Friday, May 23, 2008

Elite selection or elite training?

It is not long now until the 2008 Olympic games commence on 8/8/8. My feelings are mixed. I love the spectacle and the internationalism, but am disappointed by the over-emphasis on winning which leads to dangerous drug-taking (and other extreme measures). Perhaps nowadays the Paralympics which follow in September are more in line with Baron Pierre de Coubertin's vision:
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympic Games, was born in Paris in 1863 and was personally involved in fencing, rowing, boxing and cycling. His visits to British public schools resulted in a lifelong interest in trying to get the heavily academic French schools to take up more sports-oriented curricula. As an educational theorist, de Coubertin was convinced of the importance of sport for the development of the individual. He believed that the qualities of initiative, teamwork and fair play should be encouraged in young people through participation in school sports and competitive games.*
The modern Olympic games have become the poster-child for an elitist program for developing athletes:
  1. Identify young people with exceptional potential in Olympic and other high-profile sports
  2. Enroll them into national sports institutes for long periods
  3. Train them full-time, often at the expense of other aspects of their education
In contrast to de Coubertin's amateur, generalist ideals this is a professional, specialist model, in which each country endeavors to create an elite for its greater glory. (As for the individual athletes, inclusion in such a training program is -- I guess -- a mixed blessing.)

* * *

In my martial arts experience I have enjoyed what may be termed "elite training" in the sense that it is of exceptional quality, and often demanding, but not restricted to a selected elite (thankfully!).

The overriding objective of the elite institutes is to develop athletes who can win in a narrow field of endeavor. By training in martial arts we can aspire to develop our potential fully and widely, and not just in a way which relies on the external benchmark of winning.

Remember, it is a win for you every time you overcome a limitation, learn a new skill, have an aha moment, or apply what you have learned in one area of your life somewhere else.

Learning a martial art can provide an avenue to train yourself to better meet the challenges of life.

What is Jiu-Jitsu good for?

Please don't assume that Jiu-jitsu is only useful for self-defence, improving your health, increasing strength, developing flexibility, sharpening mental focus, training an army, learning to learn, falling safely, reducing stress, restraining drunken Uncles, improving school grades, developing patience, refining negotiation skills, letting off steam, learning about another culture, getting to know people, avoiding conflict, becoming more reflective, sharpening your reflexes, eliminating back pain, conquering fears, increasing self-esteem, and enhancing your problem-solving abilities just because they are the only things that happened to be on the list.

[Modeled on a quote due to Kent Pitman.]