Grandmaster directng a demonstration at the Asian Festival in Herman Park.


"The belt isn't important by itself; what is important is your personal growth through the training"

The Spirit of Non-Competition

by Chuck Dial, 1st gup Brown Belt

How many of us have watched others practice their techniques in the dojang and thought "I can do that form better than he can" or "my running front kick is better than hers"?

The problem is that this thinking is based on the idea that training is a competition between students to be the "best". It is not surprising that many people feel this way, because society places so much emphasis on "winning", as opposed to the personal self-enrichment of the activity . This idea that winning at all costs is the most important thing and that the winner takes all may have a place in professional sports, because a professional sport is not a game; it is a business. Even amateur athletics such as the Olympics are a business; consider how many millions of dollars the television networks spent to buy the rights to broadcast the Olympics and how much potential monetary reward there is for an Olympian who wins a medal.

But in the dojang, this attitude of being the "best" or even "better" than others has no place. Other karate schools foster this attitude because they teach martial arts as a sport with competitions and tournaments. There is no philosophy behind this manner of teaching except "winning". In these schools, the ego of the "winner" grows and he or she becomes more agressive with each win, while the "loser" becomes more discouraged and looses self-esteem. When a martial art is properly taught, the goal is to increase the skills and self-esteem of each student and to teach the student to be humble and calm. This can only happen in a school where a student is not ridiculed for his mistakes, but accepts them and learns from them, and ego is balanced by a humble attitude that comes from understanding that there is always infinite room for improvement in your skills.

I believe Grandmaster Kim understands after all his years of training and teaching that it doesn't really matter whether one person is "better" than another in the dojang. For one thing, that would imply that there is a definition we can all agree on for the term "better". For another, no matter how "good" a person is, sooner or later someone "better" will come along.

So, if we shouldn't strive to be the "best", what are we training for? I believe what Grandmaster Kim is trying to teach us is that each of us should strive to be as good as he or she can be and that the more we train sincerely, the better we can be. We are not competing with anyone else; what others do is irrelevant. What really matters is that we train sincerely and never become completely satisfied with our level of achievement. Once that happens, sincere training will cease.

There is another aspect of this idea that we should be aware of. People who feel good about themselves when they think they are "better" than someone else have a serious problem with their self-esteem. If a person must feel "better" than someone else in order to feel good about himself, that person is going to be unhappy most of his life; in other words, if you allow your self-esteem to depend on what others think of you, you will never be truly happy. Only when your self-esteem comes from a strong inner belief that you are a valuable person can you have a chance to be truly happy. This type of self-esteem can't come from compliments from others; it can't come from anything you don't have to earn with your own hard effort. The only way you can get it is by doing something that is difficult for you to do and doing it until you do it well in your own mind. You may receive compliments from others for this achievement, but those compliments won't sustain you. What will sustain you is your own effort and achievement. There is no better place to invest your effort in yourself than in the dojang with Grandmaster Kim.

There is yet another aspect to the ideas expressed here that each student should think about. If you are one of those students who is always in a hurry to take the rank test, even though you haven't mastered all the techniques at your current level, perhaps you should ask yourself "What is my purpose here?". If your answer to this question is that rapid advancement makes you "better" than some of your classmates, maybe you should think about what was said in the paragraphs above.

The belt isn't important by itself; what is important is your personal growth through the training. If you achieve a higher belt before you are truly ready, you are ,denying yourself the feeling of accomplishment that comes from truly earning that belt by mastering the techniques. At some point, you will realize that you have risen to a level where you cannot perform well because you didn't master techniques taught at lower laves in your hurry for that next belt. You will become frustrated and unhappy with yourself and may even quit, in which case, all that effort you put into your training will be wasted.

Think about it.