How to Compete Without Being an Arse

Competition. It’s one of those words, like ambition, that sparks dramatically different reactions in different people. For some people it sparks excitement and motivates positive action. For others, it inspires fear, anger, and avoidance. As a Society that started out with a focus on armored combat, competition is built into the SCA’s DNA, but it is still met with a fair amount of ambivalence in many quarters.

The split between competition-focused and competition-averse is strong in the arts and sciences, especially so in the performing arts. Many people are deeply uncomfortable being judged on subjective criteria, or feel that competition saps the fun out of the game. Additionally, competition comes with a lot of extra requirements (like documentation) that can be overwhelming for a lot of people.

I fall into the other camp. I like competition. I find it motivating. Preparing to compete brings out my inner warrior. I am currently preparing for two major competitions: the King & Queen’s Bardic Championship, and the King & Queen’s Arts & Sciences Championship. Each one has prompted me to do new research, learn new material, and generally better myself as an artisan. For me, it brings out my best work, and my best self.

This isn’t true for everyone. Competition can bring out people’s worst selves as easily as their best. It can bring out jealousy and insecurity, or aggression and cut-throat practices. I don’t think it’s for everyone.

But for those of us who do thrive on competition, how can we bring our best selves to the task? Here are my rules for truly friendly competition:

  1. I try not to think of my fellow competitors as the enemy — rather  I see them as colleagues who are experiencing the same thing that I am. We’re in the same boat. We’re in this together.
  2. I support my fellow competitors. Before the competition, I like to have critique sessions with other competitors. We give each other honest feedback so we can all improve before the competition. I know that might reduce my chance of winning. But it also could work the other way. In the end, whether I win or lose, we all get better — which is good for us and for the art.
  3. After a competition, when possible, I like to talk to my fellow competitors and give them my compliments. (NEVER an uninvited critique, and no critique, invited or not, on the day of the competition — people are far too fragile on the day of competition. Handle the postmortem another day.) Connecting with my fellow competitors sometimes leads to new friends, and frequently leads to new information.

We don’t all have to compete to have a good time, but if we are going to participate in that aspect of the game, let’s try to bring chivalry to the field of battle — whatever kind of field it might be.

In Service to the Dream,

Sayyida Laila al-Sanna’ al-Andalusiyya


"Jousting in Vannes (Brittany)", late 15th century, from the Chroniques de Jean Froissart.