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Learning from Failure

Growing up, I was one of three brothers. From as early as I can remember, everything was a competition. Who is the best at this video game? Who can get to the top of the hill the fastest? How punches hardest? Who can fit the most Warhead sour candies in their mouth?

If you could somehow compare performance, it was game on.

This competitive spirit has permeated most of my life. If I cared about something, I wanted to be the best at it. I had to compete, and I had to win. Winners got the trophies and the medals and the accolades while the losers were mostly forgotten. Unless you were competing with my brothers, then they’d gladly make your losing the butt of a daily (or hourly) joke.

Winning felt good. Losing felt bad. So along the way I learned that losing was something to be despised and avoided at all costs.

After eight years at Steel City Martial Arts, that view has changed, and I’m better for it.

Losing is Good

In the gym or in a competition, I often see students look at having to tap as some sort of personal shortcoming. They get frustrated. They get down on themselves. And they leave the gym feeling like they wasted a training session. For a long time, I was one of these students. I had aspirations of making a name for myself as a competitor, so I saw every failure in training as a step backward in terms of my goals.

The more time I spend teaching, the more I see a fear of failing as a major roadblock between an individual and the next level of his or her game. Here’s why:

  • Growth occurs at the edge of your comfort zone. Acquiring a new skill means reaching beyond what you’re already good at doing. If you stay in your comfort zone, you will do the same things over and over and not acquire new knowledge.
  • Experimentation means taking risks, and sometimes experiments fail. To dial-in a technique or a movement, you often have to explore when and where to use the technique. Finding out where and when it won’t work is oftentimes just as important as knowing when it works.
  • Good matches help you grow. In the gym or in competition, taking on a tough challenge helps you to identify strengths and weaknesses in your game while also keeping you sharp. If you mow through everyone you train with, you can pick up bad habits and your defense can get sloppy.
  • Your training partners need to improve too. If one of your peers catches you in something, you should be happy for them. Their getting better means more challenging rolls and more learning opportunities. As the old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships, so don’t let your fear of losing trap you under the water.
  • Being humble frees your brain up to do more important things. When you can leave behind your fear of losing, you can dedicate more energy to things that actually matter, like learning or helping your training partners improve.

The more you can focus on training itself, the more you can improve as a martial artist. So leave your fear of losing behind and achieve your goals!

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