Compete For Fun, Compete To Train... Don't Compete To Win?

Bin is back, folks! In this installment, my favorite Asian chef from Texas who's name is Bin dicusses the usefulness of competition in a different light. Thrusting himself into DC's Most Primal, a competition that he had little preparation for, gave him some personal insight into the benefits of competing. Read on for some goodness...

If anyone who read the last post and thought that it was a bit extreme, well, I'd certainly agree. While it's certainly helpful to be able to pull up that deep emotional state for an extra edge, how healthy can it be all the time? Chef's can't always be creative, writers can't always produce, and athletes can't always keep themselves that high-strung. We need rest, rejuvenation, and to simply get away from time to time. There's no reason you can't stay competitive within your sport and without, but sometimes it's important just to compete for fun, for training.....but not necessarily to win.

I've had the opportunity to train with a couple high level teams in the past, where pressure was a constant - to beat the other guy, to beat yourself, in competition and in training every day. The sport itself was individual, which meant that although there was teamwork and camaraderie in training, ultimately you had to beat everyone around you. One team happened to be one of, if not the best in the nation for several years running: The atmosphere was militaristic, high-stress, and emotionally grueling, but it produced like few others could. It has and continues to create top-tier MMA fighters and repeat world champions in grappling, but that wasn't without a price. For every individual that made it to the top there were others that had fallen out as a symptom of the environment. Many were injured, many dropped out from overtraining (which as a concept didn't exist; everyone just cursed their bad health and hobbled along until it "went away"), and sometimes people just lost it altogether. One national champion walked away for several months, becoming a competitive salsa dancer for a while, and another internationally-ranked grappler disappeared to live the expat life in Guam. Both of these guys, though, are extreme examples and have since returned to the sport as instructors.

In any case, though I was never faced with the same pressures as these top-tier guys, training with them and being in that same environment meant that I picked up that same viewpoint - competition and training had that same gravity, and if I couldn't give everything to every moment there simply wasn't a point to me trying at all. While on the one hand this meant that I was incredibly motivated whenever I did train or compete, over time I learned to dread everything, even as a concept. In my mind going to a competition meant weeks of dedicated training time, controlled meals, and a complete and utter mental focus at the cost of everything else in my life. There was no option to compete casually or on a lark; it was either all or nothing. Eventually it got to the point where I could only compete a few times a year, needing at least a month or two to decompress afterwards. Suffice to say, I started enjoying it less and less to the point where, unless I knew I could show significant improvement, I didn't want to go at all.

This attitude stayed with me until I took my first intentional "off-season." After my most recent Olympic Weightlifting meet I decided my next big competition would be the American Open in 2012, and knew that I had to seriously plan my training if I were serious about even qualifying, and my first decision was to take real time off from O-lifting before embarking on a 2 year training plan. I decided to pick up another sport during this time, and my choice ended up being, of all things, Crossfit. It certainly wasn't new to me; Crossfit had introduced me to Olympic Weightlifting, but doing the actual competitions was never something I had considered; Crossfit had always been a training supplement for other sports, and to me it was simply another tool in the toolbox, never a thing in and of itself.

Entering my first Crossfit competition was quite the experience. Suddenly the same emotions were welling up again - those same feelings of urgency, panic, desire, and fear from before, except this time, there was no pressure. There was no team resting on me, no name on my arm nor patch on my back, no posse ready to take down any judge that gave me a faulty ruling. I was just there for me and no one else. No particular outcome meant that I won or lost, that my training had succeeded or failed me - I was just there to see what I could do. Suddenly, competition was a test that I was posing to myself, rather than an expected outcome, where winning was a given unless I found out a way to screw it up.

I found this to be marvelously freeing. It was still a competition, of course, and though I wanted to place as high as I could I understood that my results were simply a reflection of the training I had done up to that point - nothing more. They had no bearing on me as a person, on whether or not I was good or bad, lazy or hard-working - these may sound obvious, but mindsets that are ground in for years are hard to get away from. If my performance lacked here or there, it was because my training was missing this or that. It was a learning experience, something that would improve my training in the future, something that would only benefit me regardless of how well or how poorly I performed. I could still channel those same corners of my head from before, but this time I was using those feelings as I pleased, rather than as a slave to them. Losing no longer meant that I had colossally screwed up something that was already in the bag.

