By 2nd Degree Black Belt
“Only by facing our fears and understanding our weaknesses will we discover strength,confidence, and security.” Tenet of National Karate Academy of Martial Arts
I’ve been to dozens of karate tournaments in my life, and before every tournament I cannot help but get nervous. Really, really nervous. Those of you who know me know this well, but I get jittery and anxious right up to the moment when I bow into the ring. You would think that at my age, at my rank, as a karate instructor, and after all the tournaments I’ve competed in, I would be able to shake it off, right? No. Absolutely not. I’m a wreck leading up to my division.
It’s not that I am afraid of how I will place; I have no fears of taking last in my division if I put on my best performance. But to perform in front of an audience with high steaks gets to me every single time.
Yet somehow, tournament after tournament, I manage to pull it together and compete. And not to brag or anything, but I do pretty well for myself as a competitor.
After years of competing and feeling like I could manage the anxiety that comes with each and every tournament, I decided to do something bold: I competed in a synchronized team weapons form at the Twin Cities Rumble. I’ve competed in form before and I’ve competed in team form before. But never had I competed on the main floor against the kind of competition we saw at the Rumble. The entire main room was watching as my team debuted our form. It was that type of next-level competition where you know that you’re up against some of the best martial artists out there.
My team was amazing and we looked good out there! The applause we got after we were done was wild and it was thrilling to be up there with my team. But let me assure you, I was a mess leading right up to our event. I literally had to go lay down right before we went on because I was so nervous; my friends can confirm this as a fact.
Again, somehow I managed to pull it together and we performed to the best of our abilities. We placed 5th out of 7 and I’m really proud of our team. When it was all over, and the division had ended, I was beaming with pride for myself and for my teammates because we did something that none of us had ever done before, and we performed well.
So why on earth would I do this to myself? Why would I subject myself to this level of anxiety when I could have just as easily been a spectator at the tournament and watched my friends compete from a safe distance? Here is the thing, we don’t get better by staying in our comfort zone.
We have a set of tenets that we abide by at National Karate Academy of Martial Arts. The very first tenant: “Only by facing our fears and understanding our weaknesses will we discover strength, confidence, and security.”
I am not at all ashamed to admit that I am afraid of every tournament I have ever competed in; this is a very real fear of mine. But by facing this fear regularly, I challenge myself to grow as a martial artist and as a person.
If I never faced my fears of competing, I would have no idea that I am capable of pulling myself together under tremendous stress and doing well for myself. The ability to maintain composure while terrified is a skill I would have never developed had I not gotten into the ring over and over again.
Here is my advice to those who are nervous about competing because you are scared: compete while scared. If you’re waiting until you are confident enough in yourself not to feel scared before a tournament, you will never compete. You have to go compete while scared–and that’s okay. Most of us are. We grow in the space outside of our comfort zone.
I will never not be terrified before a competition. No matter how frequently I compete and no matter how many trophies I win, I will always be scared. But I can guarantee that you’ll find me at the next tournament anyway.