I listened to a really good podcast episode recently about how sports and games helped create one of the deadliest armies in history.
And the amazing thing is that close to a thousand years later many of these same sports are still being practiced today!
I learned about this on the Villains and Virgins podcast and the specific episode was called ‘Wargames of the Steppe’ which you can watch on Youtube, listen to on Apple Podcasts, catch on Spotify, or check out wherever else you get your podcasts.
Here’s the very quick version…
900 years ago Genghis Khan and the Mongols emerged from the Eurasian steppe to build the largest land empire in history.
Mongol warriors faced off against Japanese Samurai and knights in Poland at the same time. And in the intervening 9 million square miles the Mongols soliders absolutely dominated everyone else.
There are many reasons why that empire got so big, but what I got from that podcast I referred to earlier was how much of Mongol training involved sport.
Training methods for the soldiers included wrestling, archery, and horseback racing competitions.
These individual skills were then augmented with large hunts spanning many hundreds of miles over the span of weeks or even months. Essentially these were field exercises in an era before field exercises.
There is some relevance in this idea for for the modern martial artist…
Competition, whether it’s in the form of sparring at the club or competing at a local tournament, is essential to sharpen your street self defense skills.
Of course sparring sharpens your actual skills because you’re trying to apply your techniques against resistance.
But even more importantly it teaches you how to deal with stress and anxiety.
Trying to perform well in front of your coach and teammates is inherently stressful. That makes sparring and competition a form of stress innoculation.
That’s why I think some form of sparring, at least occasionally, is mandatory for martial arts skills.
And if you can ramp the pressure up by competing at least one or two times then that’s even better (regardless of whether it’s an amateur boxing competition, a Tae Kwon Do tournament or a BJJ competition).
There’s no doubt that competition sharpens the sword and strengthens the mind.
If it worked for one of the deadliest armies the world has ever seen then it’ll probably work for you too!