I am a competitor. I grew up competing for grades in school and victories on the athletic field. Now I compete in the business world. At times it seems my whole life is a competition. So, what drew me to aikido? This is a noncompetitive martial art with no tournaments, trophies, or the other tradtional trappings of competition. Am I trying to escape from competition?
My involvement in aikido has forced me to question my understanding of competition. I've always thought of competition as winning or losing. Where did I get this idea? As a kid I was told that it doesn't matter if I win or lose, but it's how I played the game that counts. As an adult, I was told that winning is everything, and the only thing worse than losing was failing to compete. This approach to competition seemed to produce a state of warfare in my life. Every situation became a confrontation resulting in either a win or a loss, and losing was unacceptable. Is competition reflected in this zero-sum view of life?
The word compete comes from the Latin competere, which is a compound verb formed from com that means 'together', and petere that means 'to seek'. Therefore, compete originally meant 'to seek together'. Webster's defines compete as 'to come together or to strive consciously or unconsciously for an objective'. These definitions appear more closely related to aikido than my zero-sum view of life as 'winning is everything'. So, maybe aikido is competitive. It is a journey we take together, seeking an objective, and hopefully as we travel our journey moves from the unconscious to the conscious.
I believe that competition has become confused with combat, which is a zero-sum path. Combat comes from the Latin combattere, which means 'to fight together'. Webster's defines combat as 'fighting with and striving to reduce or eliminate'. These definitions appear to be more consistent with our society's understanding of competition. We like to view our activities in terms of warfare. Why else do we find Sun Tzu's The Art of War in the business section of our bookstore, or hear athletes talking about 'taking no prisoners'? Are these competitors or combatants?
Traveling along the road of competition is healthy, and it is only when we detour into the darkness of combat that we lose our way. Confusing the two roads has deprived many people of the chance to experience the lessons of competition. Some have become engrossed with the idea that winning is everything, and they only see life as a series of battles in a war. The only purpose to their life is winning, but they never question what they have won. Others are scared of losing, so they refuse to play the game. They become spectators, failing to participate in life, and losing by default. Neither of these groups understand that competition is part of our journey through life, not the final destination.
Life requires participation (getting your hands dirty; putting our hand in your partner's face; taking a fall), and particitipation involves the risk of failure. In The Art of Peace, O-Sensei says, "Failure is the key to success, each mistake teaches us something." How can we find failure or success if we confuse competition with combat?
Success and failure are 'mile markers' along the road during competition. We use them to gauge our progress. We should learn from both our successes and our failures, because neither are permanent nor final stops along the road. However, in combat, success is just a reprieve until the road ends in failure. Which road do you wish to travel?
© Copyright All Rights Reserved 1996 by Roger Alexander