The current social perspective about competition and rewards has lead to having an undue amount of each, in my opinion. I first noticed this as a colored belt in Taekwondo participating in tournaments. This weekend was this “Championship”, the next would be that “Championship”, then some other “Championship”.

This was confusing after growing up watching other sports have only one championship. The Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup all meant that there was one winner who could claim the title and its benefits for the year.

This isn’t so with the martial arts. This is where I think the sport side of our industry has not helped us keep our integrity. Something as simple as the fact that I can claim to be the 2004 Minnesota AAU Taekwondo Olympic Sparring Champion…BUT I didn’t have a single match in that event because there was no one else in my division.

This makes chasing trophies and medals a whole different thing. Tournaments can be educational and fun, which is what they should be. They can also promote poor character traits. The case of whether they are a incredible entertainer or an awesome martial artist is often discussed.

I want to take this is a bit different direction, though. What happens after you have won your championship? What does it truly mean? Those who are in this for their personal development and taking challenges already know the answer. The problem is with many of the others. A trophy means a victory, a “atta boy”, a pat on the back but nothing more. If this isn’t realized, it can lead to all sorts of emotions and responses when they don’t happen again.

I was able to join the Mexican Haidong Gumdo National Championships a couple years ago. It was a great time with awesome people. I got to watch a colored belt win his division to earn the big trophy. He did a great job and deserved it. The afterward was more difficult.

He finished up, changed back to street clothes and waited for the rest of his team to finish. But he couldn’t enjoy their competitions. He was bouncing around with an “I won!” grin and trying really fancy techniques. Since we were leaving in the morning, I asked him what he had to do tomorrow. You could see the recognition hit him. He responded with having to go to school and, hastily, added that he’d have to do homework tonight.

The recognition of his award was already nothing more than a conversation starter hit him hard. He was back to being the same kid he was two days earlier. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was great to have an accomplishment like that regardless of how old you are. The problem comes when the value placed on the accomplishment is much greater than it should be.

PanAM_Medals-2011Similarly, chatting with a college graduation ceremony coordinator, I mentioned that I had not attended neither my community college nor my university graduations. I didn’t feel the need to celebrate it. One more step toward the goals set, nothing more. This made me recognize the real benefit of our rank promotions being made in classes after testing. It gives me the chance to discuss issues with students who had problems testing to make sure they understand what happened and why, in case they were not being promoted. More importantly, though, it reminds them  of getting back to work after achieving a step in the goals. They put on the new belt, then immediately get back to work. There’s no time off and no break, just learning.

Setting goals and achieving them should get recognition but maybe not need celebrations. After all, what do the trophies do for you? Since they come from sports/games, they won’t really help you on your resume beyond showing that you are dedicated and committed to training.

Author: Master Robert Frankovich

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