Cranbrook martial artist Tyson Hirscher is pictured at a bout in Calgary.

Cranbrook martial artist Tyson Hirscher is pictured at a bout in Calgary.

The benefits of competitive fighting

Columnist Joel Huncar explores his personal journey with sports fighting and what he's learned along the way.

Joel Huncar

Sport fighting is something I have sort of fell into. I never trained with the goal of becoming a sport fighter in mind. When I earned my black belt in Arnis and the title of Kru in Muay Thai, I was more interested in teaching people for their own personal protection and personal development. It wasn’t until I started teaching children that I began to focus on sport fighting. My focus is and always will be personal development and self-protection first but I now see how the sport of fighting can be an aid for this.

My problem was that even though I had competed in the Tiger Balm Internationals in Vancouver and a couple of Arnis tournaments I was jaded by the behaviour I had seen at times from boxers, kickboxers, and MMA fighters when they were “self-promoting” and creating controversy through unsportsmanlike behaviour.  This behaviour jaded me a little, even though none of the fighters from my Ajarn’s gym would ever act like this, which should have really taught me that I should not let the actions of a few people create my point of view of an entire group.

Good leadership definitely helps develop sportsmanship but contact fighting has a hard lesson to hand those who are arrogant.  Instant karma, if you act like a jackass someone somewhere is going to be there to teach you a lesson.  Also, the very nature of the sport can teach hard lessons, even if you are better than the person you are fighting. A bad day and bad timing can put the best fighter to the canvas if he or she is not careful.  Getting the snot rattled in your head by someone you thought was less skilled than you is very humbling and believe me, everyone has their day.

A good coach will make their fighters shake hands with the coach and fighter opposite them after the fight win, lose or draw.  This teaches fighters not only that we are all doing the same thing; but we are all part of the same fighting family and while two fighters might have been trying to smash each other in the ring, usually they are patting each other’s back and hugging after.  If there is an after party they will usually be talking to each other about the fight and helping each other grow.  This is the beauty of sport fighting — the way fighters will share a bond with their opponent immediately after trying to take their head off in the ring.  The hugs, back pounding and elation is very real and something most people will never understand unless they have been there.

But the benefits are far greater than just sportsmanship.  The thing that people often fail to see is how hard it is to prepare for a sport like Muay Thai, or MMA.  Thousands of hours of gruelling and punishing training have to put in before a fighter can even consider stepping in the ring.  Ring fighting is for people who have an absolutely amazing work ethic.  The training is brutal It pushes you not only physically but mentally as well.  If you can deal with the work out from a fighting gym, there is not much you won’t be able to overcome.

Perseverance and fortitude are part of any real contact fighter’s makeup or they simply don’t last in the sport.  This strength helps in every aspect of life.  This perseverance and fortitude are only matched by a fighter’s work ethic.  This is one of the most important building blocks of success and anyone who has been through a fighter’s workout and has come back for more can work like a demon.

These are the obvious benefits to fight training.  What most people don’t realize is the amount of compassion and self-control a fighter develops.  Fighters come to these gyms in all ages, shapes, and sizes.  If your gym is filled with meat heads who only want to beat people up they will not help build the gym community or their stable of fighters.  A fight gym is a community and often it attracts those who seem tough but need the most care.  I remember as a young man walking into my Ajarn’s gym in Abbotsford, the place stunk of boxer’s liniment and sweat.  The ring was full of bloodstains and the fighters looked scary. However, the coach who was there took me under his wing, helped me feel comfortable and made me work my butt off.

A few weeks later I was hooked. As I learned, I developed an extended family were was always there to help me grow. Some lessons hurt, and others were soft.  I got advice on all sorts of things and found a father figure in Ajarn Songlith Singthong who helped me develop into not only a decent fighter but a better father, family man and a better person in my community.  To this day I love Ajarn Song like a father.  He changed my life for the better.  I faced fear in his ring and sparred some of the top fighters in the world. They always took care of me and only gave me what I could take and never took advantage of my inexperience.  They had respect and empathy for my young curly-haired self, and when someone didn’t have that type of respect there were always fighters ready to teach a hard lesson on respect.

This empathy does not stop there.  As a coach, I have to be able to see how my students are feeling, whether they are scared to jump in the ring for the first time or whether they are carrying anger into the ring with them and they should not be sparring.  Or the most common is when they are feeling insecure and feel the need to prove themselves against their sparring partners.  I have to be able to spot this and work with it.  Help guide them.

As fighters get more experienced they end up helping other fighters through this stuff.  They build bonds beyond just a shared love of the art of fighting.  A fight gym has a community like a warrior tribe.  We support each other through many things, some spoken, and others unspoken.  Also, family and friends of fighters often hang out and watch the training and become part of that tribal family — a family that has bled together, been through trials together and has helped each other face challenges most people never get to try.  Sport fighting and sports, in general, can help build stronger youth and give people the confidence to have greater success in life and general.  The mats are a mirror of life, the lessons you learn on the mats or in the ring are lessons you can carry everywhere in life.  I have heard old school trainers say that all you need to know in life can be learned on the mats.  I have no problem believing that.  The mats can make you a better person, humbler and gentler.  There is no better school ground to make better citizens.

Joel Huncar teaches out of the Rocky Mountain Martial Arts Family Centre, he is a freelance writer who has written for Black Belt Magazine, Filipino Martial Arts Informative, and other publications.