I remember when I was in high school never going to any sporting events unless it was a game against the other high school in town. I didn’t, and still don’t, care one bit about sports, but there was something different about the games against our cross-town rivals.
It isn’t as if I hated the other school. Heck, I barely knew anyone who went to it. So the only draw was to say that my school was better than theirs – even if it was at an activity I had no interest in.
What is a rival?
A rival is someone that you are competing with for the same goal or just to prove your superiority. This could be a rival team, another student, or a friend. In order to be an effective rival, they have to be of comparable skill to you. Otherwise, they will either outpace you or fail to be a challenge.
A rival transcends an opponent. Even though they separate everyone to make fights as fair as possible, fighting strangers in a competition is not the same as having a rivalry with any of them. There’s no emotional content when fighting strangers.
A rivalry doesn’t have to be to the death. At least, not in modern martial culture it doesn’t. While a rival may be your greatest challenge, it doesn’t mean you wish them dead. It does need to be serious, though. At least during the engagement it should be.
Where have rivalries gone?
There’s a few reason we don’t see healthy rivalries anymore. Some are fixable, some may not be.
- Modern Martial Media. When was the last time you watched a martial arts show or movie that included a school rivalry that didn’t end with someone severely injured or dead?
- Video Games. Every modern fighting game has at least two characters with a rivalry. And these rivalries are usually the to the death kind.
- Scarcity Mindset. Approximately 1% of the world population practices martial arts. This has led some instructors to think their prosperity relies on the failure of other schools.
- Ego over Community. Popular fighters and gyms have to be so amazing they have no contemporaries. Everyone else sucks so bad, they might as well not even exist.
Why should you want a rival?
If you want to be the very best, you have to have a reason to get better. Some people can do this with just their own willpower and drive, but some people need encouragement. I personally have a rival in my training. We’ve been rivals for nearly twenty-five years. The ironic thing is, we’re best friends. Our rivalry is a friendly one and unspoken.
Here are the main benefits of having a rival in your life.
- Your rival’s progress drives you in your own progress.
- You have someone to share in your journey.
- Your rival can relate to your struggles.
- Losing to your rival doesn’t feel like a failure.
How to cultivate a rivalry.
Like any relationship, having a rivalry is going to take work.
A rivalry isn’t one-sided. If you think someone is your rival and they don’t know you exist…well, that’s closer to having an idol than a rival. The first step in cultivating a rivalry is meeting them. You both have to know the other. This doesn’t mean just showing up and asking them to be your rival. You have to both frequent the same circles (competitions, communities, etc.).
A rivalry isn’t just about seeing the other guy fail. Embrace their victories – over you or other opponents. Don’t rub their defeats in their face – they are your equal in skill, you could easily be the loser next time. Encourage them to keep up with you – even if that means hanging back a little.
Don’t expect the rivalry to go on forever. Everyone has their own lives to live. That means one day, your rival may retire, get hurt, have a baby, and have to leave the field. Don’t worry about it. You should have the same things happening in your life. That’s called living. If you lose one rival, another is sure to come your way.
Communicate with a smile. Talking trash is a perfectly healthy part of competition, but it can go too far if you’re not careful. Knowing where the line is keeps the relationship from going to a dark place.