Why Anyone Interested in Self Defense Should Consider Competing in a Combat Sport… At Least Once

Generally speaking, many martial arts and combat sports are not “well rounded self defense systems.” That does not mean that there isn’t carryover from them into the real world. Obviously, learning to be a better boxer will help me throw more efficient punches if I ever find myself needing to do so. Having a wrestling background will certainly come in handy if anyone ever tries to lay hands on me. There’s no arguing the skill sets from each are beneficial. However, the context, rules, and traditions tend to leave many holes in the overall self defense plan.

That being said, there’s one part of these areas that I truly believe holds a key that you may not be able to find in normal sport fighting and in most self defense programs. Competitions.

I know this may sound a little silly. “Well, Aaron, competitions have rules… so how can that supply a benefit to a real world fight that doesn’t have any?”

I’m glad you asked. There’s three areas that I truly believe will make you psychologically tougher, and psychological toughness is crucial.

  1. Controlling the Nerves – Anyone who has ever competed knows just how gut wrenching it can be. Often times first time competitors will have trouble sleeping the night before. You run scenarios in your head. Your insanely afraid of failure. You pump yourself up, then doubt yourself, then pump yourself up, etc… Learning to control this, harness it, and turn it to a positive is crucial. If you let this anxiety get the best of you and buckle in a competition that has rules, and a referee, how will you respond in a real fight for your life? Competing brings this anxiety to the forefront better than almost anything, and getting comfortable with this is a very important skill.
  2. No Idea What to Expect – In our own gyms/facilities/studios/dojos we tend to train with the same people. You subconsciously learn what to expect from each. You know whether it’s going to be easy or hard. You know the takedowns or moves they tend to use. You know what you have success with and what you don’t. You get used to their size, weight, actions, attitude, smell, etc… In competition it’s different. Sure you may have seen a few YouTube videos of them (if you’re lucky) but when the round starts, you will get your first chance to feel how they move. Being able to read body movement and adapt to peoples fighting styles on the fly can be a critical component to survival. If I freak out and focus only on how they are moving and how it’s bad, I will lose. If I learn to take each movement for what it’s worth and instead of focus on the negative, focus on solving the problem. Well, that is a winning attribute.
  3. A True Opponent – When you show up for your first fight/match, especially in MMA, there’s a good chance you are officially staring at the first person that has no regard for your safety. Think about it. In training, your partners don’t truly want to hurt you. Most people will work to the level you can manage or go out of there way not to break you. Even if they don’t care about you personally, they do not want to be the guy always injuring people and suffer the repercussions from the members, instructors, or gym owner. When you step into a cage however, the person across from you, they suffer not from injuring you. They don’t know you, you’re not from their gym, you’re not family, you’re not their friend, they have no personal or emotional tie to you at all.  There job is to win, even if that means you get broken in the process. In fact, the more damage they do to you, and the faster they do it, the better they look. They may not be more talented then the people you train with normally, but there is an edge to not caring about the condition of the person you’re fighting. This is HUGE. There is a realism to this. Sure they have to try and break you inside the confines of the rules, but they don’t mind breaking you, and that is important.

Growth is truly found outside of your comfort zone. I don’t suggest running out and joining a competition when you have no background. Get in and train. Build a foundation. Learn the fundamentals. Then push yourself out into this realm. When it comes to BJJ, Boxing, Wrestling, Thai Boxing, etc…  they are not true self defense systems on their own, but they are an important resource! Finding the will to test yourself in a competition can become a huge asset to your self defense training. You can learn a lot about fighting an unwilling opponent, and about how you respond under stress, simply by putting yourself into this unknown realm.

Something to think about. Don’t ever settle for mediocrity. Always push yourself past your limits.

Be safe, train hard, one love.

-aaron