Being out of my element and competing in a new sport brought on the understanding that our results are a reflection of the total sum of our training up to the moment of competition. Regardless of judging, the particulars of that day, or freak accidents, our performance will always only be a marker for where we are in our journey. If we're suddenly sick or injured, then the results will just show how prepared we are to deal with adverse conditions. If our training has made us the a champion, it'll reflect that, and if our training has made us stagnant, well, it'll show that too. In training we pick our cards and get them in order, but once the day comes it's too late to change what we've already got - we can only play the hand we've given ourselves, and really there's no point in worrying much on the mat, the field, or wherever. In a way, this might even mean that our competitions are really won or lost in the training we do; our performance in the actual events are only really meaningful for the purpose of officiation. In any case, that pressure that we place on ourselves on gameday must be kept in perspective with what we can actually control at that point, and not be allowed to run our lives. Perhaps it's helpful, even healthy sometimes, to compete with a solid dose of pressure to win in your veins, but it wasn't until I competed without it that I realized that it is simply a motivator, nothing more. Just another tool in my toolbox to get me where I want to go.

Bin focusing just before Event 2 at DC's Most Primal... in a V-neck



For my third installment regarding competition, I thought I'd compose this little diddy for the hyper-competitive types. As I've said before, everyone should be compete in something, even if only for fun (really, it should always be fun). This is encouraged and will be a good experience for anyone. In fact, a lack of competition in your life could contribute to any feelings of suck you're having about yourself. Coach Rut from Bootcamp Fitness makes an excellent point...

"I believe our nation's competitive environment has made us a world leader in virtually every category. My concern now is that we are losing our competitive edge. So how has this happened? Like any issue there is no clear singular cut cause. A combination of factors contribute to this soft environment. I know that in my lifetime, I noticed a change in how competition was regulated when the boys participated in youth sports. Lots of participation trophies, hugs after the games and a clear agenda to make everyone 'feel good' about the experience. Physical Education programs have been watered down or eliminated. No scores, no clear winner, no touching - no competition. No exposure to competition leads to complacency. As we all know, this isn't the real world. Every day the best competitor comes out on top. Competition is not only healthy, it is necessary."

Basically, you can't spend your life doggy paddling in the shallow end with a pair of water wings on. Challenge yourself once in a while. In this same vein, there are people out there who don't just want to compete; they need to win. Like Ghengis Khan. There is nothing wrong with being crazy competitive, but it takes a lot of work, time, and commitment if you truly want to exceed yourself. So let this impending rant be dedicated to those who just want to dominate everything and be fucking awesome.

This guy exceeds himself everday. With pornstars and cocaine.

Let's face the facts: America (and likely the world as a whole) has gotten soft. The internet, Twilight, advancements in technology, Ryan Seacrest, and all this other crap has turned us into a bunch of pansies. Don't get me wrong, I love the internet and my car and all that, but shit, these days they cancel school if there's a chance of snow. Whatever happened to spanking your children, making them do manual labor, and not giving them backpacks with wheels. We're breeding a generation destined to lose to those who actually understand the concept of work and effort.

Destined to lose his lunch money.

"As a society we don't test because we don't want to know. We put the ball on a tee to be certain of a hit. Participation earns a trophy. Podiums have five steps. There is no penalty for losing. This, when virtually every coach and player and thinker agree that losing teaches the lessons; while winning results from having learned (and applied) those lessons. Without tests or boundaries, how is one supposed to grow? When everyone is a winner, who is left to learn the lessons?" -Mark Twight

So how do we allay this onslaught of weakness? How do we put a stop to the wussification of America? We take off the swimmies and jump into the deep end. We work our asses off day in and day out, we sign up for a shitload of competitions, and we win.


Devil's In The Details

Today's topic will be similar to a previous post. One Saturday, a new guy named Ben came into my Olympic lifting class. Ben had a powerlifting background with some pretty goddamn impressive numbers i.e. 460lbs squat, 300lbs bench, and a 5something deadlift. Bear in mind, he was also 5'7" and weighed around 185lbs.

Now, provided he had ample joint mobility, with that kind of strength base, Ben could be a monster O-lifter. Nevertheless, like everyone new to a sport, he had some kinks we needed to iron out. Ben normally trained with a solid coach in Maryland, but his first pull irked me a bit.

Note how drastically the bar is traveling around his knees. Part of this is due to how low his hips are in his start position. From there, without driving his knees back, the bar has no option other than to move around the knees. An excellent quote I once heard: "We move around the barbell, the barbell does not move around us." As many of you will remember from this post, the job of the first pull is to put us into an optimal position for the second pull. This requires us to push our knees back off the floor, while the hips and chest rise together. After tweaking Ben's positions and drilling some of the movements, here's the result:

Looks much better to me. Right now, Ben is still relatively new to the sport so he has a little ways to go, but with his strength, mobility, and willingness to learn, well... I'm just glad he doesn't compete in my weight class.

