By: Audrey Yap
I’ve spent most of my life doing taekwondo, and I’ve competed in a few different martial arts and fighting sports over the years. Sparring has definitely made my taekwondo better, but it’s also taught me some less expected things. So, here’s three things that I think I’ve learned from fighting.
1. You can’t worry about being the best.
I know this might sound contradictory. When you enter a competition, you’re trying to win, after all. But I don’t mean that you’re not trying to be the best. I just mean that if that’s the main thing you focus on, then it probably won’t work out. The reason is that there’s always someone out there better than you – at least better at some of the things you want to be good at. And if you’re spending your time worrying about how much better they are, you’re probably not thinking enough about how you can improve yourself.
Spending too much time comparing yourself to other fighters on or off your team can be misleading, too. Different people’s bodies might be suited to different styles of fighting. So maybe you have a hard time with a particular skill. Or maybe others are faster than you, or taller, or stronger. Instead of dwelling on that, why not think about how you could use strategy and timing to win against a faster or stronger person, or maybe use distance to your advantage against a taller fighter? For sure, you want to learn from other people by seeing what they do. But that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be just like them.
2. Fail again, and fail better.
This one is a quote from an author called Samuel Beckett, but I really like Pema Chodron’s way of talking about it. She talks about how anyone who wants to grow is going to have to confront failure at some point. So you’ll lose some matches, even ones you think you should have won. But if you’re not losing sometimes, then you’re probably not challenging yourself enough, which means you’re not really learning much.The challenge is figuring out what it means to fail better. I think failing better is all about taking that fight you lost, and, instead of just thinking of yourself as a worthless or untalented athlete, and figuring out how to learn from it. You can think about how to take that loss and use it to make yourself better the next time you get in the ring. But if you’re never putting yourself in a situation where you might fail – if you’re never taking those chances – then you never get the chance to do that.
3. You’re not alone out there.
Probably the main reason I stopped competing was moving away from my team and my coach. Taekwondo is an individual sport, but just like lots of things that seem like individual activities, you need a lot of people to get you where you want to go. Being a competitive athlete (and then thinking about whether I could still be one after moving to a new city!) showed me just how much I relied on my teammates and coaches. That wasn’t just for moral support, or because they were great people (they were!), but because they also knew how to push me in practice, support me in competition, and encourage me to have fun the whole time.
A great team makes all of its players better, and having amazing teammates definitely made me realize that.