Why do I take students to competitions? Sporting events have rules, and they aren't like a real fight. I'll say that again: a sporting event, even MMA, is not like real street violence. But I still think it's worthwhile for students to participate in competitions. Why?
Well, first, it's fun. I don't know about anyone else, but I like to win things and to see how I can do with against other people that I don't see everyday. Sometimes, it's neat to see how my training is progressing compared to a buddy or friend that I see around. Winning a trophy is an ego stroke. Losing to someone I thought I should have beat is a motivator to train harder.
But I'm not a fan of doing things in training that don't serve a better purpose than just having fun. And competitions definitely serve other purposes, too. They're a different form of pressure. We know that under pressure, the mind goes blank. The more different forms of pressure we can be exposed to, the less likely we are to go blank under a new situation. Or at least not completely blank. So participating in a competition is also a gauge about where my students (or my own) training is setting with regards to handling pressure.
We also learn other things from competition. We learn about sportsmanship and character, and how to handle different developments in life. For example, I recently took some students to a tournament. Along the way, a mistake in scoring was made, and one of my students was improperly awarded a place too low -- and another person was elevated. I was able to get things straightened out -- but how the students reacted to the situation (and when) gave insight into their character. We get a chance to practice handling an unfair result, sometimes, too. I've seen tournaments where the odds where stacked in the favor of one school or another, for one reason or another...
But it's important also to separate winning trophies and awards in a tournament from performing well. I was taught that it wasn't the trophy that measured whether or not I succeeded -- it was my teacher's assessment. Had I put his lesson's into play as I fought? Did I perform the form well? If Joe said I did -- I knew had, regardless of what some judge said or thought. Victory was employing my teacher's lessons -- not winning the trophy.