At my BJJ school, there are plenty of lessons for kids that apply not just to martial arts but life in general. One important life lesson is about instant vs. delayed gratification.
There is a lot of hype about competitions at my BJJ school. The school is very sports-oriented and the students – especially the kids – are highly encouraged to participate in as many tournaments as possible. Kids who compete get promoted to higher ranks (stripes and belts) much faster.
But at competitions, kids are matched up with opponents of the same skill level, age and weight. At competitions, it often happens that you win automatically if there is no challenger in your division. Even if you compete and lose, you might still get a medal and a rank promotion. So I believe that at least at little kids’ level, competitions are an easy way to get promoted without much challenge. You are matched up against opponents of only your level and you get rewarded even just for participating. Competitions teach you that just showing up is good enough to get a medal and a rank promotion. It’s a very sterilized environment that delivers instant gratification.
If you don’t go to competitions and only spar with other kids in class, you get promoted much slower. However, your challenge is much higher because in class, you spar with kids of different ages, different weights, and different skill levels. You can get very challenging opponents and you will lose a lot. While competitions happen only occasionally, sparring in class happens twice or three times a week every week. Sparring in class teaches you to lose and then learn from your loss and come back to try again against the same opponent, to stay persistent, to improve slowly and gradually, to be creative, to invent strategies against different types of opponents. Sparring in class does not earn you fame and prizes but teaches you hard work day in and day out. Eventually, you get delayed but well-earned gratification of looking back and seeing how much you have improved.
Competitions are about competing with others, and it’s often easy to compete against other kids of the same level. Sparring in class is all about competing with yourself, which, as we adults know, is much harder.
We don’t have the time and money to take our kids to every competition like many parents in our BJJ school do. We can only take them to competitions in our city but those happen rarely. So my kids don’t compete as often – and don’t get promoted as fast – as many of their teammates. But my kids do very well in sparring with their teammates and often win against the kids who compete.
Sometimes I worry that my kids may be upset about not being promoted as often as their teammates. I myself would probably get anxious seeing my friends showing off their medals, getting stripes and belts for competing while I am being overlooked for promotion! But then I look at my kids and see that they aren’t worried about it nearly as much as I am! So I calm down. I am proud to see them develop their character. I am happy to see them learn that it’s not the promotions that count, it’s the day-to-day hard work, persistence, learning from your losses, capitalizing on your wins, and enjoying slow and gradual improvement. I am excited to see them master the power of delayed gratification.