Again, the purpose here is to highlight the very technical nature of the Olympic lifts. An early arm bend, a short hip extension, weight shifting forward, the bar swinging out in front, whipping the bar backwards - all of these minor mistakes can be the difference between a PR and a failed lift.

On another note, Sai set a PR snatch that very same day...

Look for both Sai and Ben at the Capital City Open on April 9th at Kalorama!


Compete (Again)

Many of you know my friend Bin. He's a good shit...

118kg clean & jerk

Anyways, Bin also embraces the benefits of competition. He's currently a top-notch Olympic weightlifter, he participated in DC's Most Primal (with less than three weeks of conditioning work), and he used to compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Thai boxing. He wrote the following piece in reference to his martial arts days and how competing is a part of his life:

I don't compete because I want to win. I don't compete for glory or for a feeling of satisfaction. I compete because I want to face failure, face the risk of failure, and test myself against the odds. I compete because it is my mind against the situation I am given. Competition is never a test of my abilities, my methods, or my preparation; it is purely a test of my will, and whether I win or lose, succeed or fail, is only a product of my mental state.

I find the atmosphere of competition intoxicating. It is my catharsis, my opportunity to channel everything in my life that oppresses me, everything that hurts, into something purposeful and beautiful. What would normally sit and fester, stew and rot inside me is instead purified and put to work. In those few moments before it begins, nothing feels more miraculous than the rage welling up inside me until it is almost too much, waiting for that clock to start. Once things begin the dam bursts.

To be sure, these patterns are tried and true for me. As a child searching for a way to deal with myself I found the masochism of training to be engrossing. At a time when it seemed like I was at the mercy of pain and suffering dealt to me by everything and everyone, finding a place, a means, to control the pain seemed like nothing less than salvation. In the beginning it was the training that I found rewarding - the daily exhaustion, the inability to think or consider the inanities of my life, and the struggle to merely survive gave me definition and necessity. Suddenly I had a daily goal, a task that I had to accomplish. Luckily I was young enough to buffer and push through what was almost certainly severe overtraining.

My first time in competition, however, was a revelation. All the hours and weeks in training paled compared to the gravity of that moment. Everything I had worked for, every scar, every lost hour of sleep, was distilled into these few minutes, these few moments really, in which I was given an opportunity to prove myself, not just to me, but to everyone around me, to these nameless faces that had come and gathered to witness. The crowd wasn't cheering for me necessarily, they were just cheering. But that didn't matter. In my mind and in my heart, everything that had been shoveled onto me up to that point was suddenly my ballast, the mountain I stood on to tower over the person facing me. He wanted to defeat me, but he didn't know what he was dealing with. He had no idea of what I had been through, what was driving me. He didn't know my resolve and how much stronger it was than he. How easily it could break him.

That part of my life is long passed. My days of one on one contests are over, but the spirit remains. It is rooted deep within me, waiting to be tapped, to be set free, and though my outlets for competition have changed, my motivations, what goes on inside, have not. I realize that these circumstances and attitudes are unusual, borderline unhealthy even, but to me, there's nothing else.


Updates Galore!

Just a quick post to update folks on happenings, events, and goings-on. Fine, I admit it, I just really like the term "goings-on." Anyways, here's where things stand as of right now...

Capital City Open

John Filippini from South Baltimore CrossFit and I have been coordinating on setting up a USA Weightlifting meet inside the beltway. We decided to call it the "Capital City Open." John submitted the meet sanction form to USAW officials and we've discussed a few logistics thus far. As said before, it will be held at Balance Gym Kalorama on April 9th, 2011. We haven't nailed a time down just yet, but we plan to cap the event at 60 competitors, so be sure to get your application in early once we make it available.

The Gunfight: Honor Every Second

After some fine-tuning and help from my brother, the donation site for the Amanda Miller fundraiser is live. Donate here!

Please be sure to spread this link around to your friends, family, and co-workers. All proceeds go to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Eventually, I'll have more details on participation registration, scaling the workout, and so on. In the meantime, check out the awesome event announcement my brother put together:

We plan to have posters made to hang in the gym and advertise the event. All are encouraged to attend and participate, but doing the workout is totally optional. Regardless, any and all donations will be accepted. Watch the video below to see footage of Amanda from the 2009 CrossFit Games: