Tuesday, 20 April 2021 09:47

The Definition of Winning, and the Importance of Losing

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One of the best things about martial arts training is that, especially early on, we lose often. Whether that’s doing scenarios, whether that’s sparring, rolling, randori, etc., the fact that we lose helps us develop resilience, analyse our performance and get better over time.

That being said, if we lose over and over again, it can be a real hit to motivation and become so frustrating that we may stop training altogether.

At the same time, if you are only training in an environment where you win every single time, your training is probably unrealistic – whether that’s for self defence or combat sports. Developing the perception that you will always win can lead to developing a big ego or false confidence in your skills that can put you at risk.

We need to find a balance between winning and losing that will encourage us to grow, show us are weaknesses and motivate us to get better. So how do we do that?

Before we go on, it’s important to understand that what winning means to you will change over time, and so it should. The concepts I’m about to outline are valid throughout your journey, but you should reflect on these on a regular basis, perhaps even before each training sessions, or even round!

Here are a few tips that will help you better define winning, keep you motivated, and help you improve in the long term:

  1. Know what your desired training outcomes are: Training in martial arts, combat sports or for self defence are very different things. Cross training across all three of them is wonderful, and will help you develop skills, but it can also create some confusion as the training outcomes for each of them can be very, very different. Unfortunately, sometimes when cross training we can confuse performance in one area with performance in another. For example, my ability to get a gogoplata with my ability to defend myself. Different training outcomes call for different training methods, and each training method will define ‘winning’ differently. As such, when you are switching to a different mode of training, make sure that you understand how this mode of training defines winning, as well as what you hope to gain from it in the context of your overarching training goal.
    In addition, you need to realise that experience in one mode of training does not necessarily translate perfectly to other modes of training. In other words, your ability to hit that gogoplata doesn’t mean you can defend yourself, or vice versa.
  2. Know who you are training with: In every training session you will have people who are likely to have 3 groups – people less experienced than you, with similar experience to you, and more experienced that you. As you gain experience, the ratios might change. But there should always be those three groups (if there aren’t, then there’s an issue with your training! More on this another time). Much like the fact you can’t judge performance in one mode of training by performance in another, you need to calibrate what performance means in terms of the level of your opponents or training partners. In other words, comparing performance in sparring versus a fresh beginner and versus a world champion can be counterproductive. When you step on the mat, you need to look at who you will be training with and set yourself some stretch goals that are challenging but realistic considering the people you are training with. Quite often this means having a specific outcome or focus in mind for that training session or round, that will relate specifically to the person you are training with.
  3. Sometimes winning means losing less: If you are not experience in one particular mode of training – say sparring – and/or you are stepping on the mat with people who are very experienced, you may have to accept the fact that you are likely to lose. In that case, you need to calibrate what winning means for the totality of circumstances. For example, if you are sparring against someone much more experienced than you, than perhaps winning means losing a little less than last time. Maybe it means getting tapped less in a given round. Maybe it means improving the percentage of shots landed by a small amount. The point is, rather than thinking of winning the fight, so to speak, think of smaller increments that are suitable to the situation. There are two more important points to this. Firstly, you need to learn to develop the will to fight even though you are likely to lose. Focus on enjoying the round/session/roll regardless of the outcome. You’re on the mat, doing what you love – relish in that! Second, there will be days – we all have them – where you will not perform well. Maybe you’re tried and can’t focus. Maybe you are sore from a previous training session and are just a bit slower than usual. Maybe the starts just didn’t align the right way today. Either way, we all have bad days. Sometimes, winning simply means rocking up, training even though it sucks on the day, and pushing through loss after loss.

Losing, and failure, are integral to learning. Unfortunately, there will be times where you may lose often. Remember that training in an environment where you win all the time will be just as bad for you -though in different ways - to an environment where you lose all the time. It's all about balance. 

Try and remember the three concepts above to help you put things into context and stay motivated. Have a clear understanding of your overall training outcomes, as well as know the connection between each mode of training to your overall outcomes. Consider the level of who you are training with when thinking about performance. And finally, remember that winning sometimes means losing a little bit less than you lost last time. Focus on small, consistent achievement that is based in the right context, and you will stay better motivated and focused in training over the long haul!

Stay safe, stay tuned.


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