Free match in a tournament is quite different from class sparring. In class there is no referee or judge, no points awarded, and no one is declared a winner. A tournament has all these, and after all the rounds of competition are done, there can be only one “winner.” Thus, the intensity of emotional and physical determination is much greater in a tournament than in class. Herein lie both the strength and weakness of tournament competition.
Viewed correctly, a tournament is an opportunity for a student to test his or her skills (physical, mental, and emotional). It is an opportunity to “do your best” on that day at that time and in that place: an opportunity to push yourself to the limit of which you are capable. From this perspective, “winning” a trophy makes you a champion; it does not make you a winner.
The difference between a champion and a winner is crucial to an understanding of the positive value to be gained from participation in tournaments. A champion is someone whose skill, luck, and timing came together at a critical moment: a skillful fighter (and not necessarily the most skillful) is someone who had the good fortune to enter the tournament and meet other fighters whose skill and luck were less on that particular day. The next time, he or she may win, or may not.
Being a winner, unlike being a champion, is not a momentary thing. Being a winner is a matter of continuous attitude. A fighter who does his or her best each time he or she enters the ring is a winner; whether he or she prevails in the fight is unimportant. “Going for the gold” is merely a training aid to focus the mind and elicit the best the fighter has to give. The fighter who gives his or her best is a winner, win or lose in the ring. This becomes clearer if you bear in mind that the ring is merely a microcosm of life; performance in the ring is a reflection of performance in life.
A winner is not necessarily a champion, and a champion is not necessarily a winner. Everyone cannot be a champion, but everyone can be a winner. But it is difficult to be either if you refuse to enter the ring.
Each time we face an opponent in the ring, we, in truth, face ourselves. Our insides are bared, and all of our fears, angers, hatreds, and insecurities come out and fight against us. Thus, we are really fighting ourselves; our opponents become our partners and teachers, exposing for us our weakness and pointing the direction to transform them into strengths. Ultimately, the controlled conflict of free sparring opens the door to new levels of self awareness and understanding.