you have to compete within yourself by being disciplined and putting in the hard work necessary to be wherever you want to be.

In Soccer there are rules to follow and the referee is the one who enforces them.  In Martial Arts competition, there’s the center judge.  In baseball, the umpire.  We’ve all had periods in our lives where we were told what to do.  There are many signs, rules and instructions in our society that keep us on the straight and narrow, and several serious repercussions for not following the rules.  Many people need this kind of restraint to help keep them from doing what they’re not supposed to do.  However, in the true martial arts leader, that person is you!   Being fair when your competing against others or yourself is not just a part-time thing.  It’s really easy to cut corners when nobody is watching, but you’re only cheating yourself.  As a Black Belt you should hold yourself to the same high standard when you are with others or by yourself.  In the quest to be competitive sometimes we come down pretty hard on ourselves.  Be fair to yourself and recognize when you’ve done a good job and reward yourself for it rather than just poke holes into what went wrong.  This is the key to being able to be fair with others.

If every move of the martial arts was just performed with blunt, raw power, the martial arts would not be as popular today as it is.  There is a certain grace that also has to be applied that adds a great deal of beauty to what we practice.  What gracefulness is to the martial arts, graciousness is to your character.  We all compete daily—competition is healthy!  However, how you compete is just as important.  It’s important to be gracious in dealings with competition.  As the chief instructor, I set the pace for the entire school in the graciousness department.   This is why I never speak ill of other martial arts schools.  At tournaments it’s always important that we give kind words of encouragement with the competition when we win, and of course respect an congratulations when we lose.  Graciousness is not an easy thing for people to learn, but with the support of martial arts instructors, parents, teachers, and friends we can help our students become gracious community leaders and build a reputation of excellence as well as a happy and healthy martial arts school culture.

Even as you become disciplined, treat others fairly, and exercise graciousness, you’ll never be competitive if you aren’t willing to change.  One thing that really holds a lot of people back from getting to the next level is that they aren’t willing to get better.  No matter how good or successful you are, you can improve.  Everybody can.  Sometimes it’s tough, because your true competition is within, to make significant changes in our lives to make room for growth.  We get attached to old habits that used to work, but won’t get us to the next level.  Break out!  Use the best experiences from the past to help inform you which way to go in the future.  There is no limit to what you can do if you continually improve yourself and are willing to adapt and change.

Finally, you have to be passionate to be competitive.  Think about all the times you’ve watched a lopsided sporting event.  There have been many times where a team or competitor who wasn’t supposed to win, did the impossible and won.  This is what makes sports so exciting to watch.   At times, we’re all underdogs facing insurmountable competition or odds.  However, your passion can go a long way to overcoming the competition and beating the odds.  Don’t be afraid to be passionate about what you do.  Coupled with your discipline and dedication and a great support network you can catapult yourself above and beyond the competition.

About the author: Manny Cabrera III is an expert in self-protection, fitness, personal development, and is a life-long martial artist.  He serves as chief instructor at Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers and has written for multiple publications.  Mr. Cabrera resides in Brandon, FL with his wife Jessica, their twin sons, and an energetic Austrailian Cattle Dog.  Follow Mr. Cabrera on Twitter.

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